At last for David Moyes, there is a chink of light to pierce the winter’s gloom: Robin van Persie is expected on the training field today. What will be interesting to see now is whether the Manchester United striker has it in him to save his manager’s season.
Of all United’s players, few, if any, have been discussed as regularly as Van Persie this term. In Manchester, talk that the Holland forward is less than happy at Old Trafford refuses to go away. Both Van Persie and Moyes have denied the rumours. The United manager has described the talk as ‘nonsense’, adding: ‘I just don’t know where it is coming from.’
Van Persie himself described Moyes as ‘our leader’ just last week. ‘He needs time and eventually he will change things,’ he said.
Not until Van Persie returns to the side and starts to score, though, will the 30-year-old convince everyone that he can be the player of last season.
Van Persie has not played since damaging a thigh taking a corner in a Champions League game against Shakhtar Donetsk at the start of December. Prior to that, he had missed games with injuries to his toe and groin.
So far this season, he has played just 11 times in the Barclays Premier League and has scored seven goals. He remains the most natural goalscorer in Moyes’s squad, and so the manager will hope Van Persie can remain fit as United attempt to mount a challenge in the Champions League.
Van Persie has always been prone to injuries. The 110 games he played for club and country over the last two seasons were as many as he managed across the previous three.
The former Arsenal forward has — according to those who have played and worked with him — always been a player prone to a moan and a groan and one who needs to be 100 per cent fit to get himself on the pitch.
The whispers in Manchester have suggested he has never got over the departure of the manager who signed him, Sir Alex Ferguson, and has struggled with some of Moyes’s training methods.
He has denied this and was witnessed laughing at United’s training ground as someone showed him a newspaper report suggesting unhappiness.
United supporters can only hope he can be taken at face value. Given the problems United have in defence — problems clear in the defeat at Chelsea — it is quite likely the best hope they have of improving this season lies in an upturn in their scoring rate.
With Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand and possibly Patrice Evra set to leave at the end of the season, a large part of the summer’s transfer budget is going to have to be spent on reinforcing defensive positions. One thing Moyes will not wish to do is chase another striker.
With Wayne Rooney also back in training yesterday, there is cautious optimism that a partnership that yielded 37 Premier League goals last season may be reformed soon.
Tomorrow night’s Capital One Cup semi-final second leg at home to Sunderland will come too soon for Van Persie but by the start of next week he should be pushing for a place in the league games against Cardiff, Stoke and Fulham that represent an opportunity for nine valuable points.
The game against Sunderland remains important. A decade ago, when United’s form fell fallow, the club went four years between league titles. A League Cup triumph in 2006, however, helped to smooth the path to long-term regeneration.
Already Moyes is in need of the same kind of therapy. Never mind that Manchester City await them in the final — presuming there is no miracle at Upton Park tonight — United and their manager desire a Wembley showpiece deeply.
Today, ahead of United’s bid to overturn a 2-1 deficit, Moyes will not address the media as he usually would. That is his prerogative but is perhaps unwise as it gives the impression of a man circling the wagons.
As for Van Persie, Moyes’s most recent utterances came on Friday and were categorical.
‘I keep saying these stories are untrue but for some reason people don’t want to write it or hear it,’ he said. ‘Robin and I have a great relationship.’
Some goals in the coming weeks would help to underline the United manager’s point. – Daily Mail