Robin Van Persie’s £24 million move from Arsenal to Manchester United is as much prudent as it is baffling; nobody could have envisioned this turn of events with the range of rumoured foreign clubs linked with his signature and United’s apparent frugalness in the transfer market.
Nevertheless, He had been signed, sealed and delivered just in time to make his debut in United’s Monday night tie against Everton at Goodison Park. Expectedly, he didn’t start the match but he was finally brought on from off of the bench midway into the second half.
As soon as he stepped onto the pitch, he exhibited an apparent willingness to become immediately involved, monopolising corner-taking duties and drifting across the front line. Ultimately, he was unable to prevent a 0-1 loss that was thoroughly deserved for the home side.
Nobody can contest that Van Persie’s influence within the Arsenal setup was indispensable; it has often been claimed that he was singlehandedly responsible for lifting the fortunes of the club and blasting them back into Europe’s elite completion, the Champion’s League, last year. The question on everybody’s mind now will be ‘what effect will he have within the United Squad and how will his talents be exploited?’
Alex Ferguson will be hoping that his impact isn’t a damaging one – especially considering he already has an iconic frontman within his team in Rooney. It will be interesting to see whether Van Persie and United’s number 10 are able to strike up a formidable partnership in the ilk of a Cole and Yorke or whether their contrasting styles conflict as with Drogba and Torres at Chelsea.
No doubt – and I’m sure Ferguson will promote this, in many respects – they will both be vying for superiority in terms of productivity: Rooney managed 35 goals and 10 assists in all competitions last year whereas the former Arsenal captain did slightly better with 41 goals and 16 assists – that’s a possible 76 goals and 26 assists if everything goes well between them. Conversely, if they clash, then Arsenal will certainly feel as if they have gotten the better end of this deal.
We’ve so often seen what fate befalls the unfortunate player that Ferguson takes a disliking to; we’ve watched as several strikers have been put through the ‘Rooney adaptability test’ and failed. With Ferguson, also, second chances seldom come so this could be a case of do or die for Van Persie – I’m sure Berbatov is whispering this tentatively into his ear, secretly hoping that all doesn’t go well.
If Van Persie doesn’t pan out the way that United want him to, he may find himself relegated to bit-part player coming off of the bench. He needn’t be too downcast about this notion though as Solskjaer formed almost an entire career around the deeds of his late introductions but will that be enough of a softener for a player of Van Persie’s calibre?
Wellbeck looks about the closest thing to striking up a relationship with Rooney; not to mention he offers that tireless off-the-ball running that Ferguson admirers – he likes it in Rooney; he liked it in Park; he liked it in Tevez and now he has it again in the young Englishman. Is Van Persie this type of player; somebody who will chase down lost causes and harry defenders high up the pitch for 90 minutes? Not in the slightest! For all his efficiency, Van Persie’s work rate could, in fact, even be questioned by the likes of Berbatov, the only difference is that Van Persie is a trier.
In the long run, the 29 year old may have to get used to not being the focal point anymore. When he came on for his debut – not that one match is much of an indicator – I found myself wondering whether he was actually playing the match or whether he was being employed solely for set plays like the place kicker in an American Football game.
This was possibly because of the small difference in philosophies of Arsenal and Manchester United over recent seasons: Arsenal, though lauded for their teamwork, understood that Van Persie was their main man and actively searched him out at every conceivable opening. This meant that he had to work less to get involved in the game and could merely hang on the shoulders of the defenders before the ball inevitably ended up near him.
On the other hand, Manchester United rarely single out a player for such special treatment – not even with Rooney in their ranks – because they know that their team, as a collective, is more capable of scoring goals or influencing matches than any one player will ever be. If Van Persie understands that he will have to show the determination to affect the game rather than the game being brought to him, he could fit in seamlessly.
It’s still too early to gauge wholeheartedly what to expect from Van Persie or how he will be utilised at Old Trafford. There is, nonetheless, the distinct possibility that he may have to get used to the role of second fiddle for the first time in 7 years if he wants to help his team. In this case, less may be more.
image: © Ronnie Macdonald