Let’s get this out of the way first: This is Manchester United’s biggest signing since Juan Sebastian Veron in 2001, in terms of form and standing in the global game. Veron came as the crown jewel in a midfield that had won Serie A and Italian cup a year previously. He was one of the best players in the world at the time, and the fee of 28 million pounds was a British record fee. In Robin van Persie, United have bought the best player in the Premiership over the last 18 months, and one of Europe’s best players. Since January 1, 2011, he has scored 48 goals in the league, and racked up 16 assists. His total tally last season was 44 goals in 57 games for club and country, and he appears to have to put his injury prone days well and truly behind him.
It seems like a long time ago now – nearly two years – since Wayne Rooney threatened to leave the club over a ‘lack of ambition’, but the club cannot be accused of that here. Hurt by City’s last gasp title victory, Alex Ferguson has signed van Persie to send a message, to make a statement of intent. The fact that he has signed the captain of a rival club, who have themselves made good signings, makes it even more emphatic.
Having said that, it could still go either way. A decline in form is not out of the realm of possibility, as is a recurrence of injury. Either scenario will make van Persie, at 225,000 pounds per week, an expensive flop.
The real issue concerns how he, Rooney and Shinji Kagawa will fit into the team, as well as giving Nani, Young, Valencia, Welbeck – who just signed a 5 year contract – and Hernandez decent playing time. The Dutchman’s arrival will surely mean a couple of players out of position, or spending extending periods on the bench.
It doesn’t have to be that way. A 3-4-1-2 will allow a partnership between Rooney, Kagawa and van Persie to blossom and give the team constant width, while not necessarily sacrificing defensive stability. Evans, Vidic and Ferdinand should do well in that system, and a fit Carrick and Cleverley can hold their own in midfield, but the lack of star quality in that area continues to be a source of concern.
Such a formation is highly unlikely due to Ferguson’s lack of tactical imagination, and the suspicion grows that the squad will be under-utilised because of it. 4-2-3-1 only has room for one striker, a 4-4-2 leaves out Kagawa, and a 4-3-3 comes closest on paper, but will push one of Rooney or van Persie out wide leading to reduced effectiveness.
There is also the spectre of injury. The situation last season was horrible, and it is either that the back-room staff are incapable of keeping players fit, or they are being overworked in training. My hope is that they have tried to address this on some level, because there is no point assembling a good squad if you won’t have your starting eleven available most times.
Contrary to the prevailing notion, keeping players fit does not arise by chance. Fergie may want to give Mancini a call.
As far as Arsenal is concerned, van Persie’s exit is not as bad as it looks, especially as he has already been replaced. Much of the lament will be more about bruised ego than anything else. As soon as he said he would not renew his contract, there was only one outcome. Wenger’s response was to more or less buy a new strike force, and in Santi Cazorla, Arsenal have signed their best player in at least a decade.
The Spaniard will now be the focus of the side, pulling the strings and providing far more chances than his team mates can squander. The concern remains in the defence, with Thomas Vermaelen and Alex Song seemingly unable to remain at their duty posts for any amount of time. The result was Arsenal’s worst defensive record for more than 10 years. If Wenger can fix this, his team can remain competitive in the title race.
How well United and Arsenal perform in the coming season, after this very significant transfer, will be down to their respective abilities to resolve issues in other areas. Arsenal sold where they didn’t have a deficiency, United bought where they didn’t have one either.