With Dutch boss Louis van Gaal seemingly on the brink of being appointed the new Manchester United manager, it poses the question of just how much his relationship with Robin van Persie has played a part in this?
The former Arsenal striker’s form has been variable this season. He began the campaign where he left off last year, but as injuries and Manchester United’s form disrupted his flow, the moody attitude that was notorious in his Arsenal days has reared its ugly head.
On more than one occasion, van Persie and Moyes’ relationship was the subject of media speculation. But with van Gaal looking like the man to pick up the pieces Moyes left behind, van Persie will no doubt be delighted. Wayne Rooney, on the other hand, may think otherwise.
The strong bond the two Dutchmen have is evident, with van Gaal having named van Persie the Dutch captain when he took charge of the national side. During van Persie’s most recent injury lay-off, the two have taken scouting trips to watch matches in the Eredivisie. Known publicly to be very pally with one another, it makes his potential departure even more unlikely, if van Gaal is to take the reins.
The Mail Online report that Wayne Rooney is fearful of losing his role in the side. After rebuilding the seemingly irreparably burnt bridges between himself and the club since the end of Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign, being forced to potentially once more play second-fiddle to van Persie could undo much of the good work United did to tie him down to a new long-term contract.
Under Moyes, Rooney has rediscovered some of the form that went missing last season, and has contributed 17 goals and 10 assists in the Premier League this season.
It’s a legitimate worry that with van Persie looking to take centre-stage again, Rooney will be forced to play a more withdrawn role in the side. It’s rare nowadays to see teams play with two out-and-out strikers, and it’s more than likely that one of Rooney or van Persie will have to make way. And few would bet against it being Rooney.
It’s no surprise that Rooney’s newfound form has coincided with the absence of his Dutch colleague. Van Persie’s hiatus has allowed Rooney to play in his favoured position, with Juan Mata operating in behind him. When both men were fit, Moyes often tried shoe-horning his creative attacking-minded players into the side, unbalancing the team in the process.
Van Gaal would no doubt reinstate van Persie into the lone-striker role. And considering his record over the last three seasons, it’s hard to argue against it. But Rooney has been United’s star performer this season, and for a number of years prior. Even during the hard times this season, Rooney has been one of the few quality players amid the shambles. He’s shown United can rely on him when times are hard.
Van Persie, on the other hand, hasn’t. He cut and run at Arsenal when he didn’t get his own way, and it looked for all the world as though he was heading in the same direction at United until Moyes was shown the door.
Van Gaal isn’t stupid, and he will surely recognise the importance of Rooney. Whether this recognition will be rewarded as a striker, or another role in the side remains to be seen. Rooney is a Manchester United legend in his own right, and being forced to play bridesmaid may cause unrest.
With a relative newcomer – as van Persie is – assuming the role of teacher’s pet, it could prove to be a divisive manoeuvre. Van Gaal will have to strike a balance, for the sake of Rooney, and for the sake of Manchester United.