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After weeks of speculation it’s happened. United have broken their signings policy to make 29 year old Robin van Persie a Manchester United player (subject to a medical and personal terms being agreed). The move, whilst immensely pleasing, is slightly odd – going into the off-season period, I’m not sure many United fans would have felt that another striker was the priority. Nevertheless, last season’s Premier League top scorer is a United player.
More than anything, this is a statement of intent. The deadliest striker in the Premier League last year, the man who hit 30 league goals in a good but inconsistent team, is now a Man United player. It’s not like United necessarily needed more goals from upfront – Rooney’s fabulous haul of 27 league goals was only three shy of Robin’s and came and a better rate too. So why sign him?
The best players rarely become available and at a time when many top teams are pretty well stocked with strikers, demand for van Persie has been surprisingly low. Juventus were keen but off-pitch issues have meant that wasn’t a goer. It came down to us and City – they have numerous strikers on their books at the moment who they’re trying and failing to get rid of. Early in the saga it was thought that Robin had bought into the culture and history of United over City, maybe that gave us an edge. Surprisingly, Chelsea have never seriously been linked.
I was among the many who thought United weren’t clinical enough last year – odd considering it was a bumper season for goals and converting chances (yep, the figures do say that). However you feel that van Persie adds a scare factor – as if United weren’t dangerous enough, now you could be forgiven for thinking that the club’s strikers could bag 65+ league goals between them.
Talking of strikers, what does the signing mean for Welbeck and Hernandez in particular? One would expect Berbatov to leave and Macheda to go out on loan, but how will Danny and Javier get games? In 1998/99 United had four brilliant strikers but it was easy to rotate them as they were all pretty much on a par. Rooney is, in the eyes of Fergie, largely undroppable and you’d have to imagine it’ll be the same with Robin. Four quality strikers but no obvious signs that rotation will happen regularly. It’s possible that Welbeck might be used wide as we’ve seen in the past and Hernandez is excellent as an impact sub against tiring legs but will that be enough for those two?
Robin too is a bit of a mean player. I’ve never liked him and thought he was a bit of a [insert rude word]. However, United could probably do with some of that. It’s not clear why, but we’ve almost become a bit soft – maybe it was the double loss of Vidic and Fletcher last year with Rooney’s frustrations being calmed, but we’re not quite as imposing as we were. Robin will certainly add a bit of that, although I think I’d have preferred someone mean to come in central midfield rather than upfront.
I, like many, am pleased with the business we’ve done this summer – Kagawa and Powell are already looking like smart additions. Kagawa is of course best just behind a striker, so where does this leave Rooney and van Persie? Robin’s very well suited to playing the lone role but Rooney won’t want to miss out. Despite Kagawa doing ok in a two man central midfield against Hanover, he comes to life in the final third of the field – I hope this signing doesn’t mean that Kagawa’s role will be changed for the worst.
The gripe that many of us have is not against Robin as a player, but against the club making him the marquee signing. It’s not that we’re an ungrateful bunch, rather, I think many would have preferred the money was invested into other areas, notably central midfield. It feels increasingly rare for the club to have a large lump sum to invest in the playing squad and so maybe having it invested in more pressing areas of the squad would have been the ideal. Certainly, and it’s with the writing equivalent of a heavy-heart that I bring this up, but the IPO proposal states that spending in the years to come will not be on a par with this summer. A total of £40m net will be spent this summer whilst that might be halved in future summers.
If goals become a problem this season then I’ll be baffled. With Rooney, Nani, Welbeck, Valencia, Hernandez, Young, Kagawa, van Persie and others; you’d be hard-pushed to find such attacking quality in depth like that elsewhere. The addition of van Persie is a very positive move, yet the cynic in me can’t help but look at the players who’ll play further back on the pitch and wonder if the money could’ve been even better spent.