“A big signing, or simply the signing of a big name?”
That was the question put forward by ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser following the New York Yankee’s acquisition of Seattle Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki. However, that question is equally appropriate when dealing with Manchester United’s latest signing of Robin van Persie. Despite the obvious levels of excitement surrounding the Dutchman’s arrival at Old Trafford, does it really put United anywhere closer to wrestling the title away from their city rivals?
The team is lopsided, that much is evident. There’s nothing particularly wrong with their attack, and the signing of van Persie is always going to be welcome when you’re chasing silverware. However, the Dutchman’s goals do absolutely nothing to plug gaps all over the rest of the pitch.
As of right now, Alex Ferguson’s greatest worry is his defence—even more so than the huge void in the centre of midfield. Chris Smalling and Phil Jones were brought in last year to make up a very deep and capable group of central defenders. However, they, alongside Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans, are missing from the United line up, with a one or two looking at long spells on the treatment table.
Patrice Evra and the position of left-back remains a problem, and there are a number who are questioning United’s choice to seek a replacement—or at least an alternative—from Vitesse. Likewise, the right-back spot has now seen the attacking positions weakened through the necessity to place Antonio Valencia there. Man United don’t have a problem with scoring or even creating goals, so why did the club spend so much time and money chasing a player in van Persie who they evidently don’t need?
Shinji Kagawa is a magnificent signing, as he would be for any club. The youngster managed to make a name for himself in Germany with the Bundesliga champions before elevating that status into superstar territory.
But the problem isn’t what he brings to the team, rather it’s how he can get in the way. At some stages during the away loss to Everton, it seemed like Kagawa and Wayne Rooney were in a head on collision with each other, constantly occupying areas on the pitch extremely close to one another. Kagawa doesn’t provide natural width, and even though he is capable of taking up a position on the flank, he will continue to force his way to the centre of the pitch.
So what do the team do with Wayne Rooney if they want to accommodate their new £24 million striker and their latest big-name midfielder? What happens when Javier Hernandez decides he’s fed up of sitting on the bench? And Dimitar Berbatov is still no closer to the exit at Old Trafford.
Depth is good, especially in the forward positions, but it becomes an unnecessary headache when you’re splashing out cash that you don’t really have; a collection of very good full-backs could have been brought in with the money spent on van Persie.
To go back to Tony Kornheiser’s question, it looks like the club have brought in a big name to appease those who are continually questioning and attacking the club’s owners. Van Persie can be a big signing, but is he the big signing that will turn United from runners-up and into champions? Not right now and certainly not if he is the last big name to come through the door at Old Trafford.
The team have to face the likelihood of another year with defensive worries, while there is still no deep-lying creative figure in the centre of midfield. Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs won’t be playing every game, and it remains to be seen what kind of impact and influence players like Tom Cleverly or Anderson can have over the long-term.
The pressing need for this United team was to address those areas of significant weakness: Michael Carrick at centre-back simply won’t do. It’s not even reasonable to compare him to players like Javier Mascherano or Javi Martinez, who have both found success by moving from midfield to defence.
If van Persie continues in the form he was in last season then many fans will find a distraction from the other problems at the club. But will the addition of van Persie’s goals be enough for a title when gaps around the rest of the team remain?