Manchester United: Will Robin Van Persie Fulfill Lofty Expectations?

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Manchester United: Will Robin Van Persie Fulfill Lofty Expectations?
Julian Finney/Getty Images

Without question, the biggest story of this summer's transfer window is Manchester United's surprise capture of Dutch striker Robin van Persie from Arsenal.

The capture of van Persie came thanks to a strenuous effort by Sir Alex Ferguson. In his effort to capture last year's PFA winner, Ferguson went so far as to have a private discussion with his former nemesis Arsene Wenger, to complete the move (h/t Sami Mokbel, Daily Mail).

Now, van Persie will head to Old Trafford in what appears to be a coup.

Ferguson had never secured a transfer from Arsenal during Wenger's tenure before (h/t David Ornstein, BBC Sport). In fact, the gap between the Gunners and United has lasted so long that the last time that an Arsenal player came to Manchester United was in 1987, when Viv Anderson moved to Old Trafford in what was Ferguson's first transfer with the club.

Heading into the first match of the season, there is optimism coming from the United camp that van Persie will be able to start against Everton, according to Jamie Jackson of The Guardian.

Though there is plenty of optimism regarding this upcoming campaign, there probably should be some skeptics about this transfer.

According to TransferMarkt, the move for van Persie cost around £27 million. That is the most expensive move that United made since Deadline Day 2008, when Dimitar Berbatov was brought in for a little more than £34 million.

Now Berbatov and van Persie have completely different playing styles, but both were brought in to reinforce an already strong unit of strikers. When Berbatov was brought in almost four years ago, it was to provide further stability alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez.

Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Berbatov and Ronaldo paired with each other for just one season.
The purchase of Berbatov eventually caused Tevez to become the odd man out, which led to his departure to Eastlands in 2009. Ronaldo also departed during that summer in a move that United were forced to make financially.

With the arrival of van Persie, another striker looks like they will be the odd man out again. Since the completion of van Persie's transfer, it has appeared that Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez might be on the way out; though it appears that United want to keep the Mexican international (h/t ESPN.com).

Going back to van Persie's before-mentioned transfer price, we can see that he is the oldest player purchased by United since fellow Dutchman Edwin van der Sar joined United in 2005 as a 34-year-old (h/t BBC Sport).

The last outfield player that United bought that was older than van Persie was former Barcelona and Inter Milan defender Laurent Blanc, who was 34 years old at the time of his free transfer. The last outfield player that United paid a transfer fee for was none other than Teddy Sheringham in 1997.

Granted, there are plenty of older players on United's roster like Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, but for the most part, these players have been fortunate not to deal with many of the same injuries that van Persie has suffered.

During his career, van Persie has suffered numerous injuries. Altogether, he has missed playing time with Arsenal on nine separate occasions from 2007 through 2011.

This includes ruptured ligaments in 2009 that caused van Persie to miss five months and a fractured metatarsal that caused him to miss five months in 2007, among other long-term problems.

Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Injuries plagued van Persie's time at Arsenal.
Last season, van Persie was healthy and we saw exactly what he achieved. We always have known that he is a talented footballer, but the fragility that the striker possesses is a concern.

United did know about this problem but still went after him in a much more aggressive manner than any other club. They were the only club that met Wenger's asking price for the striker, which was why van Persie is now a part of Manchester United.

Wenger even admitted after the completion of the transfer that he would have preferred to move him to PSG, but chose to send him to United because of the price that they put on van Persie (h/t Yahoo! Sports).

According to many Arsenal fans, Wenger did sink to a new low by sending their captain to one of their chief rivals. But let's not forget that Wenger, who holds an Economics degree from the University of Strasbourg, has long been a manager who relies on data to make some key decisions.

For many years, Wenger had refused to sign players over the age of 30 for an extended period of time, though that has appeared to change since the departure of Cesc Fabregas.

Wenger has put players over 30 under a sharp microscope throughout the last 16 years with Arsenal.

One of the most famous stories, as Simon Kuper recounts via FT Magazine, dealt with Dennis Bergkamp about a decade ago. Bergkamp found himself substituted late in matches, because as Wenger found out, Bergkamp's speed decreased drastically after playing for 70 minutes.

Now it's difficult to determine much data with van Persie due to his injury concerns. But statistics certainly influenced Wenger's decision to let go of the striker.

Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
What made Wenger decide to deal van Persie?
Though Wenger publicly stated, via ESPN.com, that he wanted van Persie to resolve his contract situation before the season started, the manager probably saw a flaw develop in van Persie's game that could prove detrimental down the road.

For Manchester United, that road will last until 2016. By then, van Persie will be 33 years old and will probably start to see his game diminish.

Unless there is a guaranteed clean bill of health and a lack of diminished skill due to his new surroundings, people will always question this move for van Persie. Time will be the final judge of the decision; though it is unlikely that van Persie's move will be one that United fans will see as an unquestionable success.

After all, when a legendary manager is comparing you to "King" Eric Cantona on your first day of training with Manchester United (h/t Mark Ogden, The Telegraph), you certainly will have your work cut out.

 

Follow me on Twitter @Andrew_Jordan

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