x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Points should win prizes for Manchester United and Robin Van Persie

The goals have dried up for Robin van Persie but he should still be named Footballer of the Year, insists Richard Jolly.

Robin Van Persie celebrates scoring for Manchester United - his 22 goals so far this season have played a key role in effectively securing the Premier League title.
Robin Van Persie celebrates scoring for Manchester United - his 22 goals so far this season have played a key role in effectively securing the Premier League title.

Something strange happened on Saturday. Robin van Persie wheeled away, celebrating a goal.

Then a new-found normality was restored. It was debited to Sunderland's Titus Bramble, rather than being credited to Van Persie. His drought goes on.

The previously nerveless executioner has gone eight clubs games without a goal, interrupted only by strikes for Holland against Estonia and Romania.

Before then, however, Van Persie was the closest thing to a guarantee of goals in England, a scorer of 30 in his last 36 league games for Arsenal and 18 in his first 23 for Manchester United.

For United, however, there has only been one in two months. Van Persie has gone from Ruud van Nistelrooy to Diego Forlan without warning.

It is a barren run that may come at a cost: not so much to United, all but assured of their 20th league title, but to their No 20.

Go back a couple of months and debates about the player-of-year awards tended to be short affairs. Van Persie seemed a shoo-in to retain his crowns. Not now.

One deserving candidate, Juan Mata, lines up against him at Stamford Bridge today.

Two others, Luis Suarez and Gareth Bale, have used their pace and direct running to accelerate into contention. They have the momentum.

Timing, for goalscorers, can be everything - to manufacture the half-yard of space required, to decide whether to shoot first or take a touch - and Van Persie's timing seems to have deserted him.

Yet that should not deflect attention from his colossal contribution this season.

Not, perhaps, since Eric Cantona in 1995/96 has one player been so crucial and delivered so consistently when it has mattered most.

Consider his record in major matches. The injury-time free kick to earn December's 3-2 win at Manchester City was the pivotal goal of the title race, but Van Persie has scored against each of United's six closest rivals.

They have tended to fall into two categories: a game-moulding first goal of the match (at home to Arsenal and Liverpool and away at Tottenham Hotspur) or a winner (away against Liverpool and City).

He has been the common denominator in vital away wins at Anfield, Stamford Bridge and the Etihad Stadium, and in comebacks to defeat Southampton, Aston Villa, Reading and Newcastle United.

By the time he stopped scoring, after ensuring victory against Everton on February 10, United's path to the title was a procession, rather than the obstacle course that was originally envisaged. And should they go on to win the FA Cup, his added-time equaliser at West Ham United in the third round in January, beautifully taken, will assume an added importance.

It is a body of work that is unrivalled by the other contenders. In part, that is not their fault.

Suarez's efforts have been superb, but they would have needed to be superhuman to propel Liverpool into title contention.

Instead, he may have extended Brendan Rodgers' reign: but for his early goals, the Northern Irishman could have been deemed a second Roy Hodgson.

If Liverpool end up in Europe next season, it will be attributable to Suarez.

Should Tottenham qualify for the Champions League, then Bale will also have a major achievement to his name.

Michu already does: Swansea's Capital One Cup triumph would have been impossible without his goals, and Chelsea's challenge for a top-four finish and to win the FA Cup and Europa League has been sustained by Mata's brilliance.

Each then, could be called a worthy winner. But none have shaped a season quite like Van Persie. Indeed, few have. Even Cristiano Ronaldo, in his 42-goal campaign of 2007/08, did not.

He preyed on the weak whereas Van Persie, in his six-month purple patch from August to February, did not distinguish between elite and underdog opponents.

Technically, his goals have been worth 22 points. In reality, they have won the league.

And that is why the individual silverware should follow the Premier League trophy to Old Trafford.

 

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