Robin van Persie’s facial hair gave us an insight into his mood. His stubble was just short enough to be fashionable, but just long enough to suggest a feeling of personal torment.
Okay, I may be reading too much into that. Chances are the Manchester United striker simply couldn’t find his razor before the 1-0 defeat to Newcastle on Saturday, or he was going for the Tom Hanks in “Castaway” look.
But even before he aired his new “troubled poet” style, rumors circled that van Persie was unhappy at United. Some even claimed he had handed in a transfer request as the club struggles to adapt to new manager David Moyes.
United fans have widely dismissed the rumors, with Moyes insisting there’s nothing to be discussed. But are suggestions that van Persie could be looking for an escape route from the burning dumpster at Old Trafford really so farfetched?
After all, van Persie didn’t join Manchester United, he joined Alex Ferguson. He was the man who could deliver him the English Premier League title, something he had been denied in his eight years at Arsenal.
Ferguson admits in his recently published autobiography that he had told van Persie before signing the player from Arsenal that he would be at United for another three years. He retired after just one.
Indeed, van Persie looks a little miffed with life in the Northwest of England, although that could be down to the fitness issues that are hindering him at present.
Once extremely injury prone van Persie was trusted with devising his own fitness program as he matured on the premise that the player knew his own body best. Ferguson would allow him to train separately from the rest of the team on occasion, preserving van Persie’s ferocity for gameday.
Under Moyes a greater emphasis has been placed on running and endurance, and van Persie is allegedly disgruntled with the new program. Subsequently injuries have followed, with the striker struggling to string a series of games together this season.
Considering United’s reliance on the striker you’d think Moyes would be wrapping him in cotton wool, yet after missing the best part of a month through a persistent toe injury van Persie played a full 90 minutes in the loss to Newcastle on Saturday.
Dutch fitness specialist Raymond Verheijen, who has worked with Barcelona, Chelsea and Manchester City among others, has labeled Moyes a “dinosaur” due to his intensive training methods. Moyes is a self-confessed over-trainer of players, focusing on making his teams the league’s fittest, but that philosophy is only likely to do van Persie harm as he ages.
There’s a picture of van Persie as a teenager, sitting on his bed in an Arsenal shirt. It’s now used by Arsenal fans to mock the Dutchman for his assertion that the “little boy inside him” screamed for him to join Man Utd.
But it does give an insight into van Persie’s mentality as his career starts to wind down. If he was indeed an Arsenal fan it’s reasoned to assume that his switch to United was motivated by professional ambition, rather than money (his contract at United is thought to be similar to what he was receiving at Arsenal) or loyalty.
So taking this drive into account is it really so absurd to suggest that after winning the Premier League title in his first season at United he now has his sights set on the one major club trophy that has eluded him: the Champions League?
The problem for Moyes is that with van Persie now 30 years old can United achieve that goal before the striker’s career burns out? The Old Trafford club sits slumped in ninth position in the Premier League and faces a major rebuilding job over the next few years. The answer would appear to be: no. If he is to win the Champions League it won’t be with Man Utd.
Van Persie probably won’t leave United, not this season anyway. But it’s not so hard to understand why he might want to.