x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Fitness first priority at Manchester United for Robin Van Persie

Robin Van Persie has a lovely left foot and first touch. He has good movement and that little nasty streak which any great centre forward needs. And if he can stay injury-free then he will be a great signing.

Manchester United's new signing, Robin van Persie, left, poses with Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson during his official presentation at Old Trafford.
Manchester United's new signing, Robin van Persie, left, poses with Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson during his official presentation at Old Trafford.

Robin Van Persie will be buzzing with anticipation of what's to follow. I know, I've been there, the subject of a huge transfer between a huge club and the biggest club in England, Manchester United.

When you complete a transfer which makes headline news, so many things happen to you in a short space of time, but all you want to do it get started at your new club and concentrate on playing football.

First, there is the relief that the waiting is over, that the move has gone through. Nobody likes being uncertain about their future and footballers are no different.

Van Persie has waited all summer, the man at the centre of a tug of war and I'm sure there were times when he thought he wasn't going anywhere, when he felt desperate. But the price of progress is that he will be subject to even more unwanted scrutiny and media attention.

Getting on to a pitch and having a ball at your feet gives you a release from all the nonsense you hear in the media, from the private upheaval of leaving your family and moving to a new city, from the pressure of walking into a dressing room where everybody already knows each other.

You hear and see things said about you that you would like to react to, but it is best to say nothing and focus on justifying your transfer fee. Van Persie can get a chance to do that almost straight away against Everton at Goodison Park on Monday.

Arsenal fans are disappointed that their talisman has joined a rival, but the club did well to get so much money - £24 million (Dh138m) from a player in the last year of his contract.

If he can stay injury-free then he will be a great signing. He was the top scorer in the Premier League last season and he will score a lot of goals, especially in a side like United.

Van Persie has a lovely left foot and first touch. He has good movement and that little nasty streak which any great centre forward needs. What marks him out as a top striker is the variety of those goals. I've seen him score with both feet, chip the goalkeeper, head goals or bend the ball with his left or right foot.

He can only be a success, however, if he stays fit - and that is the only doubt I have over Van Persie because when he's out, it tends to be for two or three months rather than two or three weeks.

United wanted him badly and Ferguson has liked him for years. I can remember playing golf two years ago when he mentioned that Van Persie was a player he would love to have. United lost the league on goal difference last season and needed another top-level goalscorer, especially in Europe. Van Persie and Rooney can both get 25 goals each this season.

Like most of the Dutch national side, Van Persie didn't have the best time at Euro 2012, but he was otherwise excellent last season.

With him and Wayne Rooney up front, United can boast a front line as good as any in football. They can be the perfect foil for each other and I believe it is those two who will lead the line in United's strongest XI.

I would be wary of talk about Rooney dropping into midfield, but Van Persie's arrival will be good for the Englishman and keep him on his toes at all times. With so much competition he could easily be dropped.

The other strikers should not worry. Danny Welbeck, who has agreed to sign a new contract, and Javier Hernandez might be thinking about their future, but I played in a side which won the treble with four strikers.

All of us played plenty of times that season and Ferguson likes having different front players with different qualities to ring the changes. He has that now. Dimitar Berbatov is likely to leave, but we've known that for a while.

Van Persie's role at Old Trafford will be interesting. Everything went through him at Arsenal, who play the same way as Barcelona. United prefer to play with wingers based on a traditional 4-4-2 with Rooney usually as the lead striker, though Ferguson will tweak and adapt depending on the game. With so many strikers he has many options.

United fans are delighted. They have seen their club lose out on signings in recent seasons - especially to champions Manchester City - but Van Persie wanted to come to Old Trafford and made that clear from the start, even though he could have earned more elsewhere.

Van Persie may not be the only new arrival at Old Trafford this summer, but United have a great squad going into the new season, a squad good enough to make them my favourites to win the league this year.

 

Andrew Cole's column is written with the assistance of European football correspondent Andy Mitten.


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