The signing of Robin van Persie should have given Alex Ferguson a new lease of life for the game, a new-found motivation to go and do it all again next summer. Talk of bargain signings from Spain continue to fill the air as the best moves of 2012, but no one can deny that £24 million for the best striker in England is a remarkable piece of business. Even if van Persie is pushing towards the age of 30, the Dutchman’s talent is enough to make any manager rethink the idea of retirement.
So why not go for another round next summer? Bild recently reported that Manchester United were after Borussia Dortmund’s Robert Lewandowski, stating that the Polish striker was keen to move to the Premier League for a fee just over 22 million euros. And why not? The are very few strikers in Europe who are better than Lewandowski. Few have managed to create a hybrid of the traditional, tall no 9 and the dynamic modern equivalent.
Does the Dortmund striker signal a quick-fire address to van Persie’s age, or is there something else in there?
Dortmund are in a similar state to Arsenal of last year, whereby their most valuable forward is nearing the end of his contract and the club are in a position where they may need to sell. You can bet the German champions will do everything in their power to keep hold of one of their assets, and the reported wages of £5 million a year that United are willing to offer should quite easily fall into their comfort zone.
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If Dortmund go all the way in the Champions League—and they’re more than good enough to do so—then it may be a case that Lewandowski opts to stay. Even if the club do not retain their Bundesliga title this season, the loyalty of their other stars would signal a more than ferocious attack on the title next season. Bayern Munich may have the financial means to outmuscle Dortmund, but Jurgen Klopp’s side won’t be put down by the reinvigorated powers in the south of the country.
So how would Lewandowski fit in at Old Trafford? How does one of the Bundesliga’s most impressive forwards fit into a group of strikers who Alex Ferguson claimed were on par with his 1999 treble-winning squad? Javier Hernandez has already spoken out about his desire to leave should first-team opportunities remain limited in the future and the signing of Shinji Kagawa last summer gives the team an option of playing just one striker in attack. Ferguson has done so a few times this season, notably when the pressure was off, but how do you leave van Persie out of your starting XI for an extended period of time—even for Lewandowski?
What about Wayne Rooney? The idea of letting Rooney go would be more of a blow to the club from a symbolic perspective rather than for football reasons. Rooney is yet to fulfil the potential he had and become one of Europe’s finest attackers, while his inconsistencies, coupled with the presence of van Persie, means it’s not all that difficult to leave him on the bench.
Regardless of form and where the level of his talents may be in two or three years time, Rooney is a name who would bring in a royal fee from any number of the growing powers around Europe. Lewandowski is younger and can only continue to get better—as mentioned, there are few strikers in Europe who play the role as well and importantly as he does—so the prospect of swapping one for the other hardly seems catastrophic from a footballing perspective.
But the real concern for United remains the other areas in the squad, notably defence and the centre of midfield. On one hand, you simply can’t pass up the opportunity to sign Lewandowski for the rumoured price, but those problem areas in the squad are unlikely to heal themselves. Maybe the manager has big plans for Nick Powell in the near future, maybe Phil Jones will convert to midfield and become the all-action defensive player the team needs. Maybe Rooney’s known versatility will mean he stays on at the club and fills a role elsewhere in the squad. He’s capable of scoring 30 goals a season, but how sure can the club be of that every year? He can play the wide positions and even in midfield, however a role on the flanks will limit the productivity he can bring from a central position.
For all the talk of where Lewandowski may fit and whether Rooney’s future at the club is certain, it may simply be that Alex Ferguson is loading the deck for one last charge on the Champions League. A Premier League and European double would undoubtedly be the grandest way to exit the game, and who can really complain when a squad has the most fearsome attack in English football?