Why Manchester United must get rid of Robin van Persie this summer
Much was made of Manchester United’s strike force when Falcao joined last summer. After a hugely underwhelming 2013/14 campaign by United’s usual high standards, the acquisition of the Colombian, coupled with the signings of Ander Herrera, Luke Shaw and Ángel Di María, had supporters salivating at what was to come from the former champions this season. A Champions League return signifies progress after a 7th-placed finish last term and supporters are hoping the club can build on that after securing a top-4 berth.
One player who is unlikely to be spearheading their charge for success, though, is Falcao, who has disappointed in England. Big things were expected of El Tigre in Manchester, yet he has only 4 goals and 4 assists to his name from 26 league appearances. United understandably expected a better return from the frontman given the substantial fee paid to parent club Monaco to secure his services for the year.
However, once the campaign comes to a head, United are expected to cut their losses on the 29-year-old, who seemingly knows his future does not lie at Old Trafford. Subbed off for Robin van Persie in United’s 1-1 draw with Arsenal on Sunday, Falcao appeared to be waving his goodbyes to the Old Trafford faithful. It was a move that did not pan out as expected, and one supporters had hoped would bare considerably more fruit.
Nevertheless, as quiet as Falcao was kept by the Gunners backline at the weekend, he at least pressed the opposition defence at any given opportunity, in the process not allowing Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny a chance to settle. This disrupted Arsenal’s game, meaning they struggled to play out from the back for the opening hour.
Van Persie’s introduction, though, changed that. As ineffective as Falcao was, his Dutch teammate was more so. Only Tyler Blackett (5.69), who inadvertently turned a Theo Walcott cross into his own net, gained a worse WhoScored rating of all players in the fixture than Van Persie (5.92). During his 30 minutes on the pitch, the striker touched the ball just 9 times. His lack of impact effectively gifted Arsenal a way back into a game that had seemed lost having been second best for much of the encounter.
It’s a far cry from the striker we saw at the World Cup less than 12 months ago, where the sight of Louis van Gaal and Van Persie high-fiving after the latter scored his sumptuous header against Spain left fans excited at the prospect of what was to come. 10 goals from 27 league appearances has certainly underwhelmed from a season that promised so much, yet ultimately failed to deliver.
A number of players initially looked lost in Van Gaal’s system. The former Oranje coach failed to convey his ideas to the squad during his first few months in Manchester, yet as the season wore on, everything began to click into place. The likes of Ashley Young, Chris Smalling, Antonio Valencia and Marouane Fellaini - four players who could easily have been shown the exit last summer - have enjoyed a new lease of life under the Dutchman.
Van Persie, though, has continued his downward spiral of form that begun following Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision to call time on his managerial career. His debut campaign for United saw him net an astonishing 26 goals and add a further 9 assists, which contributed to a WhoScored rating of 7.71, the fourth highest in the 2012/13 campaign. His rating this season has dropped to 7.11, not necessarily poor, but below the standards expected of the striker.
His goal contribution to the attack has dwindled over the past 3 seasons, with a goal every 211.4 minutes this campaign his worst since signing for United, though it is not for lack of trying. Van Persie may be averaging fewer shots per game this season (2.8) than in the last two years (3.7 in the 2012/13 season, 3 in the 2013/14 season), but the 31-year-old has still had ample opportunities to consistently hit the back of the net for United this term.
Van Persie’s cameo against Arsenal on Sunday was the epitome of a player devoid of confidence and lacking the necessary attributes to succeed under Van Gaal at Old Trafford. Granted, the striker performed admirably at Brazil 2014 with the 63-year-old at the Netherlands helm, but a change in tack from Van Gaal has seen Van Persie become marginalised for United.
Falcao was the striker who looked to be saying his goodbyes as he departed the Old Trafford pitch at the weekend. However, after a lacklustre campaign and a failure to adhere to the possession-based system implemented by Van Gaal suggests, Van Persie, like Falcao, would be wise to bid his farewells sooner rather than later.