Rooney & Van Persie – will it really work?

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Robin van Persie's transfer to Manchester United has got fans of the Old Trafford club excited about the prospect of the Arsenal captain playing with Wayne Rooney – will it really be as good as so many are saying?


Both players are exceptionally talented and were the primary reasons for their clubs finishing second and third respectively in the Premier League last season.


Van Persie won the Golden Boot with 30 goals in the league, while Rooney was close behind in second with a tally of 27.


On the face of it, pairing the two best strikers in the league makes perfect sense and surely gives Sir Alex Ferguson the best attacking line-up in the division by a long way.


It is never as simple as that and numbers will only go so far as to explain how good an untested pairing can be, however good the two individuals are.


The Dutchman fulfilled a very specific role at Arsenal, one where all attacking moves were directed at getting him the ball in dangerous areas; the rest of the side worked around his movement and whims, reacting to what he did.


Theo Walcott’s effectiveness was improved considerably by the movement of Van Persie, as was Alex Song's and his particular penchant for scooped through balls.


Van Persie was the fulcrum of the team last season and Wenger never felt comfortable leaving him out of the side – he appeared in every Premier League fixture, every Champions League fixture, only missing League Cup matches and the FA Cup third round fixture with Leeds United.


Rooney was equally as important and, though Ferguson was able to rest him on occasions, United were nothing like the same team without him.


United played in a similar fashion to the Gunners, with Rooney as their focal point of attack, though the England striker’s attacking scope was far wider than that of his Arsenal counterpart.


This is largely down to him being deployed in a deeper role than Van Persie, with Ferguson possessing more potent striking options from the bench than Wenger in Danny Welbeck, Javier Hernandez and the lesser-spotted Dimitar Berbatov.


Movement, again, was the key to Rooney’s successes last season; the freedom he was granted by Ferguson allowed him to drift into wide positions occasionally and his timing meant he was incredibly dangerous when arriving late into the box.


United play to Rooney and off him, in a similar way to Paul Scholes who operates in a much deeper midfield role – their assurance on the ball allows forward runners to take greater risks when attempting to join attacks.


Rooney and Van Persie may not be able to play together as seamlessly as a large majority of fans on social networks appear to assume they will.


Both have proved they can operate equally as well as the most advanced striker or the deeper lying of a two, but that was when the rest of the team was built around getting the best possible out of them.


If you believe Wenger, the repercussions of not making Van Persie the focal point of their side’s attacking was seen in Holland’s failure to make it out of the group stages at Euro 2012.


The Gunners captain missed a handful of good chances during the tournament, but Wenger defended him stoutly in the face of criticism from Holland, blaming the Dutch failure on his team-mates not utilising his talents properly.


“Robin deserves more credit than he gets in the Netherlands," Wenger told De Telegraaf at the time.


“Robin van Persie was the best striker during the tournament. He's much better than strikers from other countries and he's also better than [Klaas-Jan] Huntelaar.


“Van Persie makes sure that a team plays football. I've analysed his performances and if you watch really closely, you will see that he made some brilliant moves and runs.


“At crucial stages he didn't get the ball. On the times he did not score with the chances he had can be put down to fatigue. But he's the perfect striker.


“If you want to reach a really high level as a team, you must pick Van Persie. He's an example for every striker. He's an exceptional football player and more than just a striker.”


Glowing praise from his former manager there, but it sounds very familiar to the way in which Rooney appears to inspire United and so one can begin to wonder if accomodating both in the side is possible.


Ferguson missed out on the title by goal difference, so they weren’t exactly far away, and it may be a massive risk to significantly reshape the side by introducing Van Persie.


Rooney’s effectiveness up front last season was aided by the hard running of players like Welbeck and Hernandez, but if you were to compare Van Persie to any of the United front line it would most likely be Berbatov.


While they differ greatly in style, the languid Bulgarian occupies many of the same positions Van Persie likely will and Ferguson was not afraid to drop his £30million man once he had decided it was not working.


Chelsea’s problems with trying to accommodate Fernando Torres and Didier Drogba was an example of how difficult it can be when two major egos are vying for just one place in the side.


Real Madrid’s Galacticos project was beset with problems arising from big names coming into a dressing room that had an established hierarchy and did not garner as much trophy success as the owners suggested when they spent the millions.


Can one, or both, of Van Persie and Rooney accept a downgrade in their prominence and the part they are scheduled to play in the team’s projected successes?


They may well get on like a house on fire, and fulfil the potential their partnership suggests they have on paper, but an understanding will need to be cultivated for a time before they can get the best out of each other.


The problem with creating an understanding is that it takes time, which is a commodity many involved do not have a great deal more of.

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Robin Van Persie
Premier League
Manchester United
Wayne Rooney

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