by Rob Ward
It wasn’t the concession of six goals against Manchester City which saw the title slip through United’s grasp on that fateful final day. Rather, it was a failure to put teams to the sword in the swaggering style of old. Too often United eked out 1-0 results through a combination of shoddy finishing, unimaginative attacking and an over-reliance on Wayne Rooney – a man tasked with being both the side’s creative hub and cutting edge.
Robin Van Persie looks like the answer. Demonstrating the capability to lead the line alone, the Dutchman bagged 35 goals for Arsenal last year – an impressive collection of mightily impressive goals. The goalscoring burden on Rooney has been eased at a stroke – last season he was the only United player to accrue more than a dozen in the Premier League.
But Van Persie is not another Ruud Van Nistelrooy. The last big money Netherlander to ply his trade at Old Trafford was nothing but a finisher – lethal from eight yards but rarely seen outside the box. Van Persie is far less selfish and far more creative: since 2008 nobody has assisted more Premier League goals. He’s a multi-faceted striker capable of playing up top, in behind or even out wide.
It’s a signing which would seem unlikely. Neither young nor cheap, Van Persie will have no resale value – but he seems set to see out his career at United. Whilst others around him abandoned Arsenal, he remained loyal and committed. Now, in the latter years of his career surely nobody can blame him for seeking the silverware his talent deserves – and doing so at a club which embodies his romantic vision which values style, history and tradition. In paying big bucks and abandoning the ‘buy ‘em young’ policy of recent years, United too have sent out a strong signal to their rivals: we are still here.
With both Rooney and Van Persie capable of making and taking chances for each other, Manchester United have added an edge which has been missing for far too long. A supporting cast of exciting widemen and attacking midfielders set to play in and around the pair looks hugely exciting: Shinji Kagawa’s signing has been low key, but he is a truly brilliant player capable of beating a man with a swift change of pace and quick feet. The power of Valencia, unpredictability of Nani, unselfish running of Welbeck and decisive finishing of Hernandez offer United almost unlimited combinations of potent attackers not seen since the gloriously interchangeable trident of Rooney, Ronaldo and Tevez.
With Michael Carrick playing imperiously, Tom Cleverley oozing class on the international stage and even Darren Fletcher back in training, the midfield base from which to spring United’s attacking powers is looking increasingly solid – not least with the captain Nemanja Vidic returning behind them. But it’s not solidity which will win this year’s title; it’s goals. And with the Manchester clubs boasting such brilliant forwards, who would bet against the title shoot-out to end all title shoot-outs?