Robin van Persie may have been Manchester United's hero against Chelsea on Sunday night, but his last gasp equaliser only serves as a thin sheet of paper over increasingly prominent cracks.
Had Manchester United not gone on an impressive £150 million spending spree in the summer, there may have been a lot more focus on Van Persie's form so far this season. The Dutchman has been a shadow of his former self, but that has gone largely under the radar thanks to the intense focus on Angel di Maria and Co.
At 31-years-old and with unwavering fitness issues, Van Persie's decline is inevitable. His biggest problem is not a reduction in his once irresistible powers but his future role within this current Manchester United team. There is a growing sense that there may not be a vacancy for him.
As a former Arsenal player, it is convenient to compare Van Persie to his compatriot Dennis Bergkamp. The obvious difference between the two is that Bergkamp did not leave Arsenal for Manchester United in his prime years. Instead the striker stayed under the stewardship of Arsene Wenger and reaped the rewards for his loyalty as he entered those unavoidable years of decline.
But instead of his role in the Gunners team evaporating, Bergkamp found himself taking on a new role as a deep lying forward–or an advanced midfielder if you prefer–and adapted his game as such to play well into his 30's. Bergkamp's qualities are well represented in Van Persie.
- Louis van Gaal blasts Robin van Persie's conduct
- Man United 1-1 Chelsea: Player Ratings
- Robin van Persie must be dropped by Man Utd
Both are highly technical forwards, capable of assisting as much as they are of scoring. Unfortunately, however, Van Persie's late transition to Manchester United, where Wayne Rooney already reigned supreme in the deep lying forward role, means he faces a premature exit from his adopted club.
Resolutely sticking in his favoured striker position, Van Persie has scored just three goals in eight Premier League starts so far this season. Against West Brom, where Manchester United drew 2-2, he was largely anonymous.
The signing of Radamel Falcao in the summer, albeit on loan, was a sign of Louis van Gaal's plans. Van Persie is not seen as a long-term striker for Manchester United and he certainly has not been at the club long enough to rely on ceremony as Bergkamp rightly did with Arsenal.
If and when Falcao returns to full fitness, Van Persie will find himself on the periphery of the Manchester United squad. Eventually, he will be seen as little more than an unnecessary luxury.
The most likely avenue for Van Persie looks to be a move away from Old Trafford, but there are few teams who could supplement, let alone match, his £200,000-a-week wages.
And even still, Van Persie is unlikely to find a club willing to cut out a tailor made role for him like Wenger did for Bergkamp. Loyalty bought Bergkamp far more years at the top level of football than he otherwise would have done. Van Persie, who has not earned the appropriate cult status anywhere in his career, won't find anyone willing to take a chance on him in those terminal years.
That would be a tremendous shame. Van Persie is an incredibly gifted and technical player, but so is Rooney. The only difference is that Rooney has been around Old Trafford for ten years and has earned the respect and patience of United's demanding fans.
There is no future role for Van Persie at Manchester United, unless he agrees to a significant pay cut and a reduction in playing time. He was always a disposable purchase when signed for Manchester United. Alex Ferguson had one year to win the Premier League and knew Van Persie would provide the winning touch.
Once that mission was achieved, Van Persie's role was done. Now he finds himself looking for someone to nurture him into a new role suitable for the OAPs of the Premier League. Unfortunately, he has either burned or failed to build bridges with the required parties.