Undoubtedly deadly, inventive strikers, the pair have matching styles and what Manchester United need above all next season is a driving force in midfield
For a lethal cocktail of terrified defenders, sublime football and deadly finishing a Robin van Persie-Wayne Rooney combination would appear difficult to trump. But Sir Alex Ferguson’s proposed acquisition of the Arsenal striker throws up a reservation: with the pair’s similar styles, and Manchester United’s need for a dominant midfielder, should a sizeable slice of the budget go on a player who is nearly 29, with no sell-on value and who has just one injury-free, prolific goalscoring season behind him?
As United enter the bidding for Van Persie the word from the Emirates is that Ferguson’s initial offer for him falls well short of Arsène Wenger’s £20m-plus valuation of a player with one year left on his contract. Now we will see how serious the Scot is in his pursuit of the Dutchman.
In the manager’s perfect scenario Van Persie would help sweep United beyond Manchester City and Chelsea to a 20th championship while also offering variation in the Champions League, where the 2008 and 1999 victors failed to progress beyond Christmas last season.
Ferguson often lined United up in a 4-4-1-1 formation in the last domestic campaign, with Rooney in the hole. In Europe the England striker was usually played at the head of the manager’s preferred 4-5-1.
The temptation to link RVP, the Professional Footballers’ Association and Football Writers’ player of the year, with Rooney and watch defences shredded and the goals pile up can be understood.
The Dutchman’s transfer would also allow Ferguson to harness Rooney, who turns 27 in October and ought to be entering the honeyed years of his career. Having Van Persie, who scored 37 goals last season, would allow United to rest the Liverpudlian more and help take the weight off the forward who managed 27 Premier League goals in that previous campaign, while Javier Hernández scored 10, Danny Welbeck nine.
The question some United supporters may ask, though, is if the acquisition of Van Persie should be the priority. Especially as the Old Trafford war chest is reduced in these days before the Glazers’ cash-raising flotation of the club on the New York Stock Exchange.
United require a general who can rule midfield, a driving force who is as comfortable repelling incoming artillery as he is plotting and leading the charge at the opposition. There is a case to be made that Van Persie is the closest clone to Rooney there is. Not an exact replica, by any means. But the Arsenal man has proved he can score as heavily as his proposed new team-mate. And Van Persie possesses the schemer’s brain and vision that has made Rooney the main man for United and England. Each can play alone in attack, each likes to drop off: so, would they work together?
The joke on Twitter was that Ferguson’s proposed formation should be called “the polo”, because of the vacuum in central midfield. Where Roy Keane used to rule, Paul Scholes is a denuded force and Anderson is yet to convince, there is now a gaping hole surrounded by talent out wide – Nani, Ashley Young, and Antonio Valencia – and in attack: Rooney, Van Persie (if he arrives), Shinji Kagawa, Welbeck, Hernández and Dimitar Berbatov.
A slight exaggeration maybe, but you can see the United fans’ concern. However, a prevailing caveat with Ferguson is that he is a master of disinformation, a required ability in the transfer silly season. Despite hinting there may be one only more signing this summer, he has targets for midfield. São Paulo’s Lucas Moura is thought to be one. Yet after the Brazilian club’s claim that United’s offer of €35m (£27.2m) is too low, an improved bid of more than £30m from Ferguson for an unproven 19-year-old appears unlikely.
If Van Persie does arrive the finances left available to Ferguson mean he may have to conjure a rabbit to solve his conundrum in central midfield. As with Laurent Blanc, Henrik Larsson and Michael Owen, Ferguson has shown over the years his liking for the counter-instinctive, left-field signing and he may well have another incoming before 1 September.
Otherwise the hope for United fans is that if Van Persie proves the end of United’s business in this window, his acquisition proves to be more of a Larsson than a Juan Verón.