Every time you go on to revisit Manchester United’s last season, the figure ’20’ will continually resonate in your head. Before you conclude that there’s something abnormal with you, know that it’s not just you.
After the underwhelming season of 2011, big things were destined to happen at Old Trafford. The then 19-time champions were not exactly used to coming out of a season bereft of silverware, so when the transfer window arrived, the usual speculation started off. With the Red Devils’ squad looking meek, Sir Alex Ferguson was looking to beef it up with some steak.
To enhance the odds of winning their 20th league title, they bought someone who would not only add that steak, but also become the facade of the campaign by wearing number 20. That someone turned out to be Arsenal captain Robin van Persie.
The move was plain surreal for the United fans. They bought a man who was arguably the Premier League’s best striker at a price that complimented the genius of Sir Alex – $24 million. One-third of what Chelsea spent on Eden Hazard, 3 million less than what David Moyes spent on Marouanne Fellaini a season later.
The Dutchman proved that he was worth every penny of it. He almost single-handedly carried the force that Manchester United were to a record 20th title. The ‘little boy’ that he had inside him was right, United were the team who would win him things. He went on to score 30 goals that season, a promise he duly delivered.
But what was more important was that United faithful now had someone they could look upto. In their time of need, they were assured that a certain someone will come and rescue them. Sir Alex Ferguson also knew that his team was half as efficient without the former Feyenoord man.
Something that really made him a fan-favourite was his perpetual desire to get on pitch. He featured in all 38 league matches the champions played, starting 35 of them. I think you now have a clue why they were given the moniker of ‘Van United’.
The sort of impact the Dutchman brought was reminiscent of what Eric Cantona did back in the 90’s for the Fergie’s fledglings. They both proved to be instant hits, they both were at the receiving end of fans’ infatuation. But most importantly, they were both match winners. And the fact that they are both being compared to each other says a lot in itself about the footballing acumen of these men.
This season though, a lot has changed in the red-half of Manchester. With the legendary Sir Alex retiring from management after 26 years of glorified service for the club, a lot for was left to be desired off the players.
Quite inevitably, Robin van Persie along with Wayne Rooney were the focal point of fans’ expectation and scrutiny. With the Englishman striking the right notes, the former began to succumb to injuries.
Injuries have been a major letdown for Van Persie all his career. United were termed ‘lucky’ to have completed a season without any considerable casualty to their hot-tempered talisman, but as it turned out, they were soon to run short of that very luck. After a few knocks that kept him out for a few weeks, he has endured yet another blow to his fluttery fitness.
According to David Moyes, he injured his thigh while taking a corner against Shaktar Donetsk in their final group game in the Champions League, which led to the goal. Never fails to contribute, does he? The former Everton coach went on to point out his team’s excellent record when Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney start together. Something they have sorely missed this season.
Sitting at the 9th spot in the league table, the champions must be hoping to shrug their way through the vindictive vicinity of mid-table teams they find themselves in. The blame has been at Moyes for a long time, but if fairly evaluated, you can see the injustice that has been done to the Scot. Missing out on one of the best strikers in the world for the majority of games is a setback worth noting.
The boots of Robin van Persie are big ones to fill. With squad the champions have on-paper, it becomes even more daunting. The job of replacing him is one of the many mountains that United have to climb this season and the slope is steep. But then, the game is played on ground, papers are for them to keep.