It is now all about the man. Not Robin van Persie, but Sir Alex Ferguson.
The signing of Van Persie by Manchester United for a projected £24million is one of the most fascinating pieces of transfer business for years. Yes, on the face of it, it is a top club buying last season’s Player of the Year; not exactly a surprise. But it has a meaning that is far deeper and it all comes back to Ferguson.
Already the transfer is about Ferguson. It is about his guile and his force of personality. It is about how he managed to whisk Van Persie away from under the noses of the far wealthier oilmen next door. It is about victory for United and defeat for City, it is a huge statement; it tells the world that the Premier League’s future is not about to be signed off to the Bluemooners with the Arab chequebook.
And of course, the signing is all very reminiscent of Dimitar Berbatov four years ago. Again, that was the force of Ferguson’s personality that ran rings round his City neighbours and stole from them the Spurs superstar. However, the Berbatov comparison is instructive.
Berbatov came to United in 2008. Four years is a long time to wait for another player of such stellar stature. The long wait tells a story and you can read it either way. It either says: United are a big-buying club. Or it underlines the point: they are loathe to spend.
Of the two interpretations of events, I am firmly backing the latter. But that simply underlines why this is so important to Ferguson, why he has to make it work. Berbatov has had moments of genius, but no one could pretend that he came close to fulfilling the towering expectations that preceded him to Old Trafford. However, there is more hanging on Van Persie; there is a feeling that failure for him is not an option.
Meanwhile, back in north London, the eternal woe-is-me introspection continues. There is a familiarity about this story that must be hard for Gunners to take. However, this time, I believe the situation is not so clearcut. It does ask questions.
Van Persie’s departure is not such a dagger in the heart as Cesc Fabregas going, or even Samir Nasri. On this occasion, there is that nagging thought that wise old Wenger might have called it right (not that he had a lot of influence here). He has sold one 29-year-old striker prone to periods of injury lay-off for two fit ones (Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud) with a clever creative man, Santi Cazorla, coming in too.
One of Wenger or Ferguson are going to be right here (again, not that Wenger has had much influence). This just means more pressure for Ferguson to make it work.
This is why it is all about Ferguson. Now the deal is done, it is about his genius as a man-manager and a tactician. It is about working out how Van Persie will fit in, how he will improve the team and compliment Wayne Rooney. It is all too easy to see how he could end up clashing with Rooney and clipping his wings.
Yes, Rooney-Van Persie has the makings of a fantastic attacking partnership. Yet Rooney does not have a great record of being harnessed in a twin-striking combination. With Ronaldo, he became supplier rather than a twin-striker and he never looked right with Ruud van Nistelrooy. As the focal point of attack, he has tended to flourish best on his own.
But if Ferguson asks Rooney to return to the supply chain, rather than being the finisher, will Rooney sulk and ask to leave again? And what will Van Persie’s arrival mean for Danny Wellbeck, Javier Hernandez and even Berbatov? One can envisage a reorganisation of the playing structure behind the new front man, in which case, how does Ferguson continue to develop last summer’s biggest signing, Ashley Young?
This is why the story is now about Ferguson. It is about a 70-year-old serial winner putting his reputation on the line again. It is about his belief in his masterplan (whatever that is) and his ability to make it work. It is also about living the football dream.
Arsenal have put business ahead of football again, whereas United have put football first in the hope that it will prove to be good business. Ferguson is aiming high which sounds fabulous. He just now needs to ensure that his aim is true and he hits the target.
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