After a long spell out with injury and a poor season overall, Robin Van Persie started at Old Trafford this evening. John Murphy looks at his performance and wonders, what does the future hold for the Dutch striker?
Jamie Carragher recently spoke on Sky about how Arsenal needed to purchase a new centre forward in order to claim the title next year. Olivier Giroud has been one of the most prolific centre forwards in the league this season, but for the former Liverpool defender, he is still not good enough for the Gunners to claim the title. He just doesn’t have it. That something special that one so often seeks to capture in a word, but is forever out of reach.
Giroud is undoubtedly a fantastic striker but is he a Thierry Henry or a Luis Suarez? Someone who can drop a shoulder and ghost past a defender? A forward who can shimmy and swivel and, before you understand what is happening, have the ball in the back of the net?
Jamie Carragher coined the term ‘centre fireworks’ to encapsulate this next level, mercurial forward. The phrase falls short of capturing what exactly we are talking about but Carragher should get points for effort.
When Robin Van Persie arrived at Manchester United, there was something awe inspiring about his presence at Old Trafford. He just had it. A centre fireworks, an X Factor, whatever you want to call it, he had it.
Van Persie was the biggest name Manchester United fans had seen at Old Trafford since the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo. And boy did he fit the billing. In his opening season at Old Trafford, the Dutch Striker was absolutely paramount as United marched to the title, finishing as the league’s top scorer with 26 goals.
He was so fundamental in fact that he led to United’s current talisman, Wayne Rooney, being demoted to the bench. Since the 12/13 season faded into memory however, so too has Van Persie’s brilliance.
Last season showed how quickly talent can fade in the world of football as his goals scored figure dropped by more than 50% as he finished with 12 in the league. This season, that number is just 10.
His absence over the past few months had seen United going on their best run of the season prior to their encounter with Chelsea.
RvP’s return today allowed the Dutch striker a home opportunity to show both Van Gaal and the United faithful what they had been missing. And in fact he did… Michael Carrick.
The shift Van Persie put in today saw him missing chance after chance. 20 minutes in, an Ashley Young ball arrived to his feet at the edge of the six yard area. He put it wide. After a half an hour, a slick fluid move up the pitch involving Rooney and Young saw the ball arrive to RvP on the edge of the box. Two years ago he would have swiveled and fired a rocket into the top corner. Today, he struggled to control the ball, stumbled and lamely offloaded a delayed pass to Fellaini with the West Bromich defence back in position. And then it got worse.
1-0 behind, United were awarded a penalty after a Berahino handball. Van Persie put the ball on the spot and lined up to take it. It was saved. It wasn’t necessarily a bad penalty as much as it was a good save. The issue for Van Persie lies in the fact that he gave the West Brom stopper a chance.
The Dutchman has previously been applauded for his ferocious ability from 12 yards. In comparison to his usual rocket spot-kick, today’s effort had an air of apology about it.
In just two seasons, Van Persie has gone from Manchester United’s talisman to a potential liability. What little pace he had, is gone. His touch seems off to the extent that he often looks stiff and lacking control of his own limbs. Having scored two goals in midweek for United’s U21’s, many fans would have hoped that today would have seen the rebirth of the ‘centre fireworks’ version of Robin van Persie. Instead, the 90 minutes just witnessed against West Brom only confirmed his demise.
John Murphy, Pundit Arena