KHARKOV, UKRAINE - JUNE 13: Robin van Persie of Netherlands celebrates scoring their first goal during the UEFA EURO 2012 group B match between Netherlands and Germany at Metalist Stadium on June 13, 2012 in Kharkov, Ukraine. (Photo by Joern Pollex/Getty Images)
Robin van Persie had a brilliant 2011/12 season, but his big-money acquisition represents a very dangerous gamble for Manchester United.
If the reported wages are anything like accurate, it's fair to say that there are exactly two winners in the Robin van Persie transfer. Neither of them is a club. Arsenal have lost their captain and best player of last season, and fans of the Gunners are right in thinking that £24M is hardly a good return for the man who pretty much single-handedly dragged them into this year's Champions League. Manchester United, meanwhile, receive an improvement to their front line that they may not have needed and are paying through the nose for the privilege.
Meanwhile, Robin van Persie and his agent are now absolutely swimming in cash. A four-year, £225,000 per week deal was what it took to lure the 29-year-old to Old Trafford, which comes out to a cool £47M. If neither was set for life before, well, they are now.
It really was the perfect time for the striker to have his breakthrough. With his previous contract set to expire in June 2013, another 'normal' year -- to that point, 22 appearances and nine goals was his Premier League average --would presumably have led to van Persie signing an extension with Arsenal. While remaining with the Gunners is not exactly a hardship, their wage structure compared to United's would undoubtedly have cost him tens of millions over the next few seasons.
Fortunately for van Persie, he didn't have an average season. He had a spectacular one. He featured in all 38 league games, scoring thirty goals in the process, going injury free for what seemed like the first time in his career. That opened up several doors for the striker, and he chose (as reasonable humans are wont to do) the 'give me lots of money' one. Van Persie burnt his bridges with a vicious letter of intent early in the summer, leaving Arsenal with little option but to move him on. Depressingly for Arsene Wenger and company, they didn't even have the leverage to prevent him from moving to a direct Premier League rival.
But that Premier League rival has bought a footballer that they might not have needed (Javier Hernandez, Danny Welbeck and Wayne Rooney is a perfectly good strike force) for a total of £71M pounds*. The transfer fee itself isn't a huge burden, but the salary packet van Persie is on reflects his newly-minted status as an absolutely world-class player. Which he was. Last year.
*£17.7M per year, if you want the figures that will be reported for Financial Fair Play.
When you spend that much money on a single player, you're making the implicit assumption that he'll be one of the best in his position over the lifetime of that contract. Van Persie was, without doubt, the most effective attacking player in the Premier League last season. But there's a very real risk that that year was the outlier, and that he'll revert to being a reasonably effective, albeit injury-prone striker. That average season I mentioned earlier? It looks eerily similar to Welbeck 2011/12 campaign. And United already have Welbeck.
So, Sir Alex Ferguson and company are making a bet that van Persie's gains are real*. There's no upside here. He'll never be worth more than what they've paid. This is one of those deals where the only question is whether or not he can live up to expectations, because there's no chance he can exceed them. United have bought van Persie at the peak of his value, and there's every chance that they'll regret it over the next four seasons.
*Which they might be, although my money would be on a fairly sharp, injury-hit decline.
Yes, they have the money. That Chevrolet shirt deal's looking very nice for the club, as is the bump in television revenue. But it's probably more accurate to say that they had the money, because now it's all gone to van Persie. United don't have an unlimited war chest, and with obvious problems in the squad (specifically midfield), the van Persie acquisition looks somewhat strange.
Yes, it's an upgrade, and it may well be a significant one. But it also might not be, and if the funds were available to bring in an ace striker, there's no reason that pile of cash couldn't have been used on an area of serious need instead.
We'll just have to see how this particular gamble plays out.