Is it just me who thinks Robin Van Persie looks like he has aged about 10 years over the summer? It is a World Cup year so it’s no surprise when a player who reached the latter stages looks a bit jaded come start of the season. But, to me Van Persie looks like he is struggling with more than a bit of fatigue with age. With Man United’s season last year being one to forget, it may have led us to brush over and ignore clear signs of the Dutchman’s game withering. Van Persie’s season last year was hindered with continual injuries which bought him a degree of slack when criticising his performances. He was also helped by the fact that public enemy number one for the media and supporters alike became the new man at the helm, David Moyes.
Admittedly, there were plenty of players from last season that deserved criticism for their performance and their place at the club questioned, probably more so than RVP. But, a continued inability to influence games has to be scrutinized in Van Persie’s situation. He is at an age now where it can’t be that outrageous to ask if he is on the downward slope and incapable of leading the line for a United team attempting to make massive resurgence. Nobody would have a better grasp of this than Van Gaal himself. Van Persie was his captain at the World Cup for his Dutch side, he would have seen first-hand any deterioration in the striker’s game.
At the World Cup Van Persie scored that memorable goal against Spain, the quality which was mostly down to Daley Blind’s pass. Besides that great goal try to remember a real in game contribution from Van Persie, whose style of play has always involved getting on the ball and influencing the game around the oppositions defence. I can’t remember any, in fact I remember thinking “Van Persie looks a bit slow of the mark”. Van Gaal is obviously a far more perceptive man than me when it comes to analyzing a player, and he spent the whole summer with RVP. If he noticed that the his main man’s game was suffering and he couldn’t rely on him to shoulder the work of leading the line for Man United, it would explain why he made a move for Falcao on transfer deadline day.
To everyone that has any interest in the Premier League, European or even World football, Man United signing Falcao wasn’t dealing with their biggest squad issues. My argument at the time was, United saw value in the investment. This wasn’t just signing any striker, adding depth to numbers in their frontline. They had signed Radamel Falcao, a man that has been pursued in each transfer window for the past so many years because he is considered one of the most prolific strikers in football. I assumed United had been offered him and went with the logic of he would improve any team as one of the world’s best, we can’t say no. Perhaps it was more than that, Van Gaal felt he needed to get a new main striker because Van Persie wasn’t going to be able to do that job for the full season and seasons after it. It still means the flaws in the defence were ignored, but obviously United didn’t feel they could find value in the market for what they were pursuing defensively. However, their answer to an ailing star striker was handed to them on a silver platter fresh from French Riviera.
In his debut season Van Persie lit up Old Trafford with 26 goals, a top scorer award and a Premier League title for his troubles. Last season he slumped to 12 goals, but only managed 21 appearances due to injury. So far this season in a goal shy side he has managed 3 goals in 10 appearances. Van Persie’s first season meant that a high degree of quality is expected from him from the United support, as such perhaps criticism is a bit unfair because he can’t live up to what was an incredible debut season as he gets older. But, it is what is expected of a man who shoulders the burden of leading the line for Manchester United, especially given his prolific predecessors (fellow Dutchman Van Nistelrooy being one of them).
I believe Van Persie still has an important role to play for United, the issue is he cannot lead the line by himself. He looks too far gone to be the sole striker in a team, whereas him partnered with a fit Falcao could make the difference. It takes the onus off of the Dutchman and allows him to concentrate more on finding positions to score while Falcao does the ball work he no longer can, there has been glimpses so far this season on the limited times the pair have partnered each other up top e.g. their link up for the second goal against West Ham at home. Some may feel this is unwarranted and harsh, it is a World Cup year after all and he played all the way to the 3rd/4th place play off; maybe he is just tired and not had proper resting time due to Man United’s injuries. This could be the case, but tiredness wouldn’t explain his poor ball retention and inability to influence the game barring one effort on goal a game in my opinion. It comes down to the high standard Van Persie is held to. He has been one of the top players in the world at what he does for years gone by, when we see that starting to waiver it is obvious he will be questioned and people will wonder about his future. This is not to be harsh and jump on his back and scrutinize his every performance with a magnifying glass looking for flaws to highlight. For me it is a worry that I won’t be able to watch one of the world’s best play at his consistent level anymore. The Robin Van Persie we have known over the past decade not being able to perform anymore would be a loss not only to Man United fans, but also the Premier League. Think back to his volley against Aston Villa at Old Trafford, or even his one against Charlton Athletic back in his Arsenal days. When he’s on form it’s a joy to watch and the idea of not seeing that form for much longer is upsetting as a football fan.
RVP may no longer be Man United’s MVP with a new squad of young talent being assembled around him while he ages. My hope is he adapts his game to suit his age and can continue to contribute to games. Let him answer those who want to scrutinize his game and question his place, me included.