When Robin Van Persie scored the heard-round-the-world diving “golazo” during the Netherlands triumph of Spain in the opening match of the World Cup last summer, and Van Persie immediately running over to high-five and hug his coach-to-be Louis Van Gaal on the sidelines, many thought it was a match made in heaven. Everyone just expected the duo to continue their success and take United back to it’s glory.
But it hasn’t been. In fact, the love story may be United’s biggest horror.
To date, Van Gaal has lived and died with Van Persie as his top striker. Willing to relegate Falcao to the bench and even moving Wayne Rooney into the field, sometimes, back deep in central midfield, where Rooney’s talents get exposed and becomes less of a lethal goal scorer. That experiment was no different on Saturday as Manchester United lost 2-1 to Swansea City, their second defeat to the mid-table club this season. Falcao sat on the bench. Rooney, played forward, but seemly without a partner, as Van Persie was struggling right from the get-go. Some could say this was one of Van Persie’s worst games of his career. United kept bringing the ball up, and Van Persie was set-up in prime position to lead United but failed. Barely ever even making goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski having to make a play.
Van Persie’s struggles are nothing new. Just ask David Moyes. Van Persie was the key player under Moyes’ leadership, in what turned out to be a injury riddled season. Van Persie still managed to score 18 goals throughout all competitions. A amount that is good for most players but not for Van Persie. When he wasn’t scoring, he wasn’t producing and Moyes’ team suffered on a weekly basis. Van Persie registered the lowest shooting percentage of any United striker last season.
Van Persie rebounded from a down season with a heroic World Cup campaign. However, he has yet to carry on that success from the summer into this season. He’s only scored 2 away games all season. His last away goal came against Southampton on December 8th, over ten weeks ago. He’s only scored twice in the last nine games. Not only has age caught up with Van Persie, who is a few months away from turning 32, he’s also had no real break in over a year, as instead of going on vacation, Van Persie went on to Brazil for the World Cup. He, like all players at the World Cup, received a month break post-World Cup duty. Clearly not enough.
To save the ship and United’s season, which has been top-4 finish, Van Gaal needs to make one of his aggressive thinking tactical changes, like changing his goalkeepers just before the penalty kick shootout, as he did at the World Cup, and take Van Persie out of the lineup. An injury may help force Van Gaal’s hand, but the move should be permanent. Keep Rooney up front. And keep Ander Herrera in the starting lineup.
Van Persie has enjoyed a storied and gifted career, but mother time as caught up with him and United are in the mist of a battle for a final-four finish. There’s no excuse for United not to finish in the top-4, and it all starts now, and without Van Persie.