A few weeks ago Ruud Van Nistelrooy claimed Robin Van Persie could fire Manchester United to the title if he stays amongst the goals.
Since joining from Arsenal in the summer, the Dutchman has proved a valuable asset to United popping up with important goals including the winner in the Manchester derby just over a week ago.
At 29 and with a long history of injuries, there were eyebrows raised when Sir Alex chose to spend big on the ex Arsenal man rather than fix the famously problematic midfield. It is a position that United fans have yearned for Sir Alex to inject life into but this summer saw the likes of Axel Witsel, Javi Martinez and even Moussa Dembele find new homes whilst we looked set to rely on the same players.
But the signing has had a big effect and not just in terms of goals, an area Sir Alex said the side would focus on after losing the title last season on goal difference.
Initially us signing RVP was a pipe dream, Arsenal wouldn’t sell to us and with Man City also interested would we be able to compete with any financial package they would offer? Apparently this would not be a factor because Van Persie sought success not riches, and on a Wednesday evening in August news broke that Manchester United had come to an agreement with Arsenal for Van Persie’s signature.
The following evening after hours of waiting with bated breath, Van Persie appeared at Bridgewater Hospital to complete his medical and it was done, Van Persie was essentially a United player.
A big signing like that intoxicates fans; snapping up the previous season’s top scorer and one of our rival’s (not really) best players, so of course things are said rashly. I’m sure I’m not the only person who heard pundits claim Chelsea could be the first team to retain the Champions League title or pick up another Premier League title after signing Eden Hazard, so I wasn’t shocked when I heard some of our fans saying with the acquisition of Van Persie we could finally get rid of Rooney.
Some fans never have and never will forgive Wayne Rooney after he spat his dummy out in 2010. The striker left a mark on his ledger that won’t be erased even if he scores 5 more over head kicks to win the derby against City and with Van Persie coming in we had a player of quality that could provide the goals that Rooney did.
Even though Van Persie bagged an impressive 38 goals last season, Rooney didn’t do too badly equalling his best haul of 34 goals but it always happens – the old toys gets put aside for the new. Rooney didn’t help himself either, the enduring image of United’s opening fixture loss to Everton was Rooney dripping with sweat, unfit and off the boil.
He was subsequently dropped for the following game against Fulham and whilst Van Persie announced himself to Old Trafford with a wonder goal, Rooney’s cameo appearance was cut short with a horrendous gash on his thigh.
In his absence Van Persie continued to put himself in the limelight with a last winner to complete his hat trick against Southampton as well as getting the winner in United’s come from behind win at Liverpool, but when Rooney came back instantly showed what he brings to the table.
Against Newcastle in the Capital One Cup he marauded around the pitch, constantly looking for the ball as if trying to make up for lost time. There wasn’t a blade of grass he didn’t cover as United knocked their vistors out of the competition and then on the Saturday he was one of a few players to come out of the loss to Tottenham with credit as he, alongside Paul Scholes, tried to rectify United’s faults from the first half.
It has oft been wondered whether Wayne Rooney would work as a midfielder, the long term replacement for Paul Scholes. Whilst he hasn’t dropped that far back yet, this season in a more withdrawn role he has shone.
Whilst the goals aren’t flowing the way they were last season, he has a respectable 8 and the target of 20 Sir Alex set for him is very attainable but it isn’t just about goals, instead Rooney has added another string to his bow this term and it has made the Scouser all the more impressive to watch.
With Van Persie closer to the goal, Rooney dictates play from further back. He drops deep to get the ball and when not in possession drops into the middle of the park as an extra man. The energy, enthusiasm and invention that our midfield has been accused of lacking has been provided by Rooney and it’s working.
Against Man City he operated between the lines and Gareth Barry failed to get to grips with him; he switched roles with Van Persie for United’s first as the Dutchman dropped deep and combined with Ashley Young to release him and he obliged, rolling the ball past Joe Hart and for his second he ghosted into City’s box to sweep the ball in from a Rafael cross. We knew he could score goals but in this more withdrawn role he can create them as well as helping out in other areas of the pitch.
Rooney is stoic, when Ronaldo was still at Old Trafford he was shunted out wide to accomodate the best player in the world and performed without complaint. Ronaldo left and Rooney became the focal point of our attack and showed he can score goals scoring 34 twice in 3 seasons and now he is playing in a different role yet is just as entertaining and important.
Van Persie may very well be our James Bond, but Bond is much more dangerous with Q supplying him with firearms and gadgets and Rooney does just that. United remain undefeated in games where Rooney and Van Persie have started together and whilst Van Persie has chipped in with graft and goals, so has Rooney.
Offensively United’s best stuff goes through Rooney and it will continue like that. Fans don’t have to forgive him for his disrespect towards the club (something he has apologised for and admitted was a huge mistake) but they do have to accept that he is our most important and influential player.
After Saturday’s win at Old Trafford Sunderland manager Martin O’Neill, like Van Nistelrooy, claimed that Robin Van Persie will decide the title. I don’t doubt he will have a say, his 15 goals make up over a quarter of our haul this season, but I think you may have to look at the man playing off him for the full answer because if Rooney can stay fit and keep the creative juices flowing so to speak, I think United may very well find regaining the Premier League title easier than expected.