There is little doubt that the arrival of Robin van Persie has completely changed the English Premier League power balance, and we'll likely see Manchester United crowned league champions in 2013.
Sir Alex Ferguson knows it. Roberto Mancini knows it. The world knows it.
Van Persie has been brilliant since his arrival to the Manchester club from Arsenal, fitting in immediately with the new system and having great success for the Red Devils. What's more, as the season has wore on, the Dutchman began to save United time and time again this year with late goals and injury-time finishes that gave them their huge title lead.
"Robin van Persie is an important player for them," said Roberto Mancini earlier in the year. "It's clear that the difference is this.—he has changed the situation."
With 22 goals and eight assists in both English and European competitions this year (and still several weeks to go), Van Persie has been immense for United.
However, despite his success, the reality is that Wayne Rooney—and not Van Persie—has been United's most important player this season.
The England international has been forced to give up his striker's role at the top of the box (for Van Persie). Instead, he's now become a true No. 10 in the creative side of things that he brings to the Red Devils, thriving as a attacking midfielder more than an out-and-out striker.
Truth be told, Rooney is starring in the role that many envisaged new signing Shinji Kagawa would play at the start of the year. And perhaps Ferguson did also, until he saw just how effective the 27-year-old was in the role just behind the Dutch striker in United's attack.
No defense has completely figured out how to play Rooney this season—short of dragging a regular midfielder back and trying to man-mark him.
And even then, that hasn't always worked.
Rooney's multi-faceted threats make him a nightmare to try and pick up in defense, particularly when he's running at defenses with the ball at his feet.
When defenses do attack him, the Englishman has the passing skills to shift it wide to United's wingers or fire a brilliant ball through to Van Persie. And when they hang off him, he has the attacking skills needed to fire in wonder-goals and truly make the defense pay.
Former United player and respected analyst Lou Macari had this to say about the role and success that Rooney has had for United this season.
He [Rooney] has got such a football brain and you can throw him in there, in midfield. But I just take the view that if you've played in midfield all your life you know what it's all about. It requires a lot of energy up and down the pitch. He is used to being up front and he is at his very best inside that box.
When the ball drops for him I would back him to score even over and above Robin van Persie. I would back him to put the ball in the back of the net given all sorts of opportunities inside the box. He is a goalscorer...
At the end of the year, Van Persie will be heralded as simply incredible.
He is seemingly a lock for United's player of the year award; he may even win the English Premier League's player of the year award given the problems he has caused defenses right throughout the season and the countless times that he has bailed United out of trouble.
Van Persie is one of the biggest reasons they are 12 points in front in the title race and seemingly a lock to wrap up another Premier League title.
But despite that, he has not been more important than Rooney.
|Wayne Rooney||Robin van Persie|
|Apps.||18 (4 sub)||28 (3 sub)|
Key—SpG (shots per game), KP (key passes, goal-scoring chances created), TO (turnovers), Avg. Pass (average number of passes)
Who's been bigger for Manchester United this year?
He might not get the accolades and praise that Van Persie gets, but Rooney most certainly deserves them from the season that he's had.
If only for his flexibility in changing roles and his new-found stardom in the middle of the field—Rooney has been the most important player for United.
For few players could have adjusted to the change and still had such success.
Even fewer could have done it whilst winning the Premier League.
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