It’s almost impossible to overstate how important Robin van Persie was in regards to Manchester United’s return to the English soccer summit.
Former United manager Sir Alex Ferguson said the Dutch striker was the difference, as United recaptured the Premier League title from Manchester City in 2012-13. The Dutch striker is more important to United now than ever before.
United is in a much different place than it was when van Persie arrived last August. It won the league by some distance. Then Ferguson retired in May after 27 years in charge. His hand-picked successor, David Moyes, stepped into the breach in June.
United’s summer has been underwhelming — both on the field and off it. Preseason results and performances offered fans little reassurance about what the future may bring. A year ago, United bought England’s reigning Player of the Year, van Persie, one of the Bundesliga’s (German first division) top talents, Shinji Kagawa and one of England’s brightest prospects, Nick Powell. This summer’s transfer activity has yielded just one player so far — unheralded Uruguayan fullback Guillermo Varela — while most of the transfer talk has centered around Wayne Rooney‘s seemingly imminent departure and United’s failed pursuit of other top targets.
Nevertheless, United played its first competitive game of the 2013-14 campaign Sunday, and it sent their fans home from Wembley Stadium with that old familiar fielding. It beat Wigan Athletic 2-0 to claim the 2013 FA Community Shield. The trophy was the first in Moyes’ career and the first United won under his guidance. Moyes dedicated the trophy to Ferguson but he has van Persie to thank, as the United star scored both goals in an otherwise uninspiring performance.
Van Persie’s standout performance in English soccer’s traditional curtain-raising game was a clear display of his significance to United’s cause. Both goals were well-taken but their timing was even better than the quality. They gave the Red Devils the breathing room to play with the confidence that comes with taking an early lead in a game it should win with ease and spared them the blushes of suffering against an opponent from the second division.
United hired Moyes to serve as a stable hand as it transitions from the Ferguson era into the great unknown. That stability will only come if Moyes sustains United’s success over the next 18-24 months. That would silence those who have doubts about his ability and offer him the chance to grow into the job. The first six months are crucial to that end, and points and trophies speak loudest.
Van Persie led the league in goals scored in each of the last two seasons, and it’s safe to say he will be among the league leaders in 2013-14. Moyes knows that van Persie’s continued presence is an absolute necessity at the start of his reign, which is why he will handle the star striker with care.
“I’ve been really impressed with Robin because he’s been easy to work with,” Agence France-Presse reports Moyes said. “He’s taken on everything. He’s been really receptive, he’s been helpful.
“We tried to manage him at the right times by playing him for some minutes and not [for others].
“He’s so important, we have to look after him and we will do at the right times. It just showed you today, he came up with the goods again with his goals.”
“We have to be aware how often we can use him and I’ll try and make sure I do that to the best of my ability.
United will play at least five big games in the first four months of the 2013-14 season. It hosts Chelsea on August 26, visits Liverpool on Sept. 1, visits Manchester City on Sept. 22, hosts Arsenal on Nov. 11 and visits Tottenham on Nov. 30 (in addition to whatever tough contests the UEFA Champions draw throws its way). Taking ten out of 15 points against domestic rivals will have United in good position ahead of the winter freeze and send a message to the naysayers who have the Red Devils as the third favorite to win the league. It would also show fans that life at United will continue after the departures of Ferguson and Rooney.
United legends Ryan Giggs and Rio Ferdinand are years removed from their best days. Van Persie is and will be the central figure in this chapter of United’s history. At 30 years old, he remains at the peak of his powers and is United’s brightest light. Not only does he show United’s next generation of stars (nine first-team regulars are 24 or younger) what true greatness looks like, he can also show them how to get there. Van Persie has the responsibility to carry the torch of United’s tradition of excellence. It’s no surprise that it happened so quickly. Ferguson knew what he was getting when he paid Arsenal £24 ($37 million) million for van Persie last summer. Moyes now knows that the fee is a fraction of van Persie’s worth to United.
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