Is Robin Van Persie Finished? The Signs Say Yes
Premier League Top Goalscorer
There was a time when it was hard to bet against Robin van Persie scoring in any Manchester United match. Sadly for Red Devils fans, that time is now two seasons ago…
His 26 league goals in his debut season at Old Trafford propelled an otherwise mundane United side to an improbable title in Sir Alex Ferguson’s final campaign.
However, since his maiden campaign a series of injuries, poor form and apparent disinterest have turned a prize asset into an increasing liability. He did notch twelve league goals in his second season, but mainly against weaker sides – apart from a winner against Arsenal. His Champions League hat-trick against Olympiakos did little more than prolong David Moyes’ stay of execution at the club.
In contrast, he scored five league winners and two equalisers in the 2012/2013 seasons – those twelve extra points securing United the title, with Manchester City eleven points behind. Last season, when he was clearly not too enamoured by David Moyes’ management, he totalled one league winner despite playing in 21 games.
His stupendous, otherworldly header against Spain in the World Cup papered over an otherwise pretty average tournament for the striker. He did score a further three goals – another against a shell-shocked Spanish side, one against Australia and a penalty in the dead rubber third place play-off against a Brazil still licking its wounds from its shellacking by the Germans. However, his general performances were decidedly average and his name wasn’t apparent when the players of the tournament were debated.
Louis van Gaal’s arrival was supposed to awaken him from the stupor that had befallen him during Moyes’ tenure. But it just hasn’t happened. He’s gone from being in the United driving seat to being a passenger asleep in the back seat, waking up every so often to ask lazily “are we there yet?”. His indifferent performance against West Brom last night epitomised his current malaise. One can only suspect van Gaal’s relationship with the striker is the only thing retaining his first team place.
It’s clear that Ferguson’s retirement hit the Dutchman harder than most. The former boss helped van Persie to his first league title and his retirement, and Moyes’ subsequent appointment, must have been like agreeing to join a band managed by Brian Epstein before finding out Louis Walsh was suddenly taking over.
Moyes’ tactics didn’t help, with two up front not suiting the player who moaned about team-mates “occupying spaces I want to play in”. Van Gaal is persisting with a strike duo but van Persie has never shown signs of developing any sort of partnership with Wayne Rooney or, of late, Falcao.
Finally, he’s now the wrong side of 30. He had just turned 29 when he signed for United and many criticised Ferguson for taking a short-term punt on van Persie to secure a final league title. However, he’s now 31 and has played in the Premier League for over a decade.
His career has also been punctuated by a series of injuries – he’s only played over 30 league games twice in a 13 seasons.
Wayne Rooney’s suspension was supposed to highlight how a trident of Mata-Falcao-van Persie could be the most effective offensive option for United. Instead, it may have further emphasised Rooney’s importance and van Persie’s decline.
Should his form, effort and fitness not improve (and despite his friendship with van Gaal), he should find himself “occupying spaces” with several other underperforming colleagues – Premier League substitutes benches.