Sometimes, they say that one player can make a difference and that talented players bring out the best in others. That is what Robin Van Persie seems to be doing at Old Trafford this season.
However, following a 24 million pound move from rivals, Arsenal, over the summer, the Dutchman had to settle a few concerns from several quarters.
First, his physical state during his time at Arsenal was thrown into question since he had only one full season under his belt without the usual injury problems. Would he function effectively at a club whose drive and ambitions had no place for disruptions from injuries?
Secondly, at 29, did he have something more to give a Man United that were gunning to win back the English crown they lost on goal difference to neighbours, Manchester City? He had given Arsenal eight years but he had only one stellar season to show for all his talents and exploits.
But the Dutchman has given more than concrete answers to these questions…
He has quickly settled into the squad and his all round play has given the team a huge lift especially in an attacking sense and the difference is very obvious. Last season, at this same point, the Red Devils had scored 36 league goals and Wayne Rooney was the source of a lot of those goals together with Javier Hernandez. This season, up to this point, the Red Devils have scored 41 league goals with Van Persie scoring 12 of them so far from his 20 attempts on target. Clearly, it shows how determined the manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, is in his quest to see the English League won by points not goals as it was the case last season and he wants his team to be the one celebrating come May next year.
If there is anything that can be said of Van Persie’s 12 league goals, it is that a large chunk of them have been mightily important and they have been of various shades. From winners at Liverpool, Southampton and recently at Reading, through clean, crisp finishes at Chelsea and at home to Arsenal, to the simply sublime at Manchester City, the greying Dutch genius has pushed the Red Devils to another level in terms of their attacking play.
And there are other aspects to his game as well. His brilliant all-round play has given the opportunity to Wayne Rooney to feel liberated and perform to the best of his abilities and this has aided the team greatly because the Englishman has provided a league-leading 7 assists this season. One can contrast this to last season where Rooney had to work extra hard to score and still provide some help in midfield. Even though the likes of Hernandez and Welbeck provided their bit in goals, it was evident that the team lacked some maturity upfront and a certain X Factor when it was measured against the likes of Manchester City. This season, Van Persie has provided that missing ingredient and that has made the difference in the key games the Red Devils have won this season.
Aside Rooney, Van Persie’s abilities have also helped the likes of Ashley Young. The English winger has come under a lot of criticism for his below par performances but in recent times, Van Persie’s natural tendencies of drifting out wide to the left has enabled Young to go into more central areas and play more naturally as he used to in his days at Aston Villa. Man United’s first goal at Chelsea showed how the two players interchanged positions to create problems in the Chelsea area. Again, last weekend’s win at home to Sunderland showed how the two players combined to release Van Persie through the left to eventually set up Rooney for the third goal.
Even defensively, the Dutchman has 20 clearances to his credit putting him ahead of Rafael who has 14 and behind Evans and Ferdinand who have 22 and 27 respectively.
A clear indication of the gem of a player Sir Alex Ferguson took from Arsene Wenger.
It may be unfortunate that the acquisition of Van Persie has limited the number of opportunities for Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck. Young players of their calibre need games to develop but their learning processes would have to be from quite a passive stance because Van Persie deed’s on the pitch should provide them with enough to ponder on and emulate when they get the chance to play.
The season may only be 17 games old and there will be trying moments in the coming months but the Red Devils can be sure that Robin Van Persie’s brilliance will be available to them for full use and just maybe, the number 20 can lead Man United to title number 20, just as he wished for at the very beginning of his life and career at Old Trafford.