Arsenal Transfers: Why Robin Van Persie May Not Be a Success at Old Trafford

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Arsenal Transfers: Why Robin Van Persie May Not Be a Success at Old Trafford
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Well. At least we can finally tell that bloody elephant over there in the corner to bugger off.

So van Persie’s gone, in a move possibly akin to America leaving the Brits for the Germans (no insensitivity intended) and Arsenal, that sleek and toned machine poised so assertively  on the blocks of the Premier League race, has suddenly put on 50 pounds.

It’s not like we weren’t all expecting it, but still the news was grim. I don’t know why he left. Apparently he’s getting £200,000 a week, which isn’t exactly to be sniffed at, but it would be crass to say it’s all about the money.

United are a good team, remember, who were within a whisker of the title last year, despite having a vastly inferior squad to Manchester City.

But you’d like to think that United are not necessarily a superior team to Arsenal. On a man-by-man basis, they’re not, certainly not by such a margin that you would find it reasonable for a player who has been treated with extraordinary patience by his club and whose ability has been carefully extracted by a master craftsman at the expense of inordinate personal frustration who...(breath)... has already had to deal with the agony of seeing his best players leave year-in year-out, and has had to bear the public backlash at the frugality necessitated by the club’s ambitious wish to remain self-sufficient in an increasingly idiotic footballing and financial climate...(breath)...to utterly forego any semblance of loyalty to and self-respect and instead choose to ally himself with the Opposition in what is one of the most bitter and competitive rivalries in modern football.

Is it?

Wow. That felt good. And literate!

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Anyway, we’re not friends anymore, old RVP and I, and anyone who knows me well knows that beneath my diminutive yet charming exterior lays the heart of an evil, bitter, spiteful politician, who is capable only of seeing the world through a gloomy and miserable microscope fueled by resentment and hurt feelings.

And, right now, all sights are focused on one man: Robin van Persie.

 

There's No "I" In "Team"...

“I personally have had a great season but my goal has been to win trophies with the team...”

This quote is lifted directly from van Persie’s “update for the fans”, or, as van Persie himself would call it, “update for de fanssh”. No, I am not above getting a few laughs at the expense of his accent. Not by a long shot.

It’s a good thing Robin never said anything about playing in that update, simply winning.

The odds are that a van Persie-strengthened United will almost certainly claim some silverware in the 2012-13 season. The Red Devils lost out on the Premier League title by a pipsqueak’s hair’s breadth, to coin a clumsy aphorism, and to entertain the idea that the top scorer in that same competition will not strengthen their ranks is an exercise in futility.

But there lies a problem. See, United have already strengthened their attack. They brought in Shinji Kagawa from Dortmund, who was the best player on one of the best teams in Europe last season.

They already have Nani and Antonio Valencia on the flanks, both of whom are quick, dynamic players who thrive when given consistent game time.

They have an excellent striking trio in Danny Welbeck, Javier Hernandez, and of course Wayne Rooney, owner of the most expensive hair in the Premier League.

In fact, their attack has a similar level of depth to Arsenal’s. But there lies one key difference: while van Persie was the focal point of Arsenal’s attack—of their team, no less—that role is already filled at United, by Wayne Rooney.

Rooney is not only United’s attacking focus, but also their talisman: he is the man to whom the club turns when they are in need, just as van Persie was at Arsenal.

In theory, having two such players in one team should be wonderfully effective: double the experience, double the motivation, double the goals, double the fun. But it doesn’t work like that.

Take Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard as an example: both great players; both the marquee men of their respective clubs, the guys who would step up when it mattered, through whom the hopes of their clubs traveled.

But when it came to playing together for England, they simply couldn’t function together. Though they both individually played well for the Three Lions, their performances together yielded a measly 46% win rate from 15 matches.

The personal success of Van Persie’s tenure at Old Trafford will be greatly determined by his early displays. Should he link up well with Rooney and produce goals and assists for the Red Devils on their way to some silverware, he will obviously be seen as an excellent buy.

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

But should the Dutchman fail to bed in well, he may find himself in an awkward Berbatov-esque situation.

Welbeck and Hernandez will be nipping at van Persie’s heels for a starting spot. Hernandez has been at the club since 2010 and will not be satisfied with a spot on a bench during what should be his breakout years, while United will not want to stifle Welbeck’s development, which could yield ten years of quality football.

When Fernando Torres moved to Chelsea for £50 million, he did so in the knowledge that there were strikers at Chelsea who were more established and proven than he.

The Spaniard failed to adapt to the London side’s playing style, and his first two seasons there have seen him score just seven goals in 46 appearances.

Van Persie has only known one brand of football in his entire meaningful career. It will likely prove much more difficult for the Dutchman to ingratiate himself into United’s style of play even than it was for Torres. On top of that, he will have to cope with the pressure of expectation, the fact that he is not the sole focal point of the team, the fact that he is less valuable as a player than another who plays his position, and the idea that he has two young, hungry strikers willing and able to take his place in the lineup if they catch even a whiff of fallibility in the Dutchman’s stride.

The cherry on top is that van Persie is 29, and thus doesn’t have the benefit that Torres has of youth and time.

And the icing, sugar...?

 

My Grandmother Beat Up Robin van Persie

OK, you got me. She didn’t. But she could.

A Google search for Robin van Persie’s injury record reveals surprisingly little, but after probing deeper I found this little gem which explores the subject in the most delightfully frank and gory manner.

For those of us too lazy to click on the link, I shall enlighten you on its contents.

Since 2004, Robin van Persie has sustained 25 separate injuries.

25 injuries. What an appropriate sum of money Arsenal received for the Dutchman – a little under £1 million per injury!

What is even more alarming than this is the centralized nature of these injuries. In roundabout numbers, van Persie has sustained 11 ankle or foot injuries; four serious knee injuries; seven thigh, hamstring or hip injuries; and three groin problems.

What do football players do? They run. They kick balls. They tackle. If you have a lengthy and serious history of injuries to areas of your body that are vital to running, kicking, tackling or being tackled, you may well be more trouble than you are worth—and I really would like to see £24 million worth of trouble come crashing down on Manchester United.

I’m sorry, I have to say it again. 25 injuries.

Ever since he has shown himself to be an exceptional player, Arsenal fans have watched Robin van Persie with bated breath, because he can quite literally break down at any time.

Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Last season was possibly the most nerve-racking of any, as a long-term van Persie injury would have devastated any hope Arsenal had of retaining their Champions’ League spot.

Now, the title of this article is why van Persie may not succeed at Old Trafford, and obviously van Persie sustaining any kind of injury—let alone a serious one—is far from certain.

But the man has averaged three injuries a season over the course of his career. In Jack Wilshere’s first season as a first-team player, he played more minutes than van Persie has amassed in all but one of his seasons.

And should the Dutchman suffer even one injury, the repercussions could be of an irrecoverable magnitude: his place could be taken by any of the players named earlier in this article; he might return to his injury-prone days of yester-seasons gone by; and, the one certainty amongst the speculation, he will decline with every day he spends on the physio’s table.

In paying through the nose for van Persie, Ferguson is taking a massive gamble: I don’t know what the odds of the situation are, but if van Persie suffered 24 injuries in seven years at Arsenal before going through one season with the lone injury, a smart man would certainly not bet on him repeating this athletic feat of seemingly-Achillean proportions a second time around.

I certainly wouldn’t.

 

The One-Man Extravaganzas

Robin van Persie and Alex Ferguson do have one thing in common asides from their increasingly similar hair colours: they’re no good when there are two big-name strikers in their team.

This may be a relatively general term, and obviously there are exceptions, particularly in Ferguson’s case: Andrew Cole and Dwight Yorke formed a formidable partnership up front for the Scotsman in the mid-to-late ‘90s, while van Persie...well, no, actually, he really doesn’t play very well with another big-name striker beside him.

Take the qualifying rounds for the EURO 2012 tournament as a starting base, as we all know how badly the entire Netherlands team played in the actual tournament and thus will discount that dark saga entirely.

In the 10 fixtures the Netherlands played, van Persie scored six goals, four of which came in an 11-0 rout of San Marino, which, with all due respect, I didn’t even realize was a country.

In those same 10 fixtures, Klass-Jan Huntelaar scored 12 goals, including the winners against Finland and, twice, Moldova.

Since 2010, when both these strikers “hit their prime”, so-to-speak—that is, became real big-name players—Huntelaar has scored 19 goals in 32 appearances for the Dutch national team. Van Persie has managed just 12 goals in 29 matches.

Obviously, statistics can only tell us so much, and the disparity between Huntelaar’s and van Persie’s records is not significant enough for us to draw an irrevocable parallel between the presence of a fellow big-name striker and van Persie’s lack of performance, but it is noteworthy nonetheless, and Robin’s conspicuous failure to deliver the goods at the Euros after such a celebrated season with Arsenal may well bode badly for the future.

Meanwhile, Ferguson’s record with a multitude of famous strikers is unenviable to say the least. The Scotsman has purchased such stars as Diego Forlan, Carlos Tevez, and Dimitar Berbatov to complement the Manchester United attack, but in 234 league appearances the three contributed just 77 goals.

And the problems that the two may face run even deeper: in this excellent analysis, I.J. Yarison highlights the importance of the central midfielder, the absence of which caused the Dutch no small amount of grief in the European Championships.

In effect, the absence of a true central midfielder leaves an enormous transition space in the centre of the midfield, which can be exploited to devastating affect by the right opposition.

Arsenal has something of an embarrassment of riches in this central midfield position: Jack Wilshere is well on his way to becoming one of the best in the business, and a fully-fit Abou Diaby is already one of the best exponents of the box-to-box in the world.

Last season, a vast proportion of Arsenal’s play was run through the centre. It was controlled by Mikel Arteta, and unleashed by Alex Song. While Theo Walcott, Gervinho and Alex Chamberlain technically played wide positions, none of them were “wingers” in the traditional sense; Arsenal, as a goalscoring threat, rarely relied on getting the ball wide and sending in crosses.

United have been foolish in purchasing van Persie, because they have emptied the war-chest in a rush of blood to the head, without acknowledging that in the middle of the park—in their spine—they are desperately short of quality.

Try as he might, this will be the season where Paul Scholes finally gives up the ghost. He simply will not be able to cope with the physical demands of the Premier League any longer.

Julian Finney/Getty Images

Michael Carrick may be a good player, but he is neither as metronomic as Arteta, nor as dynamic and assertive as Song; while Darren Fletcher, Tom Cleverley and Anderson barely played 1700 minutes between them last season.

It is an interesting situation to see, a manager as wily and experienced as Ferguson ignoring the needs of his team in order to fork out large for an aging striker made of glass to play an as-yet-unknown role in a team whose engine is being driven by a 37 year-old and Michael Carrick.

But, "Fergie knows", the Man U fans will cry.

Wonder where they got that one from.

 

Conclusion

Obviously this is a very pessimistic (optimistic?) way of looking at van Persie’s transfer, but I woke up this morning and opened my laptop to this news and all of a sudden was hit by a ton of lemons.

Thanks, life.

There’s this beautiful word the Germans have: schadenfreude. It has no specific English counterpart, but it basically means taking a vindictive pleasure in the misfortunes of others.

We all hope for a little schadenfreude to befall someone from time to time. Though van Persie may go on to be a raging success at Old Trafford, score a bucketload of goals and win everything in sight, it would please me greatly to see him falter, tumble, and fall, and I would whole-heartedly join Arsene Wenger in laughing all the way to the bank.

That may seem like a cruel thing to say, but van Persie was cruel to us: “No matter what happens, I’ll always be a Gunner”, he said.

No, you won’t. A true Gunner would never leave the club. I am a true Gunner, and I hope that most of the people who read this are too, and I would never leave my club just because supporting someone else might mean I get to taste the sweetness of success more regularly.

I guess that’s one good that has come out of this whole fiasco. We realized van Persie is not one of us.

Meh. Good riddance.

 

Also, watch this video on youtube. It contains foul language, but my God it’s a hilarious take on the whole situation.

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