If you’re inclined to feel just a shred of pity towards Manchester United’s fall from grace then make sure you spare a thought for Robin van Persie.
The Dutch international risked all for a shot at glory when he turned his back on Arsenal in 2012, and though his first year with United would have backed up the argument that it was the right decision, his fortunes since have been firmly lodged at the other end of the scale.
Having risen through Arsene Wenger’s ranks from a plucky young protege to the unstoppable Thierry Henry, Van Persie found himself the talismanic captain of a side which promised so much on an annual basis, and yet failed to deliver with equal consistency.
His final season as a Gunner saw him claim the Premier League Golden Boot award with 30 goals to his name. Having established himself as one of the world’s best forwards, his stock was at an all time high.
The United switch
Yet the love from the fans and the position of master and commander within the Arsenal squad wasn’t enough to refrain him from being drawn to the bright lights of Old Trafford and the heightened chance of silverware. Sir Alex Ferguson took little time in whispering sweet nothings into his ear and in the summer of 2012 he found himself dressed in the colours of the enemy, with the supporters who once adored him now baying for his blood.
What followed was a season which left Wenger with a bitter taste in his mouth, and Van Persie with a wry smugness. The Dutchman lifted the Premier League trophy for the first time in his career and bagged himself an impressive tally of 26.
Whilst his honeymoon with United was every bit as productive as he assumed it would be however, a dark cloud was steadily growing over the red half of Manchester. Sir Alex’s decision to call time on his illustrious career hit the masses of followers like a hammer blow. For Van Persie though it bore a different sort of significance.
The post-Ferguson trouble
There can be little doubt that Ferguson was a major factor in Van Persie’s decision to make himself public enemy No.1 in north London, and as such it’s safe to deduce that the striker felt betrayed by his manager’s retirement.
Of course the legendary coach wasn’t going to prolong his time in the United hot-seat purely for the convenience of one of his players, but there’s been more than one rumour do the rounds suggesting that Van Persie was surprised by his shock announcement.
What followed was nothing short of a disaster for the Dutchman with regards to his intentions of continuing his hunt for the major trophies he’d been bereft of at the Emirates Stadium, and the tumultuous period under David Moyes had many questioning whether Van Persie might be indeed re-thinking the biggest decision of his career.
Then came the appointment of Louis van Gaal and all order was expected to be restored. In fact the majority assumed that the golden boy of the new manager’s Netherlands side would be handed the captain’s armband after Nemanja Vidic’s departure, such was the influence their relationship was supposed to have.
Not for the first time in his United career however the 31-year-old has been left with plenty of food for thought. Despite the odds it was Wayne Rooney who was the preferred candidate to receive the armband, and the faintest of cracks began to appear in an otherwise seamless connection between Van Gaal and United’s most feared goal scorer.
Those cracks have now been further wedged open by the arrivals of Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao, with Van Gaal no longer confined to being forced to select the partnership of Rooney and Van Persie to lead his line.
The sales of Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez seem to infer that one of Rooney, Van Persie and Falcao will be used in reserve and with the former having been named captain and the latter sitting on a contract of £350k-a-week for the season, the middle man’s position doesn’t look too rosy.
Through no fault of his own Van Persie seems to be edging ever closer to being a shock casualty in United’s bid to install a Galactico philosophy, with age playing a decisive role in a narrative which could end up with the Holland star consigned to the bench.
Of course he remains a world-class act on his day, which was duly showcased at this summer’s World Cup, but unfortunately it seems as though United’s desperation to improve quickly could see him ousted to some degree.
The side may be looking to a bright future with the likes of Marcos Rojo, Daley Blind, Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw arriving alongside Falcao and Di Maria, but reserve at least some of your sympathies for Van Persie. The new arrivals might not be as healthy for him as they are for the fortunes of the squad overall.