Roller-coaster would be to put it mildly, but Manchester United have reached the home stretch of the season in perhaps the most deflated of moods. They blew hot and cold all season long, and they are well-poised to finish at their lowest ebb come May. It has been a season of inquests and finding scapegoats; transfer window predictions have become some sort of a day job for their fans. As much as the fans would loathe hearing this, Manchester United’s only problem doesn’t solely lie in the midfield or at the back. They’ve been incredibly miserly in front of goal, thanks to their misfiring front men. Robin van Persie’s lack of goals (consistently) has led to a conundrum in the final third, an area where they seem to possess their biggest (or priciest rather) tools.
The person of interest here is Robin van Persie. Bought for big money two summers ago to abet Alex Ferguson’s swansong, RvP brilliantly demonstrated his goalscoring acumen last season by pocketing the Premier League Golden Boot. But the RvP of today is a far cry from those days of yore. Brilliant in his day of course as exemplified by his Olympiacos hat-trick, Van Persie has slowly developed into a pure penalty box striker as the season wore on and worsened for United. His reputation along with his big wages has almost made him a fixture in the United starting XI, but it has provided more headaches than solutions to manager David Moyes as he tries to bed himself in in Fergie’s big boots.
Wayne Rooney remains the bonafide star player at the club; his record-money-earning new contract clearly reflects the fact. But this raises a question as to whether United are better off with only Rooney as the main man up front and should they sell their top-scorer RvP. General perception would be to keep both players at the club; ManUtd’s Champions League hopes are fading faster than a rainbow in the sun and players of their quality would be increasingly difficult to attract as time wears on without the bargaining ticket of European top-flight football.
Van Persie is 30 and is on big wages; this is one reason enough to explain why United need to rid themselves of their premier forward. Of course Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck don’t even rub shoulders with RvP when it comes to scoring goals, but at an institution like ManUtd that prides itself in its farsightedness, selling him might just be a step forward in troubled waters. Hindsight might dismiss it as another of their big mistakes, but Van Persie was definitely bought on as a perfect short-term solution. Alex Ferguson needed to win the title back from noisy neighbors City, and who better than RvP to fire his dreams.
Tactically too, Manchester United have found it difficult to integrate their forward players effectively this season. David Moyes’ job is far from secure, but if he stays on for longer than anticipated, he should work into selling Van Persie. Moyes’ 10 months at the club hasn’t been on expected lines, but he surely has splashed the cash in transfer windows. United’s record signing, Juan Mata, has so far failed to impose himself, so has the other players around him. Wayne Rooney is as versatile as anyone you could ever imagine, but his instincts mean that he always drops back whenever he has the assurance of a Van Persie ahead of him. Rooney loves to play as a trequartista, so does Mata. This is a puzzle which has been masked in the light of United’s shambles in midfield and defense.
Van Persie’s effectiveness in parts of the pitch other than the penalty box is near negligible; this is where Rooney comes out to be better than him. Rooney can play link-up with Mata in the hole; a simple part of play that becomes incredibly difficult when Mata plays wide and RvP upfront. Rooney and Van Persie have scored the same number of goals this season, a statistic that looks particularly damning for the Dutchman. On paper at least, Van Persie is the scorer, and Rooney the supplier. 17 goals in the season for RvP mean he is off his zone and off the pace, and at his age it would be difficult to get back to the peak of his form. Injuries have blighted the Dutchman’s career on more than one occasion; it is another injury that has been keeping him out of the playing eleven of late. He had only featured in 18 league games this campaign.
Chelsea have faced a similar conundrum with the high-earning Fernando Torres, and his career seems to be on a downward spiral with little hope of turning tides. Similar goes for Van Persie, although the Dutchman has had a sufficiently bigger fuel tank than Torres. Chelsea are planning to let Torres go along with his big wages; they have suffered long enough with the Spaniard who seems to have left his shooting boots at Liverpool. United and Van Persie are trudging a similar course, but they are at least better off than their London rivals. RvP’s career is spiraling downwards; if David Moyes can realize it before it becomes too late, he might just pull off a masterpiece. Wayne Rooney’s bumper contract means United keep him in the highest of regards, but whether they deem him to be the man to lead their line is the big question. Both ways though, the departure of RvP would be sad, but it won’t be that bitter a pill to swallow.