Thursday, 31 January 2013

Oh, Robin Van Persie!

It’s been a good six months since Robin Van Persie completed his much-hyped, much-discussed, much-maligned (in some quarters) move to Manchester United. And on the evidence of what he’s produced, most agree it’s good business by United. Nevertheless this transfer drew a lot of debate and engaging discourses- involving Arsenal, United, City, Wenger, Ferguson, Gazidis and Piers Morgan- and will undoubtedly serve as delectable fodder for many generations of discourses to come.

Allow me to proffer one such discourse and weigh in on this most appetizing of footballing debates. I’d like to position myself neutrally here by saying I am a Manchester United fan. Didn’t buy it, did you? Well, that’s my way of saying my views may be unintentionally biased but I shall ever strive to take as well-rounded an approach as I am able!

Van Persie is an exceptionally talented football player. That, in itself, is a bit of a rarity in the Premier League. Don’t get me wrong, there are talented players- but that exceptional, almost divine ability that sometimes renders a player “unplayable” is a rare quality. I can think of Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry, Eric Cantona and more presently Luis Suarez off the top of my head as other exponents of that “unplayability”.

And that kind of talent always gives any team a lift- the other players begin playing at a level they normally wouldn’t play at and in general the entire team begins to perform exceptionally- both on the training ground and on the pitch. 55 points in 22 games is something that’s never been done in the Premier League era and I’m reasonably certain a United without Van Persie wouldn’t have been able to manage that kind of tally. 

He scores goals, we all know that. His contribution, though, far exceeds that. His mere presence on the pitch frightens the opposition. It also gives United players so many different options- he peels off defenders, he moves to the wings, he holds up the play, and he interchanges superbly with whoever’s playing alongside him. He’s a free kick specialist, a penalty kick specialist (United really need one), lately even a corner kick specialist- Patrice Evra and Jonny Evans have scored 4 times as many goals in the 6 months he’s been here than in their entire United careers prior to that.

He’s quite a role-model off the pitch as well. Sir Alex has described him as the “ultimate professional” in training and he seems to be a mature footballer who has his head in the right place. Something these “unplayable” lads seem to have a problem with. Yes, Liverpool fans- this is me taking a jibe at Suarez. Malign me if you must, but in all fairness Cantona wasn’t the sharpest pencil in the box either. There, you’re feeling better now aren’t you?

Larger questions such as- “Will he be the difference in the title race?”, “Is he worth 24 million at 29?”, “How long will he be able to play at his current level?”- are alas, beyond the scope of this discussion. And they rightly should be. His injury history, the fact that he chose United to win trophies not for the money, his verbal jousting with Roberto Mancini are also issues I’ll leave to the more esteemed sportscasters- I’m sure the Daily Mail will fill miles worth of paper columns (if they haven’t already) on those.

My aim here is to simply assess his performance thus far and his impact- both psychologically and on the field. A simple, yet effective gauge of the kind of impact a player has is to look at the institution he exited from.

And when I watch Arsenal play on a weekly basis, I see them create chances by the score, only to lament missed opportunities. I see Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott competing rather haplessly for the main striker’s role; I see them both performing erratically and floundering when the team needs them most. Parallelly, I see Manchester United scoring nearly 70 goals in all competitions- Van Persie involved in almost half of them.

Many said Arsenal finished on a high last season riding on the sensational form of Robin Van Persie and many postulate the same about United this time round. They probably have a point. RVP (in the interest of brevity I refer to him thus) is a game-changing player- always one you’d rather have on your side. And when you put him alongside Wayne Rooney- well, what you have is an inviting Batman headline. But what you also have is one of the best attacks in the world, maybe even the best.  

I don’t know how Sir Alex had the intuition that he would be such a seamless fit in this United jigsaw- I must admit I wasn’t entirely sure if it was good business at the time (especially given how Michael Owen’s (ahem!) brief United career had petered out). But if his performances thus far are any indication, he’s a player very much in his prime- very much among the best in the world. And if United win the title, he’s the signing of the season in my book.

In the words of a famous footballing doyen, “Robin’s so good, he could score for Stoke”

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