Why Van Is Not The Only Man For Manchester United
by Daisy Cutter
An interesting stat emerged over the weekend that debunks the myth that Manchester United are presently a one man team.
Though it would be folly to undervalue the galvanising impact Robin van Persie has had since his summer switch up north the league leaders have actually shared out the goal haul more than any other team this season with fourteen different players getting on the score-sheet. That’s two more than their nearest and dearest City with the multifaced Chelsea also trailing in their midst.
So if that’s the case why then are so many people quick to belittle a storming title charge that has amassed 29 points from the last 33 by deeming it an individual pursuit?
Perhaps it can partly be explained by the fact that goals are not the only currency in which the Dutchman is so valued? The finesse and imagination he has provided since August has added a whole other dimension to United’s frontline and additionally taken the burden off Rooney who, for too long now, has flitted between genius and laboured showings. He also has an edge which doesn’t exactly hurt when you’re playing for a club that can never be seen to be bullied.
For me however van Persie’s game is all about his movement: how often do we see him drag a defender into areas they’d rather not venture? This is not done through an unsuccessful attempt to dart into space but rather an innate knowledge he is then creating gaps for others and in a team packed with so much pace that likes nothing more than a swashbuckling counter the lad’s in his element. Should the ball instead reach him with his marker in tow he possesses the stone-dead control to make it worthwhile and though it’s true to state he was equally as sensational at Arsenal – where Wenger placed him as the spearhead to the tippy-tappy probings – it is at United where his wonderfully intelligent movement truly shines. Van Persie is Berbatov with legs, Rooney without the predilection for dropping deep into less dangerous acres, an energetic sprite who has transported the wide flair Ferguson so favours to front and centre.
The goals of course cannot be discounted, all twenty of them blasted, dinked and nodded home just past the halfway mark of a prosperous-looking campaign. But while the amount is impressive – a figure that lends itself to the theory that United are indeed over-reliant on their new marksman despite the stat offered in the opening sentence – it is the importance of these strikes that exaggerate them further.
Let’s take the opening fixture at Old Trafford against Fulham as an example of this. Having been strong-armed into submission by Everton a week before the stadium was silenced by an early Damien Duff effort. Van Persie had bafflingly been criticised for being ineffective in a cameo appearance at Goodison and, as I’ve already mentioned United cannot be seen to be bullied. Why can they not? Because after just 93 minutes of the 2012/13 season gone already there was the gleeful rubbing of hands from ABUs and a media sharpening their pencils. For the seven minutes that followed Duff’s goal there was a whiff of magnified crisis in the air and having splurged £24m on a striker who hadn’t netted in the 25 minutes of game-time he’d been afforded they apparently also had a misfiring expensive flop.
Van Persie’s response was swift and consigned the nascent concerns to where they belonged – in the heads of the deluded. From the moment he flicked in an exquisite header it has been business as usual for the red half of Manchester with their firing expensive striker grabbing a litany of winners and crucial equalisers along the way. From the last-gasp derby decider to the recent injury-time leveller at Upton Park in the Cup there is barely an inconsequential strike amongst van Persie’s twenty.
So does that mean United are indeed a one-man operation? Of course not. Added to the aforementioned diversity of their goal-grabbers there are numerous reasons why they are looking so ominous this term, the resurgent form of Carrick being but one.
In the summer there were mutterings and snipes about Ferguson’s decision to so aggressively pursue the Dutchman’s signature. Some said he was over-priced considering his age; others suggested the main motivation was to keep him from their rivals’ paws; while more still scratched their heads at the wisdom of spending most of the summer budget on an attacker when United’s midfield was so deficient of drive.
The first of these claims can now be put to bed; the second will always remain a theory and nothing more; but the third is pertinent in the context of why van Persie has been so instrumental for the club.
With his edge, energy and creativity he has dispelled the need for a Scholes mkII and single-handedly shifted what was deficient in the centre-circle to the shoulder of the last man.
And with a team as rampant and attacking as Manchester United there is nothing more frightening for others than that.