Van Persie's Decline Laid Bare

Clouds gather over troubled striker as he revisits the scene of his finest hour.

Published: 16th May 2015 12:11 PM  |   Last Updated: 16th May 2015 12:11 PM   |  A+A-

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It is just two years since Robin van Persie strolled through a guard of honour at the Emirates Stadium, begrudgingly applauded on to the pitch by his former Arsenal team-mates having inspired Manchester United to the Premier League title.

The Dutch forward had hit the jackpot. After a decade of trying to become a champion at Arsenal, he ended his wait at the first attempt at Old Trafford and eclipsed United's established stars to become the most important player in Sir Alex Ferguson's squad. Van Persie was 'the man' to the extent that Wayne Rooney was searching for a way out of the club after being shunted out to right midfield to accommodate the pounds 22?million forward.

Yet tomorrow, when the 31-year-old faces his former club again, there will be no guard of honour and, possibly, not even a place in the team, even with Rooney absent.

From the moment Ferguson retired less than a month after that Arsenal game Van Persie has developed into an enigma who cannot even convince an apparent kindred spirit in Louis van Gaal of his worth to United. The two forged a strong relationship when Van Persie was captain of the national side under Van Gaal and the general sense was that they would reinforce that axis when Van Gaal was appointed United manager.

But the surprise of this season is that it has not happened, with Van Gaal selecting Rooney as his captain and making it clear that the England forward was the one player who would be given 'special privileges'.

Public praise of Van Persie from Van Gaal has been conspicuous by its rarity. There have been rumours in Holland of a disagreement at the World Cup, which coincided with the emergence of Arjen Robben as the heartbeat of the dressing room, yet those close to Van Persie have rejected any notion of a rift.

Van Persie has told friends he is happy in Manchester, where his children are settled in school, and has no desire to move this summer. But with a year remaining on his contract, he is facing a new reality at United and may see out that contract only by default, with Radamel Falcao failing to earn a permanent move and the cost of keeping Van Persie likely to prove more prudent than replacing him.

United are aware of Fenerbahce's determination to lure Van Persie away - they would pay huge wages and a sizeable fee. But the likelihood is that United will stick with Van Persie for one more year in the hope that he can rediscover the form of his first season.

His career high came in 2011-12, his final year at Arsenal, when 30 goals in 38 appearances prompted his move to United. Van Persie averaged a Premier League goal every 111.13 minutes in 2011-12, hit the target 82 times and produced nine assists within 92 chances created. He also delivered 204 crosses and corners.

The contrast to this season is stark - he has made 26 league appearances, scoring 10 goals. But he now scores once every 208.5 minutes and has created just 27 chances - only two of which have been led to goals - and delivered a mere 17 crosses and corners. Van Persie has made 541 passes this season; 1,032 in 2011-12. He touched the ball 1,757 times in 2011-12; just 858 times this season.

While David Moyes is blamed for sparking Van Persie's decline, the striker's goal output had already begun to dry up in the final months of Ferguson's reign, with only eight being scored between the end of January and mid-May. Van Gaal has been unable to inspire a resurgence, which is why Edinson Cavani, Danny Ings, Harry Kane, Christian Benteke and Robert Lewandowski have all been touted as summer targets.

If he plays a part against Arsenal, however, Van Persie will at least have the chance to silence his doubters. He just needs to take it.

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