Manchester United Must Show Ambition or Suffer More Unrest

Stuart Howard-CofieldFeatured ColumnistMarch 10, 2014

Manchester United's Robin van Persie   tackles West Brom's Morgan Amalfitano    during the English Premier League soccer match between West Bromwich Albion and Manchester United at The Hawthorns Stadium in West Bromwich, England, Saturday, March 8, 2014.  (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)
Rui Vieira/Associated Press

Stories of player unrest have permeated the air around Old Trafford this season. The most high-profile have surrounded Manchester United’s star strikers and their club captain.

Manchester United worked hard finally to put stories of Wayne Rooney’s disaffection behind them by securing the Liverpudlian’s signature on a stellar contract. 

David Moyes appeared to go on a charm offensive with Rooney, often singling him out for praise, and his contract offer also brought with it the suggestion that he might captain of the club. Some reports also claimed that the player would be given the inside track on transfer activity, per Eurosport.

Following a poor showing across all competitions and in the transfer market, the move was necessary not only to retain the services of an important player but also to show to the greater world that the club still holds big ambitions.

Meanwhile, club captain Nemanja Vidic recently announced that he is to leave Manchester United at the end of the season, Inter Milan being announced as his destination, per the BBC.

Without another contract being on the table, Moyes said a mutual decision had been made but that Vidic would continue as club captain despite his impending departure.

To have a captain on the field who has openly signed a new contract with another club is an unusual situation—he has since, perhaps wisely, admitted that he might begin to use the Serbian international more sparingly as the season draws to a close, per the Guardian.

Robin van Persie’s future, however, is not such a closed case. Whispers of his unrest seemed to surface in Manchester early in the season and have continued throughout. Back in December, it was reported, per the Mirror, that TV pundit and ex-Liverpool player Mark Lawrenson had claimed that the Dutchman had already handed in a transfer request.

February culminated in van Persie appearing to vocalise discontent on Dutch TV following the UEFA Champions League defeat to Olympiakos, per the Guardian.

"Our fellow players are sometimes occupying the spaces I want to play in," he opined.

Moyes brushed the comments aside, claiming: "If you actually read the full transcript, I understand totally where he was coming from."

Such comments, though, warrant large column spaces in the press because they are so rare at Manchester United. They were also swiftly followed by Holland legend Ronald de Boer claiming that van Persie was unhappy in Manchester, per the Manchester Evening News.

The Guardian also reported Moyes' comments on de Boer’s views:

I couldn't reply to that and I wouldn't know how Ronald de Boer would know that. I travelled back from the [Holland] game with Robin the other night. I went to the game, watched them play and travelled back with him. I hardly feel I need to answer the question.

Van Persie's demeanour in the game against West Bromwich Albion at the weekend will have done little to quieten the rumours of him being unsettled.

There are not many days that go by without one player or another hinting at discontent at clubs all around the world, and Borussia Dortmund are but one high-profile club to have suffered players announcing their departure mid-season. It is not a sight that is seen so often at Old Trafford, though.

The length of time that many of United's players have spent at the club speaks volumes. The truth is that, thanks to an remarkable period of dominance in the domestic game, Manchester United have been cosseted from the vagaries of the football world that most other clubs, players and fans endure on a regular basis.

Ryan Giggs, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Darren Fletcher, Michael Carrick, Patrice Evra, Nani and more have all spent more than seven years at the club.

Admiring glances will have been cast their way on many occasions, but with year after year of medals and trophies of offer—why would they want to leave?

Therein lies a problem. With this season continuing to be less than inspiring and likely to end without a trophy, Moyes must convince both his future targets—and those present players that he wants to keep hold of—that he and United are going places.

Van Persie left Arsenal to win trophies. He could easily agitate for a move once more.

A northern provincial city built on the back of the industrial revolution with a reputation for grey skies and rain: Manchester is not always an easy sell to the modern footballer. A successful Manchester United is, though.

The incredible £600m Nike shirt deal, per the Mirror, shows that the club is still very big business. The very best players care little for that. They need to buy into a project and to know that a club has ambitions that match their own.

It is the conveyor belt of trophies that has done most to quell any notions of wanderlust in the past.