Sir Alex Ferguson will let Manchester United’s impending FA Cup replay against West Ham take care of itself for the next two days, while he oversees a seminar organised by the League Managers Association at St George’s Park. A lecture using Robin van Persie as a case study of effective recruitment would be worth taking out a second mortgage to witness.
The great and the good, including Pep Guardiola and José Mourinho – potential successors to Ferguson at Man Utd – are well aware that the fundamentals of economic theory, and the conventions of common sense, don’t really register in modern football. The transfer market is a form of institutionalised madness, in which clubs are conditioned to ignore the consequences of panic under pressure.
Van Persie, though, is the exception who proves the rule that you do get what you pay for. Sure, United make their share of mistakes: Ferguson’s signing of Bebé was, to be charitable, a bizarre case of blind faith. Yet his capture of Van Persie will deserve its own chapter in the hagiographies inevitably spawned by his retirement.
The Dutchman’s fee, an initial £22.5m, is loose change in the context of United winning their 20th league title. If he stays fit, Manchester City have as much chance of retaining their crown as Mario Balotelli has of being accepted into the Civil Service. His goals will make the seven-point chasm unbridgeable.
The mere mention of Van Persie’s name is enough to bring Arsenal fans out in hives. His metronomic goalscoring record for United invites Chelsea fans to compare him with the husk of a player in their No9 shirt. He’s Fernando Torres, Jim, but not as we knew him. There are 50 million reasons to mock the concept of value in the market.
Conventional wisdom demanded that Ferguson invest in a central midfield player of appropriate quality last summer, not a striker. Van Persie was approaching 29, and ominously familiar with the rituals of the treatment room. Manchester City were prepared to offer him the silliest of silly money.
Yet the United manager sensed his hunger. Van Persie’s introductory line about listening “to the little boy inside” had an authenticity beyond PR candy floss. He wanted to prove himself at a club of substance and tradition. His natural talent took care of the rest.
He has scored in each of the past five games, but yesterday’s first-time effort against Liverpool captured the essence of his greatness. He opened the smallest window of opportunity with the nuances of his movement, and the sureness of his touch and technique.