Blog: How soon is now?
ManUtd.com’s Steve Bartram gives his take on the news that United have agreed to sign Arsenal captain, Robin van Persie…
As statements of intent go, it’s a big one.
Robin van Persie. Last season’s leading goalscorer in the Barclays Premier League. Arsenal’s captain. A player long-since written off in many quarters as the next player to walk the well-trodden path from the Emirates to the Etihad. Now a United player in-waiting.
For all the column inches recently devoted to the notion, it is still a stunning transfer; one which sends out the resounding message that United are not willing to wait for the future at the cost of the present. That finishing second cannot become a habit. That there can be no repeats of the devastating manner in which last season cut to black.
Back on 13 May, Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad tasted the cruellest form of defeat. Three months on, City’s players go into the new campaign still intoxicated by the purest hit of undiluted joy. Were City to revel in the winning habit and begin stockpiling silverware, it could begin to erode the winning culture built up over the last quarter-century at Old Trafford, and the United manager has broken with tradition in order to head off that possibility at an early juncture.
The Reds’ transfer policy in recent years has been to look to the future; to savour the savings and satisfaction gleaned from grooming potential, rather than buying superstars. Since 2010, Chris Smalling, Chicharito, David De Gea, Phil Jones, Shinji Kagawa and Nick Powell all joined in their teens or early 20s.
The signing of van Persie, however, flies in the face of that mantra. In a year, the Dutchman will be in his fourth decade and there’s already a dusting of snow on the roof, but the silver-topped fox in the box arrives at Old Trafford as an established star; a ready-made goalscorer who has dominated the Premier League. Desposed as champions, humbled in Europe and the domestic cups last term, Sir Alex takes his side into 2012/13 with a variety of points to prove. His response has been to pimp his attack in its invention and execution. The vision, movement and intelligence of Shinji Kagawa will offer a new creativity; the finishing and swagger of van Persie promises a menacing destruction.
The new recruits embellish an attack already wonderfully varied in its composition. Van Persie brings his established gifts to a forward line containing the all-round brilliance of Wayne Rooney, the limitless potential of Danny Welbeck and the predatory prowess of Chicharito. Supplied by Kagawa, Tom Cleverley, Nani, Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young on the wings or in attacking midfield positions, losing anything on goal difference appears unlikely for the foreseeable future.
With so many interchangeable players and formations, Sir Alex may need to conduct pre-match lotteries to decide his front six, but he has now carefully assembled a squad which is arguably the finest in the Premier League in boasting top level competition for each position (bar the absence of an obvious understudy for Patrice Evra’s left-back slot).
An intriguing subplot amid the whole van Persie saga is that, according to widespread media reports, the striker chose United over City. Sir Alex has openly admitted that he will not compete with the astronomical sums on offer across Manchester or across the Channel at Paris St Germain. Popular media chatter insists that United had advanced talks with Samir Nasri last summer and Lucas Moura this, until money hollered and both players succumbed to the lure of the lucre.
“Van Persie is ours,” chanted the Etihad faithful during City’s win over the Gunners last December, assuming – as many did – that the Dutchman would join the Blues. Roberto Mancini was public in his praise of the player. Then, earlier this month, the Italian admitted defeat in his attempts to complete the deal, insisting van Persie would play for Arsenal or United this season.
Whereas Nasri labelled City ‘the club of the future’ after opting to join the Blues, van Persie shunned their advances. Turning down the newly-crowned champions – a club on the up with a team in its prime – is a sizeable gamble, but also one which speaks volumes for the sustained allure of United.
There is also, as strange as it sounds, an element of venture on United’s part. The squad’s striking department was already well stocked and, while the player is arriving at the peak of his powers, in football terms he will grow old at Old Trafford.
Robin van Persie is an investment aimed at reaping instant dividends. If those are secured, then the future – near and distant – will appear brighter than ever.