Manchester United bought Robin Van Persie for $36 million last summer. Supposedly, the signing was to screw Arsenal and decide the title in Man United’s favor. Five games into the season? Not so much. The move, if anything, seems to have had the opposite effect. Arsenal resemble a dependable, recent vintage Man United team. Man United are starting to look just a bit more like Arsenal.
To be fair, the Red Devils have three more points through five games. It is not their results, but the manner of them that has disconcerted. Man U’s buildup play has been poor. They have shipped goals to less talented teams. They rely on a savvy veteran, Paul Scholes, and Robin Van Persie bailouts. Arsenal, in contrast, have looked far more balanced and methodical. They have not been spectacular, but have ground out good results. Through the first five matches, the Gunners have allowed two goals, compared to 14 at this stage a year ago.
Changing fortunes coinciding with his transfer make developing some form of “Ewing theory” for Van Persie tempting. Truly, though, this has little to do with him. The real difference is Arsenal now has a solid and settled central midfield. Arsene Wenger shipped out Alex Song, signed Santi Cazorla and finally has Abou Diaby healthy. They sacrificed steel, but holding the ball fluidly for long stretches and receiving smart, timely interventions from a more defensive Mikel Arteta they seldom need it. With Aaron Ramsey and Wilshere/Rosicky returning from injuries they might even have (gasp!) experienced depth.
United has nothing of the sort. Michael Carrick is decent at everything, special at nothing. Beyond him, they depend on Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes for creativity in the middle, who turn 39 and 38 respectively in November. Instead of buying the ball-handling player they have needed for a few years from that position, they bought an auxiliary striker, Shinji Kagawa and reloaded up front with Van Persie. Like Arsenal last season, they have the skill to get by most teams but seldom exert control.
Robin Van Persie does little wrong and many things right. He has won and will continue to win games for Manchester United. He just might not have been the player they needed to vault them ahead of Man City, Chelsea or, indeed, Arsenal this season.
Faded Glory: Serie A is European Soccer’s Big Ten. Here’s some evidence. A.C. Milan beat Cagliari 2-0 at home today. Those were the first Serie A points earned by either AC Milan or Inter Milan at the San Siro this season. The clubs, combined had been outscored there 7-1 entering the match. Some have blamed the putrid form on the stadium’s new, partially artificial surface, replacing the traditional crab grass and green spray paint. Others would point out the two clubs, financially constrained in recent seasons, are terrible. Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri has received “the dreaded vote of confidence.”
The Verdict: John Terry retired from the English national team this week, claiming the English FA has made his position untenable after charging him with using abusive racial language toward Anton Ferdinand. Terry was acquitted of a racially aggravated public order offense in court last summer. Though, the FA does not to prove things beyond a reasonable doubt to suspend him. A ruling may come down tomorrow, quashing one of his patented dashing comebacks from injury against Arsenal.
Frankly, we’re still questioning why he was being selected for England after having his captaincy stripped twice for alleged racial abusing another player and impregnating a teammate’s girlfriend. That’s not even counting his aborted mutiny attempt at the 2010 World Cup or general villainy.
Winter World Cup: UEFA president Michel Platini will push for a winter World Cup for Qatar 2022. That move is inevitable, as shuffling the schedule to play in November/December when the average high is around 80 beats designing futuristic air conditioning and artificial hover-clouds to make 106-degree summer temperatures humane. Platini eschewed suggestions he voted for the Qatar bid at the behest of then French president Nicolas Sarkozy, claiming he voted on principle. His vote, undoubtedly, had nothing to do with his son Laurent getting a cushy legal adviser role in the European Operations Department of Qatari Sports Investments either.
Sham Democracy: Seattle wants a European-style club atmosphere. Here’s their latest aping attempt. Barcelona, owned by its supporters, holds elections for club president every four years. The Sounders are replicating this, by letting fans vote yay or nay on whether to keep GM Adrian Hanauer. This is the form, without any of the function, since part-owner Hanauer will not going anywhere. A better facsimile would be a full-on campaign between Joe Roth, Paul Allen, Drew Carrey and Hanauer to decide who gets to wear the big boy pants.
Dumbass: Croatian footballer Domagoj Vida of Dinamo Zagreb cracked open a beer on the bus ride to a cup match against lower league opponents. The act of defiance cost the 23-year-old $129,000.
Honest Man: In today’s Napoli-Lazio match, Miroslav Klose admitted using his hand on an allowed goal, enabling the referee to correctly disallow it. His club Lazio went on to lose 3-0.
[Photos via Getty]