There was always a point of contention over Sir Alex Ferguson’s last proper delve into the transfer market, and that concerned the age and fitness of his last iconic purchase.
But on the back of Robin Van Persie’s electrifying, prolific, title-winning debut season, all of these doubts were put to bed. A £24m investment on an injury-laden 29-year-old was a risk, a risk that ultimately paid off. But that investment never signified a long-term cause of thinking – Van Persie is now walking a dangerous path, burdened by his rising age, vulnerable to the onset of decadent outlays supplemented by United’s imperialistic wealth.
The cold facts have now surfaced. Van Persie missed 17 Premier League games last season through knee and hamstring injuries, and despite largely maintaining his fitness for this current campaign, this has statistically been his least fruitful season for about half a decade.
There now seems to be a new, unique factor of influence regarding his continued place in United’s team, and that’s politics. Politics with Louis Van Gaal. If you delve into Van Gaal’s vast history of management, you’ll see a general pattern of how he occasionally has high profile bust ups with big-name players from his teams (be it Rivaldo, Marco Van Bommel, or Luca Toni). Van Persie actually fell into this category after Euro 2012, and history suggested at the time that he’d probably rarely feature again with Van Gaal at the helm. But Van Persie defied the odds and was eventually named Holland captain, which has laid a platform for there to be a sentimental chemistry between the two.
While a man of Van Gaal’s stature would refute the idea that he’d succumb to emotion and favours for one of his alumni, it seems strange that Van Persie has held down his starting place at United with such an assumed ease, given the way his presence alters the dynamic of United’s current team.
Now this isn’t to mask the shortcomings of the miss-firing Radamal Falcao, (who, despite his poor form, deserves to start more than Van Persie), but to consider the dis-located Wayne Rooney, who’s migrated further south into United’s midfield to accommodate the attacking potency which now surrounds their squad.
If you follow the rationale that United will nearly always start with a diamond in midfield or three at the back, then a by-product of those formations is they’ll always set out with two players up front, a no.10, and at least two in midfield behind.
If Van Persie starts, Rooney is the first player to fall victim, slotting into a deep midfield role. United’s captain is by all accounts a decently versatile player with the attributes to adapt to the differing demands of that position, but his tenure there is more indicative that he’s generally wasted that far away from goal.
Despite the ocean of widespread criticism that’s surrounded Falcao, he and Rooney would both figure much better together as a pair going forward, with Falcao not being expected to prove as a link option to serve Van Persie. Falcao has never really been asked to do that in his career – to ask him of it now is calling on him to offer a service that he’s not inclined to – despite the fact that his link up play’s been generally quite impressive.
The rebuttal to that assertion is to ponder why Van Persie should be axed and not Falcao if Rooney’s destined to be pushed further forward.
The answer to that is three fold. First, Falcaos fo career has proven that he’s one of the greatest aerial strikers in world football (see here), which gives a variation to United’s attack that Van Persie doesn’t offer. Such would also lessen their reliance on Maourane Fellaini. Second, a Rooney, Falcao, Mata trip has hardly been tried at all this season and subsequently the Colombian’s performances have hardly been a fair reflection of him being supplied adequately. Somehow, people have forgotten just how good Falcao was before he joined Monaco.
Third, and last, Van Persie is reaching the end of his career and is gradually (and naturally) declining. He’ll likely be gone at the end of next season when his contract expires. While most have written Falcao off, he only really has no chance of fulfilling his (skyhigh) potential if he’s given gametime in the right system. Falcao may have underperformed (like a majority of his South American contemporaries in the Premier League) but Van Gaal hasn’t played to his strengths yet.
United’s victory over Sunderland this weekend saw this all come to fruition – both Rooney and Falcao played better. Van Gaal should pursue this formula for now.