Carlos Tevez returns to West Ham tomorrow with Sir Alex Ferguson convinced the Upton Park outfit owe their Premier League existence to the South American.
Tevez netted seven goals in 10 games for the Hammers at the back end of last season, including the winner at Old Trafford on the final day as the Londoners beat the odds to stay up at Sheffield United's expense.
Although the 23-year-old promptly quit the Hammers, joining United on a two-year loan following a protracted registration wrangle, his immense contribution to his former club's survival fight is unlikely to be forgotten by the home fans, who seem certain to buck their usual trend of booing the Red Devils by acclaiming Tevez as a hero.
Ferguson is unsure that Tevez will be afforded the reception most people expect. However, the United boss is in no doubt the Hammers owe the stocky forward a major debt of gratitude.
'Deep down the West Ham supporters must be thankful because Carlos kept them up last year,' said Ferguson.
'His performances for them were fantastic. There must be a grudging admiration for what he achieved at West Ham in such a short period.
'It is a part of football that when players leave a club and then go back, they don't always get a reception you think they should, so it will be interesting to see what happens.'
Ferguson certainly has no complaints about Tevez's contribution to the United cause this term.
Although his debut was briefly delayed because of the complications which emerged over his arrival at Old Trafford, the former Boca Juniors star has developed a superb bond with Wayne Rooney, wrecking the theory that the pair were too similar in style to be effective partners.
Tevez has already scored nine times for his new club, including a memorable matchwinner at Liverpool earlier this month, and after being rested for the Boxing Day win at Sunderland, is expected to be back alongside Rooney as United look to complete a 100% record in December.
Victory would guarantee the Red Devils enter 2008 on top of the table, a situation Ferguson feels will establish his side among the genuine title contenders.
While reluctant to discount Chelsea or Liverpool, who have fallen slightly off the pace, the Scot is content with the strength of his squad and has already suggested he has no plans to enter the January transfer window.
The same is unlikely to be true of a Chelsea squad ravaged by injury and suspension, which will also lose four players to the African Nations Cup. Second-placed Arsenal must wave goodbye to key defenders Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Eboue next month too, heightening the possibility of a winter shopping expedition for Arsene Wenger.
Ferguson has not been adverse to bringing players in during January in the past, most recently with Patrice Evra and Nemanja Vidic two years ago.
But he recognises such deals are fraught with problems, particularly because of the difficulty in signing players of the right standard.
'Of course, when you are talking about Arsenal and Chelsea losing players to the African Nations Cup, you hope it works in your favour,' he said.
'But these clubs could also buy players to help them through that period.
'It will be interesting to see what kind of market we have in January. I don't think it is always as good as some people imagine.
'It is not easy to get top-class players in January. If you are in the Champions League and you are going to add to your squad, you would hope to get someone who is able to play in the Champions League. That is very difficult. You are eliminating 100 teams in the UEFA Cup and Champions League.'
Ryan Giggs should also return after missing the Boxing Day win on Wearside, while Owen Hargreaves is likely to start after recovering from a back complaint that has kept him out of United's festive programme so far.
Although Upton Park is not regarded as one of Ferguson's lucky venues given United effectively lost two league titles - 1992 and 1995 - there, the Scot pointed out he has only suffered two defeats at the stadium in his 21 years at the Red Devils helm.