Friday, 20 December 2013

Derby Delight

My beloved Derby County currently sit 3rd in the European form table. This compiles the form of the clubs in Europe's biggest leagues. Only European champions Bayern Munchen and Greek giants Olympiakos are above Derby in this table.

What has sparked this revival? Just 12 games and 3 months ago, Derby were a team dwelling in mid-table obscurity. They had a manager in Nigel Clough who, if not spectacular, was stable and solid. Clough inherited a Derby squad that was overpaid, overplayed and overrated. They had been recently relegated and the wage bill was astronomical. Players like Roy Carroll, Claude Davis and Robert Earnshaw were sat happily earning nearly £15,000 a week. They were appalling in Derby's frankly shambolic return to the Premier League, where they were relegated before Easter with record low points total of 11. A record likely never to be bettered in my lifetime at least. After the sacking of the equally shambolic Paul Jewell, Derby turned to up-and-coming Burton Albion manager Clough to change their fortunes. Clough had left Burton streets ahead at the summit of the then Conference league.

Clough's remit was obvious, keep Derby in the Championship! They were a club on the slide with little looking like stopping the rot. The enigmatic Robbie Savage was returned from his Brighton loan wilderness to captain the team. This proved to be a great decision from Clough. Savage missed just 1 game over the next 2 seasons because of suspension. Derby survived that season but the wage bill was still astronomical for a team in the position Derby were. Wholesale changes were vital. 

The deadwood was offloaded. Miller, Earnshaw, Mears, Pearson, Nyatanga and Leacock amongst others were cast aside and offloaded. The wage bill had to be slashed to a third of the current total. This was to be a massive task. These players had just been relegated in a team with a record low points total. Who would want to take a risk on them, still on their Premier League wages. Savage was the one constant in the team. He was the heartbeat of the team and Clough set about building a team around him.

Clough signed players from the lower leagues and Scotland in particular to address the balance of the squad. Players like James Bailey, Ben Davies and Jake Buxton were signed by Clough. They weren't exactly world beaters, but they were workers. Good honest professionals. Something that Derby squad needed. Over the next two seasons steady progress was made. The wage bill was gradually being eased down season by season, transfer window by transfer window. This was now entirely Clough's team. His captain Savage had hung up his boots in exchange for a prosperous media career. A clean slate some might say.

Clough was liked by the Derby fans, possibly afforded more support by the fact his surname is Clough. His father's reputation amongst Derby fans is legendary. Nigel was never going to reach these heights and, in truth, he never really tried. Despite the steady progress amongst great austerity at the club, on Saturday 28th September 2013, after a 1-0 defeat at the hands of bitter rivals Nottingham Forest, Clough was relieved of his duties, much to the dismay of the supporters. Clough has steadied a rapidly sinking ship. A successor would have to do something special to emulate his popularity. The early favourites were Tony Pulis and Steve McClaren.

Just before the home game with Ipswich 3 days later, Derby County announced the appointment of former player and assistant manager of Derby and ex-England manager Steve McClaren as Nigel Clough's appointment. The reaction was mixed. His previous managerial post was with Nottingham Forest and his last 3 jobs had hardly yielded great success. Derby were 4-1 down at half time with caretaker manager and academy director Darren Wassall in charge. McClaren evidently entered the dressing room at half time to see to his players and rouse them. Derby went on to draw 4-4. The McClaren era was underway.

Since this, Derby have lost 1 in 12 games. A club that were seemingly drifting into yet another season of mid-table ambiguity, were suddenly marching up the table. McClaren had Derby playing some of the nicest football in Europe! Their passing stats and accuracy were better than Barcelona. Astonishing for a team that had become renowned with boring football. A team that shut up shop and hoped to counter attack. As we speak, Derby are on a 6 game winning streak and sit 5 points clear of 7th place Forest and only 3 points off top spot. What has McClaren done with exactly same set of players? Only people within the club will know. The evidence suggests that the first port of call has been the speed of play and the control Derby now exert on matches.

One thing is for sure out of this story. Nigel Clough must be sat behind his desk at his new job at relegation threatened Sheffield United wondering why these players wouldn't step up to the plate for him. McClaren has given Derby a new confidence that Clough simply never gave them. Clough was lifeless on the touchline and in interviews. McClaren is passionate. He inspires people. Derby County are experiencing record ticket sales. 6,000 tickets have been sold for an away match at Barnsley just 4 days after Christmas. People want to support Derby. They want to see this beautiful football. They want to see the Championship's form player, Craig Bryson dominate midfield with the mercurial talent of 18 year old Will Hughes alongside him. They want to to see the form striker in the league, Chris Martin bang in goals. The fear factor is there when teams play Derby. They dread it. Long may this continue. Come May, could they be seeing their team lift the Championship title? Possibly. Very possibly. 

Thursday, 5 September 2013

United We Stand

Manchester United are THE name in English football. Renowned worldwide for their astuteness in concluding transfer business and landing the names they set out to in a window. Names such as Ronaldo, Cantona and Solskjaer have been bought in for relatively little outlay and have gone on to become club icons. All of these deals have been conducted under the stewardship of Sir Alex Ferguson. Can it simply be a coincidence that, since the departure of Ferguson and David Gill in the summer, United have failed to acquire any of their top 4 targets?

During this summer transfer window United went out with the ambition of landing Leighton Baines from Everton, Ander Herrera from Bilbao and Thiago and Cesc Fabregas from Barcelona. The window slammed shut on Monday night and United had signed... NONE of these. Instead they landed third choice midfield option Marouane Fellaini at the last minute on Deadline Day for a heavily inflated price. In addition to this, they failed with a late and audacious bid for Real Madrid left back Fabio Coentrao. The Herrera deal was the most interesting story of Deadline Day and as the story developed it became more and more obvious that something wasn't right. It was taking too long to iron out formalities.

After United had met the release clause in Herrera's contract, believed to be 36 million Euros, it appeared that they followed due procedure and sent a team of lawyers to represent the club and iron out the details. It later became apparent, around an hour before the deadline, that these men were not in fact representing the club at all. It became clear that neither party were aware who the three men were, this also applied to La Liga, whom too had no knowledge of the men's affiliation. Were they con-men? Were they lawyers who spotted a money-making opportunity? This much is unclear but what is clear is the damage this has done to United's reputation. Mainly it has shown the ineptitude of Woodward in conducting transfer business. How can a club not know three men are pretending to represent them during their most important piece of business of the season so far? He certainly has a lot to answer for.

Fellaini is presented as a Manchester United player late on Monday night.

It is undoubted that Fellaini is a good Premier League player. He has played well over 100 games for Everton with a good scoring record for a player in his position. He also plays international football for one of the brightest nations in world football and commands a regular starting place. Despite this, is he a Manchester United quality player? Some would certainly argue not. For £27m, he represents a huge outlay for any club. The fact that United could have paid £4m less just 6 weeks previous shows just how out of touch the club were during the whole summer.

Under the control of Ferguson and Gill, Manchester United would never publicly announce their interest in any player as they were aware of the potential consequences. If a club knows you are desperate to land a player, the price is hiked up. It's simple business. Despite this, David Moyes stated in public his intention to sign Cesc Fabregas from Barcelona. He had his initial bid rejected and subsequently announced a second bid had been submitted to the Catalans. Any player in the world would find Manchester United a hard proposition to refuse. Barcelona are Fabregas' home town club but United are the biggest club in the world. A discreet approach to Barcelona with a bid that wouldn't be considered 'insulting' to the Spanish giants, would have landed their number one target. Instead they were again made to look like fools. Not a good state for a business as large as United to fall into.

United remain one of the biggest clubs in the world and with the exception of around 10 players, anyone would consider any approach to come and play at Old Trafford. Under David Moyes this status has to be considered. Sir Alex Ferguson is the greatest manager of all time, David Moyes has never managed a club in Europe. There is huge difference in reputation and apparent talent between the two Scotsmen. Would Cristiano Ronaldo come and play for a manager with no Champions League experience? Honestly it would seem strange. Despite the fact United's title rivals have all strengthened, United will still be a huge player both on the domestic and international scene. They have a championship winning squad, a title they won at a canter, and  the addition of Fellaini certainly improves the depth of the squad, if not necessarily the starting XI. It will be a telling season for Moyes and United. He is following in the footsteps of the greatest manager of all time. He has maybe lost ground in the transfer market. Can he keep control of the dressing room and maintain United's status as a world powerhouse? Only time will tell.

Friday, 14 June 2013

The Lion Kings?

"You don’t want to get injured the week before the first test. It’s like getting knocked out the in the semi of the World Cup". This is the view of former England and Lions winger Will Greenwood. This shows how much being a Lion means to a British or Irish union player. It is the pinnacle and Greenwood describing it as being as important as a World Cup shows the extent of the honour bestowed on a player. To pull on that red jersey means you are part of the elite of Northern Hemisphere rugby. A Lion. A champion. A warrior.

So far during this tour of Australia, the Lions have shown the incredible strength in depth the possess amongst their roster. The fact that captain Sam Warburton has not yet cemented his place in the squad for either warm-up or test matches is an indication as to the quality available to Warren Gatland. Although it could be argued the matches so far have been nowhere near the test The Wallabies will provide, it is also clear The Lions Squad are dominant and on a whole other level to what Australia can provide. The first real test will be on Saturday when the Lions line up against The Waratahs, the franchise from New South Wales. They are one of the strongest sides in Super Rugby and even without their international stars such as Adam Ashley-Cooper and Berrick Barnes, they will still give The Lions a good run for their money.

The team named by Gatland for the match against The Waratahs shows a number of exciting combinations and it is expected to be very close to the side that will line up against The Wallabies on Saturday week. The back line of Simon Zebo, Sean Maitland and Leigh Halfpenny is arguably one of the most exciting of recent times. It has the raw pace and power of Maitland, the guile and trickery of Zebo and the consistency of the excellent Halfpenny. On paper it sounds perfect, in reality the likelihood is that only Halfpenny will line up for the first test. A lot will depend on the fitness of Tommy Bowe recovering from his hand operation but it is expected an All-Welsh backline will be formed with George North and Alex Cuthbert coming in on the wings. Whatever the combination, it will be a frightening sight for the Aussies.

"We've got almost a full complement of forwards, which is great, but the backs have tended to take most of the punishment" is the response Gatland gave when the subject of a potential injury crisis was raised. What he says is true in that the attacking rugby The Lions have adopted during the Tour has had a serious impact on the fitness of the backs. Gatland is a coach who encourages high intensity play and this has led to injury niggles to North and Tuilagi and the subsequent drafting of Billy Twelvetrees, or '36' as he's know at his club, into the squad. To think this man only made his England debut in the Six Nations, it is an incredible rise to stardom for the young centre.


The proof of the pudding will certainly be in the eating for Warren Gatland and his troops. Will his insistence on playing fast, intense rugby right from the opening match of the Tour against the Barbarians come back to haunt him. Should he have broken in his key players gradually? Of course it could be the case that the Lions roar and the Wallabies simply lie down and play dead. With inspirational openside flanker David Pocock missing with a ruptured knee ligament, it will be down to youngsters such as Ben McCalman and rookie Scott Sio to galvanize the team and make them face the Lions head on. One thing can be guaranteed, the Lions have the scent of Wallaby in their nostrils and are getting hungry. Very hungry.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Deutsch √úbernahmekommission: The German Takeover.

Beware: The Germans are coming to get us. No we've not time-traveled to 1939, but the German expansion into Europe has begun again. This time it's not to create an idealistic political regime but it is to teach the rest of Europe a lesson in terms of football. The Bundesliga has dominated the UEFA Champions League this season and the rest of Europe simply did not see the German bandwagon coming. They were not prepared and now it may take years for them to recover.

When England beat Germany 5-1 in their own back garden in 2001, it was soul-destroying for the Germans. Humiliating. All of this new wave of German football apparently comes from this incident 12 years ago. Maybe we should have played for the draw? It is evident that the Premier League and La Liga have not become bad leagues overnight but it does appear that the Bundeliga has caught up overnight. So where has it all come from? How have the Germans got it right?

Despite the game being won or lost on the hallowed turf, it's off the pitch that the foundations are laid down. Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund are being lauded after their huge wins over Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively. Bayern in particular after they beat the Barcelona side that have been the Kings of Europe for nearly a decade. 7-0 on aggregate speaks volumes. Off the pitch in the Bundesliga, the expenditure of all the clubs in the league add up to the wage bill alone of the Premier League. This is simply the start. The average price of an adult season ticket in the Bundesliga is £175. The average MATCHDAY ticket in the Premier League? £101. Teams such as Arsenal can charge as much as £135 per match. They put the fans first and this is part of the reason that many fans are riding the German bandwagon.

On the pitch, Dortmund and Bayern are simply incredible. Dortmund have won the Bundesliga in the last two seasons before being blown away by Bayern this season, the latter securing the title with a record points total with 4 games still to play. The total cost of the Dortmund starting XI in the first leg with Real Madrid in the semi-final was £17m. That is roughly a months wage bill for Manchester City, who exited the Champions League with no wins this season. This indicates the Germans know how to run their youth systems, with Bayern also fielding 5 products of their own club in their semi-final with Barcelona. The Premier League could certainly learn from this. Youth development is the only way the national team will ever become the force it once was. The English FA need to be adding money into the Grassroots of the game to encourage the development of World Class English players.

What can we learn from all of this? The most obvious thing is that German football is certainly the fastest growing league in Europe and also the emerging financial model that all other associations will be looking to replicate. Second only to the Premier League in terms of revenue generated now, the rest of Europe's elite needs to be thinking how it responds to this influx of German dominance and also how it can match in terms of finances. On the pitch the German teams seem to be a class above at the minute but surely it will take more than just season to write off La Liga and the Premier League. Good teams do not become bad instantly and the same goes for the overall quality of an entire division. These shifts in power come along once in a while, Italy had 2 Champions League finalists in 2003 and now nobody considers them amongst the elite. Times change and for now at least, Europe will toast Germany as it's 2 giants square off at Wembley in Europe's showcase football event.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Franks For The Memories

The art of the box-to-box central midfielder is certainly a dying art in football. An all action midfielder that marshals the centre of the park and make vital tackles. In addition often carries a serious goal threat when he bombards up the pitch. The most poignant of this type of player is Frank Lampard. A man who has been at the top of profession since he joined Chelsea for £11m in 2001. A man who has scored 198 goals for Chelsea in those 12 years. That is a phenomenal return for even the most prolific of strikers, and this is a man who plays in midfield. He is just 4 goals away from breaking Chelsea's all-time goal scoring record. He has scored over 10 league goals in each of the last 12 seasons. He holds the Premier League record for most consecutive games played by an outfield player. He has 94 caps for his country and has scored 27 goals, again, all from central midfield. Chelsea are willing to let this man leave the club for FREE! It is surely ridiculous to even suggest letting this man go at all, never mind for nothing. Apparently enigmatic Blues owner  Roman Abramovic has other plans, and it may well isolate him from the supporters of the club he runs.

Lampard's influence to Chelsea since his arrival is unquestionable so it must be considered what is going through the minds of the hierarchy to make them believe it makes more business sense to let Lampard leave than offer him a new contract. With Chelsea having spent £21m just on compensation for various managers since the arrival of Abramovic in 2003 it is surely ludicrous the club can not find the funds or space in their squad for a player who is considered by many to be the best player to pull on the blue jersey of Chelsea. If it is the case that Chelsea are prepared to let Lampard leave for nothing in the summer, there will no shortage of offers for the 34 year old. Rumours are flying around that mega-money moves to either the United States' MLS or the Chinese Super League are the most likely destination but surely top flight European teams would consider a move?

Whatever happens with Lampard at Chelsea he will still be considered an icon for the Blues. He is a dying breed of footballer. He is a footballer who leaves everything out on the pitch and who commands respect from not only his own teammates but from everyone who he encounters. Manchester United are the proof that retaining club legends can be a masterstroke. Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes are the prime examples as to how players can often defy Father Time and continue to produce magical performances well into their late 30s. Chelsea should surely be offering Lampard at least a one-year extension onto his current deal. In truth they should be offering him whatever he desires to keep him in West London, but with such enigmatic leadership in place at Stamford Bridge, the odds are that Lampard will be plying his trade in another part of the world come August.

MJ.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Six Nations 2013: Preview

RBS Six Nations 2013 kicks off in style with Wales vs Ireland this Saturday at the Millennium Stadium and starts the annual 7 weeks of high quality and high intensity rugby union. The elite of European rugby will be on show. With the Rugby World Cup edging ever closer, it is the chance for both players and teams to show they are more than a match for their counterparts. It is an opportunity for the hierarchy of Northern Hemisphere rugby to show their Southern Hemisphere rivals they are more than a match. All 6 nations in the tournament will feel they have realistic goals to achieve throughout and this will assess all the squads and their ambitions.

England:
Captain: Chris Robshaw.
2012 final position: 2nd.
Key player: Owen Farrell
Prediction: 2nd

England are, for many reasons, the most interesting team to assess entering the tournament. At the last World Cup in New Zealand they were a shambles. They entered that competition as arguably the best Northern Hemisphere team and were found wanting when it really mattered. They scraped through a rather easy looking group, albeit winning all 4 matches. Despite the unbeaten record, England won 2 of these matches by less than 5 points and in the other matches against Georgia and Romania they were tested and did not win convincingly enough to satisfy the watching public. Then in the Quarter Finals they met a below bar French team that were there for the taking and weakly crumbled under the pressure. They returned home failures.

In the years since the team has been rebuilt and is now based around players that are maybe not as talented as the squad of 2003 that won the World Cup, but they are warriors and fighters. The shining lights for England are without doubt Owen Farrell and the battering ram that is Manu Tuilagi. The latter has been ruled out for the opener against Scotland so it falls to Farrell to be the catalyst in the England back line. Farrell has had his critics but the fact he was nominated for IRB Player of the Year last season is a clear indication of the talent he possesses. Surely all good England produce must go through him. All this is good on paper but matches are not won on paper and I don't see England being able being able to overcome France in a match that will ultimately decide the tournament.

France:
Captain: Pascal Pape
2012: 4th
Key Player: Vincent Clerc
Prediction: 1st

France also pose an interesting dilemma. Everything points to them being weaker this year than last, which is difficult, but something about them just says a comeback is in the pipeline. They are always a team that everyone else hates facing because they are full of flair players and ball handling forwards that other teams, excluding the mighty New Zealand, just cannot match. Players such as Dusautoir and Mas are forwards who are more than happy to run on the shoulder of a back or break the game line and that just could be difference.

Vincent Clerc is a dynamic player who can play anywhere in the backline. He is amongst the best band carriers in World Rugby. He is certainly in the top 3 European backliners. He is going to be pivotal to any success France may have. Along with Parra and Trinh-Duc he must boss the midfield for France against the stronger nations in the tournament. If everything clicks for the enigmatic French, they will be unstoppable.

Ireland:
Captain: Jamie Heaslip
2012: 3rd
Key Player: Brian O' Driscoll
Prediction: 3rd

Ireland are a team firmly in transition. There was huge pressure on Declan Kidney to keep his job last year throughout the Autumn Internationals. He took a risk. It is still not known if this paid off. Kidney bled youngsters such as Simon Zebo and Iain Henderson and they were a revelation. There was call for these players to be the 'New Ireland' and older heads such as O' Driscoll and O' Callaghan should be eased out of the team before the Six Nations. It is all well and good saying this but even the most successful team needs old heads to keep the youngsters feet on the ground.

O' Driscoll has comeback from his long term injury lay-off and is firing on all cylinders. He is roaring. He will not start every game by any means but what a player to be able to bring on. He will send shivers down the spines of oppositions when he enters after an hour when legs are fading and so are the tackles. He is a leader and an inspirational and charismatic one at that. Ireland's greatest player. If he, and the rest of the squad, play the best of their ability they may just have an outside chance.

Wales:
Captain: Sam Warburton
2012: 1st (Grand Slam)
Key Player: Toby Faletau
Prediction: 4th

Wales' fall from grace in the last year has been well documented. They have fallen from 3rd in the IRB rankings to a current rating of 9th! In one year. They have lost 7 matches in a row since winning the Grand Slam in last year's Six Nations and there appears to be no stopping the rot. They must come firing out the blocks against an improving Ireland at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday afternoon to get the crowd behind them. Wales need to summon the same spirit they had throughout the World Cup to get back to winning ways. If they do, who knows?

Toby Faletau has been the most consistent number 8 in the Northern Hemisphere over the last 2 years. Only really Keiran Reid of New Zealand and Sergio Parisse of Italy would compete with him in World rugby. He, along with Sam Warburton, will be the linchpins of the Wales forward line. Both are more than capable of grabbing hold of a game and changing it in the favour of Wales. They have not done this enough over the past year and this really is the time to turn it on. Even if they do I fear it may not be enough and they will fall to the big boys. If their superstars in the mood they may shock a few but hope is all they have to begin with.

Italy:
Captain: Sergio Parisse
2012: 5th
Key Player: Sergio Parisse
Prediction: 5th

Italy are in the position of being a team with little overall talent, with one of the best rugby players in the world as their captain. Sergio Parisse would grace and team. He is a Number Eight who is one of the most skillful ball handlers on the planet. Despite his heroics, he is seldom supported with such commitment and ability from his teammates. I don't want to make it appear Italy are a poor team. They are just not as talented as the other teams in the tournament. It's that simple. They are currently ranked 10 in the world, just one place behind Wales, but this doesn't give a true representation of the gulf in class between the two nations. As they say, Class is permanent, Form is temporary.

As is always the case with Italy, much will be rested on the shoulders of Parisse. He is usually a catalyst for anything good that Italy do. If he is on one of his good days, he can win the battle up front almost single-handed. Their clash with Scotland will be vital as it is every year. Indeed for ever year since 2007 the two have finished 5th and 6th in the final standings. The match is usually a battle for the wooden spoon. This year, the evidence would suggest it will be no different unless one of the big boys have an off day. With an off-colour Wales likely to be open to upsets, maybe this gives Scotland and Italy maybe a hint of an opportunity of not finishing as bottom 2, but it is still unlikely at best.

Scotland:
Captain: Kelly Brown
2012: 6th
Key Player: Richie Gray
Prediction: 6th

Scotland's past year can only be described as dismal. They lost all 5 matches at the 2012 Six Nations and lost all but one of the Autumn Internationals. Albeit their one win was against Australia on their own turf. Despite the win in Australia, they humiliatingly lost to Tonga at home. This led to Tonga moving ahead of Scotland in the IRB rankings. This is not good enough for a proud rugby nation. You would like to think their shocking run in the 6 nations would end at some point but it is looking less and less likely to be this year. They simply do not have the firepower of the other nations and this can only end badly.

Richie Gray is a giant of a second row forward. Not the most skilled rugby player in the world but certainly one of the most powerful and difficult to stop. At 6 feet 8 inches and 18 stone is one of the heaviest and without doubt the tallest player in the tournament. This does not make a forward instantly good however, his reading of the game and bullish ball carrying makes his deadly. Any enterprising play or fortune Scotland have in the competition will surely be because of Gray. With rumours he is carrying a slight injury, hence his absence from Sale's Anglo-Welsh Cup match at the weekend, he must be wrapped in cotton wool. Even this may not be enough for Scotland to impact on the tournament.

This is an interesting year for the Six Nations with none of the countries standing out beforehand. The three Southern Hemisphere nations have dominated World Rugby in the last 12 months. England will maybe claim the upper hand in the build up as they have beaten the mighty All Blacks at Twickenham, and convincingly too. It is anybody's guess who may win the tournament but it must be out of England, France and Ireland. Wales are in a slump that seems to be showing no sign of stopping and Scotland and Italy will be playing for the Wooden Spoon. France are just showing enough to overcome England at present in my opinion but it will be one hell of a tournament.

MJ.




Sunday, 27 January 2013

Robin van Persie: The Man With No Mercy!

It's 17th May 2004. Arsenal sign a 21 year old striker from Dutch club FC Feyenoord for a fee of £2.5 million. Nothing remarkable you would think? Well this young forward went on to become one of the deadliest finishers in the history of Arsenal Football Club and compared to the legendary, almost Godlike, Marco van Basten. This man was Robin van Persie. Despite injury problems that plagued his first 3 seasons at the club he went on to become a club legend and captain the team after the departure of Cesc Fabregas.

All seems rosy for both van Persie and Arsenal in this scenario. Except for one aspect. At the beginning of the 2011/12 season they were entering their seventh season without any silverware in the cabinet at the Emirates. For a player that is seen as one of the most lethal strikers in the world this is not good enough. Also at the beginning of this season van Persie had only 2 years of his current deal to run. This inevitably led to speculation about his future. Although nothing came of these rumours in the summer, January proved to be vital. Van Persie was the run away leader in the race for the Golden Boot in the Premier League and Arsenal were performing solidly in the UEFA Champions League, largely thanks to van Persie's goals. The opinion amongst the media was that it surely had to when, not if, he left North London to enhance his chance of winning the medals his career deserved.

The season finished and van Persie was by far and away the winner of all personal awards the Premier League had to offer. He won the PFA Writers Player of the Year and Players Player of the Year and was named in the PFA Team of the Year on top of the Golden Boot, and of course with now only one year of his deal left to run, the media storm about his next destination hotted up. It was confirmed on 4th July 2012 that van Persie would not sign a new contract with the Gunners and, if needed, would see out the remainder of his deal and go on a Bosman transfer. This was obviously Catch 22 for Arsenal. Would the cash in on their talisman or wait it out and get another season out of him and risk losing him for nothing? They elected for the former. With dire consequences.

It was a huge blow to the Arsenal supporters to lose their captain but what was to come next would wound the fans in a way none of them knew possible. The club that had reportedly submitted a bid for van Persie was none other than Manchester United. The same Manchester United that had been Arsenal's main title rivals for the last two decades and who they had build up a huge rivalry with bad blood from both sides. The only thing worse than selling their talisman to United would be selling him to Tottenham Hotspur. Unthinkable though it may have been, the speculation was very much real and it was confirmed on 15th August 2012 that Robin van Persie had signed a 4 year contract with the Red Devils worth £190,000 per week, more than triple what his contract at Arsenal was worth, with a transfer fee of £24 million. This compared to other football transfer fees at the time was an absolute bargain. When it is considered that Andy Carroll had signed for Liverpool from Newcastle 8 months earlier with only 14 Premier League goals to his name for £11 million more than this, it is almost laughable.

Van Persie would make his debut in a 1-0 defeat away at Everton the following week and score his first goal for the club in a home match with Fulham, with his first shot for the club. This was to be the start of something special. A hat-trick in a 3-2 win at Southampton two weeks later saved United from the abyss. They were 2-1 down with 12 minutes left to play and van Persie would have the last word with a stoppage time winner. In total his Premier League goals alone have earned United 8 points in the race for the title. This is an astonishing return from a truly world class player. Whether or not the signing of van Persie will be the difference in the title race between United and their arch rivals Manchester City only time will tell but in the short term it appears that Sir Alex Ferguson had pulled off a masterstroke. Arsenal's loss is certainly United's gain.

MJ.