The Robin van Persie transfer: too good to be true?

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October 18, 2012 by seancole1875

Outside of Eden Hazard’s fevered imagination, Robin van Persie’s eventual destination was the most speculated upon of this summer’s transfer sagas. After declaring that he would leave Arsenal in pursuit of trophies, the supremely talented Dutchman became a significant pawn in the two Manchester clubs’ ongoing power struggle.

In neither instance was Roberto Mancini or Alex Ferguson’s motives for chasing the player questioned. Given the strength of their respective forward lines, and the fact that United and City rattled in a combined 184 league goals last year, beyond sheer vanity and a statement of intent, what was the purpose of adding another superstar striker to the ranks? As fine a footballer as van Persie undoubtedly is, he was hardly the priority for either side.

Ferguson and Mancini in a heated exchange

Man United’s lack of an authority figure in central midfield had been long discussed, while Man City’s most urgent need was rather more difficult to define. But with Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez, Edin Dzeko and Mario Balotelli to choose from up front, they were more than adequately stocked in this area of the pitch. In these circumstances van Persie represented a most indulgent acquisition for even the richest club in the world, with a seemingly endless supply of petrodollars, let alone their debt-ridden neighbours.

Thus his arrival at Old Trafford, despite being heralded in all quarters as a great coup, is deserving of increased scrutiny. Leaving aside the £24 million transfer fee for a moment, an incredible amount to pay for a player with one year remaining on his contract, the long term impact of his new £250,000 a week, four year deal has barely been factored into the discussion. It represents a further commitment of at least £12.5 million a year, excluding bonuses, during which time van Persie, already on the cusp of his thirties, with a significant backlog of injuries and limited resale value, will undoubtedly wane in effectiveness.

The dynamic duo in Champions League action

As has been demonstrated by his seven goals so far, van Persie’s immediate contribution cannot be faulted. In light of the misfiring starts Danny Welbeck and Wayne Rooney have made to the season, he has almost singlehandedly taken up the goal scoring slack. Fresh from winning the Premier League Golden Boot he was as close to a no risk signing as any manager could get. His decision to join was also a highly symbolic victory for Ferguson, who left arch rival Arsene Wenger shorn of his influential captain and sensationally gazumped Mancini’s league winners in the process.

However, the deal marked a break from tradition too. Ferguson is usually loath to shell out for big names at the peak of their powers, and with good reason. The most memorable examples of his reign have been costly and unmitigated failures. Juan Sebastian Veron disrupted the successful four man midfield axis of Beckham, Keane, Scholes and Giggs that dominated domestic football in the late 90s/early 2000s, while Dimitar Berbatov became a scarcely used luxury as time wore on.

Gratuitous picture of brooding film noir icon and occasional footballer Dimitar Berbatov

Both of these players were spectacularly out of step with United’s preferred high intensity style of play. Although Robin van Persie is more in this mould, and is already prospering, whether he can remain serviceable until the age of 33, let alone hope to provide value for money at a combined cost of around £70 million all told, remains to be seen. A further concern is the potentially alienating effect his presence may have on Rooney, who is accustomed to being the main man.

We have already seen the England striker benched before re-emerging, after injury, in a more withdrawn role. Always a roving figure, dropping deep to get involved in build up play, perhaps Ferguson’s intention is to convert Rooney into a true no.10, thereby accommodating both instead of making them compete for the same spot. If this is the case Rooney must be prepared to once more sacrifice personal glory for the sake of the team, as he did so obligingly when Ronaldo was around.

Potential on-pitch solutions are being explored but those concerning the financial wellbeing of the heavily leveraged club are less obvious. In the context of the Glazers’ many efforts to bring this self-inflicted damage under control, including plans for flotation on the US and Singaporean stock exchanges, the wisdom of sanctioning such an astronomical investment in one player should be under review.

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