Bert van Marijk's decision to make Robin van Persie his starting centre forward was not a very popular one in the Netherlands. Dutch newspapers have been running polls, with many results showing that the Dutch public would instead prefer Klass-Jan Huntelaar starting. It's a decision many former Dutch players, particularly those of the 1970's era agree with, which seems particularly odd as van Persie is more able to link up play than Huntelaar. One argument is that van Persie is not a pure "nine", and is instead a "ten" or playmaker.
That argument, though, ignores van Persie's development as a footballer over the past three years. When Arsene Wenger bought van Persie, he was a left winger or second striker in the mould of Dennis Bergkamp; van Persie said himself that when he was a kid he was a "shadow striker" which, in his words, meant that he played all over the pitch in forward areas. It's a quality that isn't usually typical of number nine's the classical sense of the word.
The last decade, though, has seen the transformation of single strikers who lead the line; many more are now players who move a lot and can create as well as score. Van Persie started playing this role in 2009, after Arsenal sold Emmanuel Adebayor, and was finally scoring at an excellent rate before suffering injury. When he would finally, completely return, in the beginning of 2011, he continued his excellent scoring rate, eventually scoring 42 goals in the calendar year.
Van Persie, though, wasn't exactly a false nine. While he continued to drop deep, and continued to make space for the likes of Theo Walcott to get into scoring positions, he became much more of a poacher, indicated by his goal total of 59 goals over the last two seasons and the amount of tap-ins he's had those goals. His movement inside the penalty box is exceptional, which is why he continued to thrive despite the loss of Cesc Fabregas, a man who used to put van Persie in on goal "4 or 5 times a game".
Yet, despite becoming more of a poacher, he still managed to create quite a few goals, and was Arsenal's second top-assister. Jurgen Klopp put it best after van Persie's two goals against Borussia Dortmund knocked his side out of the Champions League in November:
Robin van Persie, wow, what a performance, what a player. He's certainly one of the best in Europe. I've hardly ever seen a player who plays so deep in midfield and then is such a danger in the box.
It's for these reasons that van Marwijk has chosen van Persie over Huntelaar. Not only does van Persie possess equal, or even better movement in the penalty box, but he also can drop wide or deep and let Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben and Ibrahim Afellay get into very good goal scoring positions, making van Marwijk's side less functional than the heavily criticised team that got to the World Cup final in 2010. Van Persie's own concerns about the selfishness of Sneijder and Robben, while legitimate concerns given the history of those two players and his relationship and opinion of Sneijder, will be alleviated by the extra fluidity and the inclusion of Ibrahim Afellay.
van Persie has linked up very well with Afellay in pre-Euros friendlies, especially in the 6-0 deconstruction of Northern Ireland. He has, though, also been found by Robben and Sneijder, which bodes well for Holland's chances in the tournament. Van Persie has shown in the past two seasons that he can score goals almost at will, either when his team is dominating, or, as he did against Liverpool, convert his only two chances with his team on the backfoot. That type of clinical finishing, which was lacking in 2010, will allow Holland to play different styles of football, and gives them a chance to beat anyone, making them serious contenders to win the European Championships.
Robin van Persie
National Team: Netherlands
Club Team: Arsenal
Position: Centre forward
Role in Team: First choice centre forward; will be penalty box striker but will also drop deep and create for Sneijder, Robben and Afellay to move forward and get into scoring positions.