When Robin van Persie scored a 33-minute hat-trick against Aston Villa last season, securing a 13th Premier League title for Manchester United, it would have been impossible to imagine a scenario whereby the club would consider letting him go just a year later.
But that might just be the case.
Simon Mullock of the Mirror, amongst others, is reporting that the Dutchman is considering a move away from Old Trafford, with Juventus high on his list of suitors. Whether the media are correct in their assertion that van Persie is unhappy at United remains to be seen, but there’s no doubt that he is a different player to last season.
Here, we’ll take a look at why United would be crazy to let him go.
Van Persie Is Still One of the World’s Best
Usually, it would be wise to err on the side of caution when basing an argument on statistics. The fact that Tom Cleverley has a pass accuracy of 89.6 percent, superseded only by Juan Mata in the United squad, attests to that.
But in the case of van Persie it’s possible to make an exception.
That level of contribution cannot be underplayed because, even in games where van Persie has been quiet, and there have been a few of those this season, he’s always posed a threat. It would be ridiculous to ignore that.
Whether you look back to his brace against Swansea in the first Premier League game of the season, his scrambled goals versus Cardiff or his expertly guided finish against Stoke, one thing is clear: Robin van Persie has it all and is still one of the world’s best in front of goal.
How could United justify the departure of someone with his ability?
Solving the Robin van Persie vs. Wayne Rooney Conundrum Is Key
Central to van Persie’s current frustrations is the man who leads the line alongside him, Wayne Rooney. And finding a way of getting those two firing at the same time would be invaluable to David Moyes.
But first, it’s worth understanding the wider context to the situation, looking at why the problem exists in the first place. It all comes down to van Persie’s remarks after United’s dire performance in the Champions League against Olympiakos. Jamie Jackson of The Guardian picked up the Dutchman’s post-match interview comments:
Our fellow players are sometimes occupying the spaces I want to play in. And when I see that it makes it difficult for me to come to those spaces as well. So that forces me to adjust my runs, based on the position of my fellow players. And unfortunately, they're often playing in my zones. I think that's a shame.
Indirectly, perhaps, he is referring to Rooney, who has enjoyed a rejuvenated season under Moyes. Van Persie, meanwhile, has looked frustrated. But it was only last season that it was the other way around: Rooney struggled as van Persie flourished in Sir Alex Ferguson’s final campaign.
And that’s worth mentioning because it points to one overriding conclusion: Rooney and van Persie cannot play well together in a strike partnership at the same time. It seems to be one or the other.
And so, with that established, it becomes pertinent to look at how the duo can figure together. The most obvious solution is to drop Rooney into a deeper midfield role, thus freeing the space up front for van Persie to exploit.
Think back to the aforementioned game versus Aston Villa, when Rooney arrowed a diagonal ball right on the end of van Persie’s arched run. It was the goal of the season, and the kind of play that could allow the duo to prosper at the same time.
Whether Rooney would be willing to play that role is questionable, but there is definitely logic behind it. And it’s something Moyes and United should, at the very least, consider trying for even just a couple of games.
What Does the Future Hold For van Persie?
It would appear that there are two key factors set to decide the Dutchman’s immediate future: David Moyes and van Persie’s own ambitions.
Addressing the former first, it’s possible to envisage a scenario whereby Moyes is willing to let van Persie leave Old Trafford, especially if it helps finance the signing of other world-class players. That will surely tempt Moyes, particularly this summer, as he knows he must build a squad that’s capable of winning silverware next season.
But the situation could also be resolved by the latter factor. On the one hand, if van Persie is disillusioned with life under Moyes and wants to win trophies, he might well see a transfer to a Champions League club as a good move. Conversely, should Moyes be sacked in the coming months, van Persie may well wait to see who replaces the Scot. That’s especially true if it’s his compatriot Louis van Gaal.
And so, van Persie faces a strange paradox in the remaining dozen or so games this season, because every goal that he scores only increases the likelihood of Moyes keeping his job. Not that the Dutchman will be consciously aware of that, of course. He’s a consummate professional and that cannot be questioned.
But let’s get one final thing straight: United would be crazy to let a player of Van Persie’s calibre go. He made a bright start to the season, scoring four goals in United’s first two competitive fixtures, at a time when Rooney’s future was unclear.
The tables have turned now and, whilst it’s not a realistic suggestion to offer van Persie £300,000 a week in the same way that Rooney was, it seems strange that United would be willing to let one star player leave when they bowed down to another’s demands so readily.
Unless otherwise stated, all statistics were obtained from WhoScored.com