Outcome of Robin Van Persie Bid Will Show if Manchester United are Lions or Mice in the Transfer Market

Posted on: Jul 23, 2012 in Premier League, UEFA Champion's League

There are certain things in modern life that are taken for granted so much that when they are no longer available or taking place, it leaves us all in a fluster, bringing forth the realisation that the world is an uncertain entity. Such things as a working mobile phone signal, wi-fi access 24/7 and the omnipresence of a reality TV talent wannabe show being on the goggle box for 52 weeks of the year. When such regular fixtures are no longer there, it is as though Armageddon has arrived and we can no longer function in the absence, however temporary, of those things we assumed would always be there at our disposal.

The same principle applies in the football world and the beautiful game has many variables that are taken for granted, but without which the matchday event would not happen. The presence of officials, supporters and the players, kit for both teams and an expanse of lawn to play on. The shortage of any of these items though means there is no game, but in reality, the only likely occurrence to prevent a match from taking place is something over which no-one has any control;  the weather.

All very interesting of course, but what has this got to do with the ongoing transfer saga concerning Robin van Persie? Well, nothing much really, except that there has been one other thing in the footballing world that has been habitually taken for granted, but which has been noticeable by its diminished returns in recent years. I am referring to the purchasing power of Manchester United. There was a time when any established marquee player became available and United’s power brokers did not so much tip their hat within the auctioneer’s line of vision but figuratively threw the said head attire with such force as to almost decapitate the custodian of the gavel. At the turn of the millennium and in the aftermath of Manchester United’s Treble campaign, United were regularly in the market for top players and prepared to spend big in order to land their target. Sometimes their conquests were successful and United were able to fend off the competition to secure the services of Juan Sebastian Veron, Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Rio Ferdinand for transfer fees containing more noughts than a Selling Plater’s form reading. Other conquests did not come to pass, but at least showed that United were a major competitor for the signatures of the very best players. The bitterness and resentment that was felt about failing to land Ronaldinho in 2002 for example ultimately led to Peter Kenyon’s defection to the board of Chelsea.

Yet, what in the footballing world had once seemed as certain as death and taxes, ceased to be so from 2005 onwards. This was at the height of Chelsea’s campaign for global dominance under the perceived twin axis of evil of Abramovich and Mourinho. Abramovich’s billions and Mourinho’s supreme audacity and disregard for self-deprecation made Kings Road more fashionable than it had been at any point since the 1960s. This was only half the story though because just down the road from Manchester’s Imperial War Museum, there was a civil war brewing in the corridors of power. Manchester United, a PLC since its floatation on the stock market in 1989 in the aftermath of ball juggler extraordinaire Michael Knighton’s botched takeover bid had unbeknownst become easy prey for an elderly asset stripper from across the pond. Malcolm Glazer now had acquired sufficient shares to assume overall control of the club and for the PLC to delist from the Stock Exchange. The irony being that Manchester United became a PLC in 1989 to give the club stability and to ward off any individual suitors high on ideas but short of readies in their hip pocket, yet this very structure led to a situation where an individual was able to destabilise the club’s previously robust financial security.

The legacy of the Glazer family’s takeover will take years to be accurately appraised, but suffice to say, a club that finds itself with debts of upwards of £420 million where previously it had been the benchmark financially against which other leading football clubs measured themselves is not in the rudest of health. Yet, the damage caused by their tenure has been akin to carbon monoxide poisoning in as much as it has largely been unnoticeable to those just watching the action and who leave the pink pages to the rush hour train commuters. Since 2005, Manchester United have won the Premier League title four times, the Champions League once (as well reaching two other finals) and the League Cup on three occasions. A haul of eight trophies in the past seven seasons is more than any other English club has mustered within the same timeframe, yet this has been achieved despite of the limitations placed on Manchester United’s purchasing power during that time.

Sure, United have still made big money signings in that time, with Dimitar Berbatov being acquired for £32 million on transfer deadline day in 2008, Michael Carrick being bought from Tottenham in 2006 for £16 million and just last year David de Gea and Ashley Young being brought in for a combined figure in excess of £30 million. But it is noticeable that these transfers are occurring more in isolation and there are numerous blue chip players that have moved on in recent seasons where United have been priced out of the market. This does not just apply to transfer fees, but also to wages. For example, when Mesut Ozil moved to Real Madrid two summers ago, United were not perturbed by the German playmaker’s fee but by his wage demands, where they simply could not compete with Real Madrid. It also explains why the best holding midfielder in the Premier League, Yaya Toure, was instrumental in the title heading to the east side of Manchester last season, showing their westerly neighbours what they were patently lacking.

So, the news this week that Manchester United tabled a bid for Arsenal’s wantaway talisman Robin Van Persie is in some ways a sign of progress. Since the Glazers’ stranglehold at Manchester United began, Sir Alex Ferguson’s catch phrase of choice has become ‘There’s no value in the market’. True, it is not a catchy moniker to be remembered by to compare with ‘It’s squeaky bum time’ or ‘Football, bloody hell’. Nonetheless, it is a phrase that Ferguson has uttered with such regularity that it has become an accepted truth. And Ferguson’s assessment of the over-inflated transfer market at the time of a major world recession is rudimentarily correct, although taken with a hefty dose of Sodium Chloride after considering that this was the same Sir Alex Ferguson that just two years ago sanctioned the purchase of Bebe for £7 million having never seen him play and on the recommendation of his scout in Portugal and who was last seen playing on loan at Besiktas last season.

Ferguson’s comments about the shortage of value in the transfer market are telling because it is hard to envisage he would have made such comments in Manchester United’s PLC days. Back then, United could compete at the top end of the transfer market and go for who they wanted, when they wanted. It did not guarantee that their pursuit would be successful, but they did at least possess an iron that was charred. Ferguson has also found a kindred spirit on the subject of transfer values in recent seasons as Arsene Wenger has often addressed the media singing this very same chorus from the same songsheet whenever pressed about Arsenal’s lack of transfer activity. Wenger is an astute observer of the game (when he chooses to be!) but his reasons for chiding the shortage of value are similar to Ferguson’s. While Wenger has always preferred to nurture young players rather than buy established players at the top end of the transfer market, the reason Arsenal have not competed for major signings is because he has been hamstrung by the level of investment Arsenal put into building the Emirates Stadium, resulting in Arsenal’s transfer kitty being depleted accordingly, however much Wenger and his board claim that Arsenal could splash the cash if they so wished. Wenger is often seen as Arsenal’s chief architect in overseeing their gradual regression in the past seven seasons, akin to an eccentric professor whose powers have diminished and who keeps a bottle of whisky in the bottom drawer of his pedestal. Apart from imagining that Wenger is more of a vino man in the poison stakes, this assessment is not altogether fair for the reasons outlined, although Wenger is not without blame either. But we will return to Wenger later.

Manchester United bidding for Robin Van Persie is the first time that they have thrown their cards on the table and attempted to sign an established player from a rival club for some time. Sure, they signed Ashley Young from Aston Villa twelve months ago, but Villa can hardly be described as a rival club to United. Nor could Tottenham be seen as such back in either 2006 or 2008 when United snared Michael Carrick and Dimitar Berbatov from White Hart Lane respectively. Tottenham’s stock has grown since those days, although it would appear that Daniel Levy’s asking price for Luka Modric was the only prohibitive barrier preventing the Croatian midfield marionette from joining a cast list of Red Devils favourites exported from the Lane. No, the last big signing United made from a rival club came ten years ago when Rio Ferdinand crossed the Pennines from Leeds for £30 million for what we now know was an imperative sale for the club resident at Elland Road. United’s interest in Van Persie, strengthening their already stellar forward line whilst at the same pouncing on a traditional rival in their moment of weakness is what Manchester United of old always used to do. Football is a dog-eat-dog world but United have fasted in recent times while Manchester City have feasted on Spaniel. Regardless of whether United are ultimately successful in securing Robin Van Persie’s signature, they have at least issued a statement of intent. The lion has awoken in its cage and it is baring its teeth.

The question some would ask is whether Manchester United with the well documented restrictions on their transfer budget should be throwing down all of their chips in one foul swoop on a 29 year old with a chequered injury record in a position where the club is already well stocked when there are clearly other problem child positions that need strengthening if United are to go one better and overhaul their noisy neighbours in the Premier League title race this coming season. Patrice Evra’s performances at left back last season suggested he is entering the twilight of his Manchester United career, while on the opposite flank, Rafael’s impetuousness and lack of footballing brain has meant that Phil Jones has had to be converted to right back for the majority of United’s big matches. While in midfield, United fans have long bemoaned the lack of a ball-winning, shielding midfielder or a playmaking midfield lock-picker who can also weigh in with a few goals. This remains an area that requires addressing given the uncertainty over Darren Fletcher’s career, Michael Carrick’s impassive nature when the occasion demands he dictates the game by the scruff of the neck, Tom Cleverley’s proneness to injury, Anderson’s injury malaise and questionable moral fibre and Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs’ birth certificates. United have bought Shinji Kagawa from Borussia Dortmund over the summer and the Japanese playmaker has been an instrumental part in Dortmund’s back-to-back Bundesliga title victories, but his arrival alone is not sufficient in bolstering United’s creaking midfield.

Nonetheless, players of Robin Van Persie’s quality do not become available every week and Sir Alex Ferguson has always been a believer in having four quality forwards at his disposal at any one time. The 1999 Treble winning side saw Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke score 53 goals between them over the campaign, but it was the twin efforts of Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer that combined to win the Champions League in the Nou Camp. With Dimitar Berbatov’s departure appearing to be imminent and Michael Owen having already left, this will leave Manchester United with Danny Welbeck, Javier Hernandez and Federico Macheda to backup Wayne Rooney, plus the possible option of utilising Ashley Young as a ‘false nine’. Macheda, however, has much to prove as the fanfare that followed his last gasp winner against Aston Villa in the title run-in in 2009 has proven to be a false dawn, with injuries and a loss of confidence having curtailed his progress since. Hernandez too was afflicted by that difficult second season syndrome, not helped by having had little break before the last campaign due to his participation for Mexico in their successful CONCACAF Gold Cup campaign. When considering all of this, it is easy to see why Ferguson would consider a punt on Robin Van Persie, but it would have to be at the right price.

If the latest despatches from the scandal sheets are to be believed, there appears to be some distance between Arsenal’s valuation of Robin Van Persie and the fees that have been bid by the triumvirate of Manchester United, Manchester City and Juventus. Arsenal are reputedly holding out for a fee of around £30 million, while the bids received so far are supposedly reaching around one third of Arsenal’s valuation, with United apparently having made a bid of £8 million, which will no doubt have been regarded as derisory by those of an Arsenal persuasion.

Given Van Persie’s age, however, as well as his possession of a loyalty card to the physio’s room and the fact that in twelve months from now the Dutchman will be available on a free transfer should he run down his contract, Arsenal will do remarkably well to get anything like £30 million for Van Persie if he is sold now.  Therefore, they will need to meet the buying clubs somewhere in the middle. City, United and Juventus are in the position of strength here. None of the clubs need Van Persie as such, but they know full well that Arsenal are in a situation where they either sell now or lose a player for nothing next summer who could damage team morale if he remains at the club against his wishes. Arsenal may want to play hardball so that they have time and maximum financial resource to bring in reinforcements before the transfer window closes. But the clock is already ticking and the last thing Arsenal want will be selling Van Persie on transfer deadline day and having little time to buy a replacement. This is the scenario that played out at Liverpool in January 2011 when Fernando Torres departed for Chelsea on transfer deadline day, resulting in Kenny Dalglish having to panic buy through signing Andy Carroll for £34 million, over three times the player’s true market value. Van Persie’s suitors need to be patient and not force the issue too soon because as August advances and the window’s closure looms ever closer, so the imperative to sell an unhappy player nearing the end of his contract will become clearer and Arsenal will have to reach a position of compromise.

There will be some who will question whether Van Persie would present a luxury that Manchester United do not need when there are spending priorities elsewhere in the team and who may question how Van Persie could tangibly add value to a team already full of goal threat. But, the one thing that bringing in Robin Van Persie would do is add some much needed fluidity to Manchester United’s play. The best Manchester United teams of the past ten years have been the ones that have been the most fluid and which have played between the lines and allowed their front four players to interchange position regularly, causing problems to their opponents with their pace and movement. The 2002/03 title winners that had Paul Scholes playing in the hole and Ruud Van Nistelrooy operating as a lone striker provided the blueprint for United playing in this way. Later, in 2007 through to 2009, United again regularly interchanged with Cristiano Ronaldo cutting off the flank to then become a prolific goalscoring force as he made the role that the chalkboard debaters now routinely refer to as the false nine his own.

Although United have won a further Premier League title since the impudent Madeiran departed for Real Madrid, there is no question that a dimension to United’s play has been lost since he left. United still have some very good wing orthodox players at their disposal but they have sometimes been guilty of being too predictable and have lacked the movement that was apparent in the team’s play during Ronaldo’s time at the club. This was quite evident in some of United’s European matches last season where the tempo of United’s play was too slow and cumbersome. United’s best performances in European competition have come when United dictate and impose a quick tempo, whereas last season the tempo was more pedestrian and the movement more static. This loss of incisiveness was a key contributory factor in United’s failure to advance past the group phase of the 2011/12 Champions League competition.

If United were able to integrate Robin Van Persie into their forward line, it would give the Red Devils a far more flexible and fluid look to their attacking play. Spain’s victory at Euro 2012 owed much to an approach where players were given freedom to express themselves and to interchange positions, so much so that Vicente Del Bosque rarely deployed a striker in the conventional sense in the tournament, choosing instead to play an extra midfielder but giving his playmakers the leeway to drop into pockets from deep positions. Cesc Fabregas was largely identified as the main beneficiary of Del Bosque’s strikerless formation, but Andres Iniesta, David Silva and Jesus Navas all manipulated the system to good effect also during the course of the tournament.

Imitation is the highest form of flattery and as ever, the trend setters can expect a flurry of copy cats in the aftermath of their triumph. I expect to see Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham to all borrow from Spain’s approach during the course of the forthcoming season, albeit none of these clubs will have a group of players of the technical and artistic brilliance that Del Bosque was able to call upon. Sir Alex Ferguson is also an admirer of the 4-6-0 formation, having praised Luciano Spalletti for the movement and cutting edge of his Roma team when Spalletti implemented such a system a few seasons ago in which Francesco Totti acted as the conductor, creating space for midfield runners to drop into. Ferguson will be mindful that setting a Manchester United side up with no forwards in its formation would be regarded as a treasonable offence by 75,000 natives. However, this would not deter him from adopting a hybrid of this formation which allowed his most advanced attacking players extra freedom to interchange positions and drop into pockets of space and to encourage players to come from deep positions into the space generated.

Having Robin Van Persie working in tandem with Wayne Rooney would certainly give Ferguson flexibility because in essence both players are at their most comfortable playing in the hole as support forwards, but each have proved capable of playing as out-and-out strikers with prolific goalscoring records to match, as well as also weighing in with a healthy portion of assists. This means Van Persie and Rooney could easily dovetail and swap positions within the course of a match. Factor in Ashley Young or Danny Welbeck and either Nani or Antonio Valencia and there could also be scenario where the wide players cut inside and either Van Persie or Rooney drop out wide. Ferguson tends to like his support forward to provide an extra man in midfield when his team do not have possession and from that end, Rooney is seemingly more suited to playing deeper than Van Persie in this currently hypothetical scenario, but the prospect of Van Persie and Rooney shifting positions and giving Manchester United more freedom to manoeuvre opponents is what will appeal to Ferguson.

It is worth revisiting some of the revisionist history that has been trotted out by Arsenal supporters in the aftermath of Van Persie’s announcement that he wished to exit the Emirates Stadium after eight seasons in North London. Members of the Gooner brethren who are clearly bitter following their star forward’s stated intention to move on have retorted that Van Persie had only had one good season in eight for the club and that Van Persie had displayed a major shortage of gratitude towards Arsene Wenger for the faith Wenger had kept in Van Persie whenever injuries had curtailed his career. While it may be true that Van Persie has only had one injury-free season throughout his time in North London, simple mathematics will show why Wenger will have never entertained the idea of offloading Van Persie.

Robin Van Persie’s career at Arsenal has effectively been a game of two halves with his goalscoring ratio noticeably improving in the past four seasons in comparison to his first quartet of campaigns. There are clear reasons for this happening. Firstly, Van Persie was a substitute for much of his first two seasons at Arsenal rather than a regular starter. Secondly, his role in the team was different with Van Persie in a more withdrawn role to the one he has occupied in the past three seasons in which he has generally led the line since Emmanuel Adebayor departed the scene. Finally, Van Persie has developed a more ruthless streak as he has got older. He has taken up more goalscoring positions by virtue of his more advanced role and he has been more clinical when presented with these chances. This is borne out by the mathematics I was referring to which show that in the past four seasons, Van Persie has played 145 times in all competitions for Arsenal, during which time he has notched 89 goals. A goalscoring ratio that works out at a goal around every third playing period compares well with the best centre forwards operating in world football over that timeframe and certainly shows up the complete folly of the argument that Van Persie has only played well for one season for Arsenal. It was not a case of Wenger keeping faith in Van Persie, as it was a no-brainer. The evidence was in front of Wenger, he could see that when Van Persie’s body did not betray him, he would be a regular and reliable guarantor of goals, as well as having developed a good all-round game that would ensure he would weigh in with a tidy share of assists too. Wenger, who lest we forget, has constantly bemoaned the lack of value in the transfer market will have looked around and realised that a fit Van Persie would be a better bet than any other wannabe who became available at an inflated price. Van Persie finally had a clear round in 2011/12 and demonstrably proved to the footballing world and to himself just what he was capable of when he could maintain fitness for a sustained period, with the added responsibility of captaincy also contributing to Van Persie going out of his way to lead by example.

Arsenal supporters that think that Van Persie’s goals will be easy to replace through having signed Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud during recent months are making some major assumptions. Neither Giroud nor Podolski have played in English football before and will surely take time to adapt to the frenetic nature of the Premier League. Even the sainted Thierry needed a full season in the English game before he acclimatised. The signing of Podolski, while being something of a departure for Wenger as he is an established marquee name who has won 100 caps for his country by the age of 27, is something of a gamble. Podolski suffers from what I call the Robbie Keane syndrome. He has played above his abilities for his country, but has had a nomadic and unspectacular club career in which he did not cut it in his previous spell at a big club, Bayern Munich. He found his goalscoring boots at Cologne, but it is also worth recalling that the Cologne side he played in were relegated from the Bundesliga. Not his fault of course, but what that suggests is that Podolski plays best where he is the focal point of the team. I do not think Wenger earmarked Podolski for the centre forward’s position when he signed him, but instead will have expected him to fulfil the role he plays for Germany, where he is ostensibly used as an old-fashioned inside left with freedom to cut inside into shooting positions. Van Persie’s departure allied with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s emergence and rapid development may result in a rethink, although that will surely also depend on Theo Walcott’s future at Arsenal, a player who provided the most assistance in bolstering Van Persie’s goalscoring tally in 2011/12.

Those that say Robin Van Persie has been ungrateful to Arsenal and showed a lack of loyalty are talking with their heart and are not using logic. They argue that Van Persie has not repaid the loyalty shown in him when he was sat on the treatment table. However, it will be these times that Van Persie spent on the treatment table or on the physio’s couch that will have given him perspective. Having spent months resting and being in plaster while not being able to play the sport for which he is well remunerated, Van Persie will appreciate the moments that he can play the sport he loves and get paid for all the more. Now he has reached the age of 29, Van Persie is only too aware that with his injury record, the next contract he signs could well be the one that takes him through to the end of his career. Therefore, he will want to make the most of his career while he can and not look back with any regrets in five years’ time of what he might have achieved.

So Van Persie finds himself at a crossroads. He has spent the past eight seasons at Arsenal, which is a long stint at one club in anyone’s book, but particularly so for an overseas player. Van Persie has no attachment to Arsenal from his formative years, he was not born within a stone’s throw of Highbury and as far as we know did not spend his childhood playing football in the playground with his arm in the air paying homage to Tony Adams or Steve Bould. At Van Persie’s age, he will be considering two factors above anything else in negotiating his next contract. These being to go out in a blaze of glory by winning trophies and to sort out his retirement fund. As it happens, I think Van Persie’s priorities were in that order, although I dare say there are many people, certainly of an Arsenal supporting persuasion who disagree. Van Persie has been at Arsenal for eight seasons and for the past seven campaigns, Van Persie has not won a single trophy at the club. A player of Van Persie’s undoubted quality will feel unfulfilled having spent such a significant period of the peak years of his career at one club and having nothing tangible and shiny to show for it. Meanwhile, Van Persie will look around and see that his former club colleagues Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy have jumped ship to Manchester City and won the elusive league title in their first season at the club. While Van Persie’s detractors will point to him being a mercenary, he knows better than most that his football career is a short and fragile one and just one forceful tackle or one muscle tear could end it all. When free of injury, Van Persie has served Arsenal impeccably for eight seasons but despite his best efforts, Arsenal have fallen short season after season, seemingly showing a mental softness when they have needed resolve the most.

Whose fault is this? Well, ultimately the buck stops with Arsene Wenger, but his players need to take responsibility too. This has been the problem at Arsenal ever since the end of their ‘Invincibles’ era and since the likes of Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira departed the scene. Wenger has absolved his players of responsibility, all too often providing underperforming players that have shown mental weakness with a get-out clause by highlighting their shortcomings by criticising opponents that have been too forceful in their approach or who have stifled Arsenal’s attacking play. Sometimes Wenger’s observations about opponents have been correct, but by being so openly critical of teams’ approaches against them such as Stoke, Blackburn and even Everton, all Wenger has succeeded in doing is to emphasise to rival managers how much his team do not relish being impeded in playing their passing game and to give his players a convenient excuse the next time Arsenal mentally combust in those circumstances as they typically do at least three or four times every season. This I feel is an area where Wenger is more to blame in Arsenal’s shortcomings than he is in regards to his transfer policy. While Wenger could and should have augmented Arsenal’s squad more effectively when important players have left, if he listened to the advice of some well-meaning commentators, Arsenal would have no youth policy to speak of and the club would be on the road to bankruptcy. If Arsenal are to compete at the top table where football transfers are concerned then they will need to sell their soul to the devil and ask sugar daddy Usmanov to show the colour of his money. As Manchester United supporters will confirm, offers of untold riches from foreign direct investors do not necessarily lead to greener spaces.

Where Van Persie ends up next appears to be some way from resolution, with United, City and Juventus all having their individual merits. Some would argue that Juventus would offer Van Persie the safest haven as it would not mean that he was recalled acrimoniously by Arsenal supporters. I tend to think that the way Van Persie’s contract dispute has been handled by the player and his representative, however valid his reasons and observations were, mean it is too late to be retrieving that situation and Van Persie cannot expect to return to the Emirates in ten years from now to unveil a statue of himself. Nonetheless, Van Persie may feel that it is better for his next move to be outside of England so that the only time he would have to deal with the ‘welcoming committee’ would be if the Grand Old Lady drew the Gunners in the Champions League. Juve as current Serie A champions are an upwardly mobile club and have finally regained their mojo following the match fixing scandal of 2006 that corroded the club at the time. Playing for one of the giants of European football with such a proud and illustrious history and being a key part of their renaissance could hold some appeal for the Dutchman. Against this, however, Van Persie may be reluctant to uproot his family at this stage of his career and have to get to grips with a new language.

The appeal of playing for Manchester City is there for all to see, both in terms of the club’s ambition and also their ability to offer Van Persie a healthy package of remuneration. City also seem to have had Van Persie on their radar for some time, with the club seemingly prepared to offload Carlos Tevez and Edin Dzeko in order to precipitate Van Persie’s move. A team containing Van Persie, Aguero and Silva would create plenty of chances and score a hatful of goals and given the solid foundation that Manchester City have at the other end of the pitch, the addition of Van Persie to the team would give City every chance of bettering their points tally of 89 from 2011/12, which will surely go some way to enabling them to successfully defend their Premier League crown.

As things stand and with a heavy heart, I would regard Manchester United as third favourite out of three to sign Robin Van Persie. I say this because I feel that in these days of Glazer imposed debt that United find themselves saddled with, United will find it difficult to match either Manchester City or Juventus when it comes to being able to offer Van Persie a good retirement fund. I expect City and Juventus to be able to come up with a remuneration package that will blow United out of the water. Added to which, I cannot envisage Sir Alex Ferguson being willing to sanction more than £15 million being made available to transfer Van Persie because of the player’s age and injury record and because Manchester United have other pressing spending priorities. They need to sign at least one midfielder and a left back and having reputedly been quoted £20 million for signing Leighton Baines where the latter position is concerned, Ferguson will know he cannot commit a vast sum to signing Van Persie if he is to strengthen these other positions adequately. This is unlikely to be an issue for Manchester City or Juventus and if the two clubs want Van Persie badly enough, they will be prepared to pay the mark-up price in a heartbeat.

The next few weeks will say much about Manchester United’s current status as a force in the transfer market and will also confirm Arsenal’s current position as a selling club. Supporters of both clubs will find themselves facing some uncomfortable truths and these best of enemies will share certain parallels, although United are unlikely to be regarded as a selling club at least in the immediate future. Nonetheless, it is good to see United throwing their hat in the ring and being genuine contenders for signing a top player at the height of his career. It has been some time in coming in a summer when the club’s main unveiling ceremony of the close season was to herald the signing of a player from Crewe Alexandra, albeit a player who scored an outstanding goal to help set up a win in the League Two play-off final. By bidding for Van Persie, Manchester United have at least announced that the lion has awoken from his slumber and is baring his teeth, even if the tiger’s cage gets fed first.


About the author

Joe has been writing for State of the Game since February 2012 and has a keen interest in football all the way from the Premier League down to the Ryman League. Subjects of his articles so far have included his home town team Brighton & Hove Albion, as well as the Premier League might of Manchester United and Chelsea, the Belgian national team, and er...Luton Town. Joe is also a keen cricket fan and enjoys live music and live comedy and has been known to be a fiend at the pub quiz and is dabbling with the idea of setting his own.


Follow me on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/Joeash78



2 Comments

  • An extremely verbose and pretentious piece that says very little.

  • Thanks for your comments, Rip. Is there anyone particular that your username is instructing to rest in peace? I freely admit that verbosity is a feature of my writing and I suppose that is something you will either relish or disapprove of, with it appears at least 4 people at the last count coming into the former category. So accept verbosity as guilty as charged. But I would question what is pretentious about the article and I would definitely dispute that the piece says very little. I think by way of an executive summary, I would advise that I made the following points:

    - Manchester United’s purchasing power in the transfer market has been greatly diminished over the course of the past 7 years since the Glazer departure.
    - The success that Manchester United have enjoyed during that time has been despite of and not because of the Glazers’ intervention.
    - Manchester United have other spending priorities in the immediate short term, most notably a holding/anchoring midfielder and a left back.
    - Given United’s situation with regards to the Glazer debt, it is highly questionable that they would be able to accommodate signing players in these positions as well as having the funds left to compete for signing Robin Van Persie.
    - Manchester United do not need Van Persie by way of necessity, but signing him would mean that Ferguson would be staying true to his principles of having 4 forwards to choose from in the first team squad, given that Dimitar Berbatov’s departure is imminent.
    - Bringing in Robin Van Persie and partnering him with Wayne Rooney would provide Manchester United with a more fluid forward line than they lined up with last season, or indeed at any time since Cristiano Ronaldo left. Rooney and Van Persie are both support forwards/number 10s at heart but who have been converted to strikers and so they can very easily interchange positions.
    - We can expect Manchester United to borrow from the fluid 4-6-0 formation that Spain used in Euro 2012 and which Ferguson admired when Roma used the same formation against them in the Champions League in the 2006/07 and 2007/08 seasons, albeit United would deploy at least one recognised centre forward. This formation will help United to play better in Europe next season than they did in 2011/12.
    - As well as this signing Robin Van Persie would hurt two rival clubs, Arsenal by signing their best player from last season and Man City by beating them to the signature of their most favoured transfer target.
    - The view of Arsenal supporters that Van Persie has only had one good campaign for them in eight seasons is misguided given that Van Persie has scored 89 goals in 145 appearances in the past 4 seasons for Arsenal in all competitions.
    - Van Persie’s past injuries have made him appreciate that he has a short career and that he should maximise this while he can and this is the biggest factor influencing his decision of wanting to leave Arsenal to move elsewhere and primarily win trophies but also to some degree to provide him with his retirement fund.
    - Arsene Wenger’s situation is not all that dissimilar to Sir Alex Ferguson’s in that his hands have been somewhat tied financially and this has been the real obstacle to bringing in ‘name’ players rather than Wenger just preferring to always be loyal to young players that he can nurture.
    - Where Wenger is culpable, however, is in defending his players too much and highlighting their weaknesses whenever they have under-performed and this has constantly given them a get-out clause.
    - Ultimately, I think as much as Van Persie would be very interested by a move to Manchester United and would see them as a club that he could win trophies with, I feel that Manchester City and Juventus are just simply more able to meet his wage demands and indeed the transfer fee that Van Persie will command. Albeit, I feel Arsenal will have to be realistic and drop their valuation of Van Persie so that they can ensure he is sold in August in order to give them enough time to bring in a replacement and/or other reinforcements.