With potential for a second successive summer of managerial concern looming, Manchester United have sought solace in a figure with familiar methods. The abrasively arrogant persona that shrouds Louis Van Gaal, coupled with his unquestionable success at successful clubs leaves many United fans wondering what may have been had Ferguson’s retirement been followed by the ascension of this ‘Worthy One’.
Whether or not this appropriate appointment will become a master stroke may largely rest however on the reaction of RvP to LvG. The whisperings from within the unusually porous Old Trafford last season portrayed a perturbed Robin van Persie in lieu of the managerial switch that had occurred after his first season with the club. His contentious move from Arsenal in the summer before had appeared reasonable on the basis of his getting to work under Ferguson. With David Moyes in charge however, it’s fair to assume that perhaps one Premier League medal had not been a worthwhile reward for estranging himself from the relatively incomparable comforts of Arsène Wenger. Not too dissimilar then from the decision made a year ago to appoint Moyes is the consideration of their top players that United had in mind when procuring Louis van Gaal.
As Sir Alex Ferguson looked to abdicate and the appointment of David Moyes became apparent, it was with the dismayed Wayne Rooney that Moyes faced an initial challenge. Their brief productive spell together at Everton was followed by a bitter legal battle that left the nature of their relationship, publicly at least, unsure. In a summer transfer window that in hindsight became the first nail in Moyes’ securely shut coffin, his ability – and perhaps more so United’s willingness to flaunt their financial clout – to coax Rooney into remaining a Man United player was deemed a success in its own right. The distinct lack of further on-field success for Moyes’ United can rarely if ever be linked to any lacking on Rooney’s part. Although not a vintage year, his determination and eagerness signalled some relief in a largely painful season.
In the two cases of Moyes and van Gaal, the decision to satisfy the present and assure the future has been more firmly handled in this latter appointment. In the space of a few months in the summer of 2012, van Persie became answerable to both Ferguson at United and van Gaal with Netherlands. While his quality was never in question, his individual performances under both men have been consistently stellar. His goals secured him the Premier League’s Golden Boot (2012/13) and the UEFA prize for most goals scored in the World Cup 2014 qualification period; an accolade that signalled his rise to becoming Netherland’s all-time top goal scorer. Indicative of a coincidence in timing? I am not convinced.
In sharp contrast to what can be seen as van Gaal’s task to reignite van Persie is the intended reaction of re-commitment that United hoped Moyes could arise in Rooney. There were practical reasons behind United’s desperation to retain his services; losing him would have harmed United’s competitiveness, his almost certain departure point to Chelsea only harshening the impact and, in a summer that had dented United’s longevity and appeal, the withdrawal of another long-standing figure simply couldn’t be tolerated. Yet, without an assured understanding of the numbers, it strikes me as plausible that in a World Cup year it may well be beneficial financially to be in possession of your native country’s greatest talent. Although the perceived financial reward garnered by Rooney in his staying a United player touched on the preposterous, a business as big and successful as Manchester United will not invest money in an asset that cannot reap its own rewards. The eventuality of United’s poor performances this season allow the sceptical mind to be assured that the rewards Rooney sews for United are not solely trophy shaped.
With this disillusioning economic reality a non-negotiable element of football for clubs of this size, it is with some solace that we look toward United’s latest managerial appointment. With Moyes, the idyllic successor became the subject of dismay for banner toting extremists. Although he satisfied the initial chief concern of realigning Rooney, on too many other occasions his best efforts fell short and his first big chance was taken from him. His apparent ineptness to deal with the on-field demands were his ultimate undoing, as it is with any sacked manager. With van Gaal, a behemoth of European football will enter onto his closing stage. At the core of his appointment, I would like to believe, lies the inevitable decision by the United hierarchy that no longer will on-field performances be overlooked in lieu of securing extra-curricular financial goals. United have highlighted their greatest on-field asset in Robin van Persie and paired him up with a most suitable leader. Naturally, a world famous footballer such as van Persie will not harm one’s financial turnover, yet, as far as his United career has gone to date, it is only ever with his performances that you generally hear his name mentioned. Thus, for a brief time at least, football is once again the prime concern at Old Trafford.