“This town ain’t big enough for the both of us,” may not be a quote often associated with football, but when it comes to Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie it may be apt.
Following the news that the former is set to sign a new long-term contract at Manchester United, I could not help but wonder what that meant for the Dutchman – a man who has rather bizarrely been linked with a return to his former club Arsenal in recent weeks.
Sir Alex Ferguson may have suggested Rooney wanted out at the end of his tenure, but his successor David Moyes seems to have other ideas, and his former Everton player appears to be a few pen flicks away from a deal that should see him at United until he is 33.
But it is actually the presence of another player that raises the most questions over Van Persie’s future – club-record signing Juan Mata.
Despite playing out wide in his early days at United, the Spaniard is a born-and-bred number 10, and with Rooney set to stay, it will be hard to accommodate both in the same role, or at least similar, roles.
The solution – something Ferguson reportedly opted for himself before Van Persie became available – is to play Rooney up front and Mata in behind. Only, under Ferguson the Mata role was set for Shinji Kagawa.
With Adnan Januzaj also making great strides and seemingly destined for a number 10 role himself one day, just how many such players will Moyes need?
For now – and for the foreseeable future – the Belgian teenager will occupy the wings and continue to impress there. But Mata must be brought inside, leaving Rooney as the fulcrum.
With doubts remaining over the future of Javier Hernandez, and Danny Welbeck nowhere near enough back-up on his own, losing Van Persie’s goals would be a huge blow.
But the only alternative would be to play a 4-2-3-1 formation, with two holding midfielders (purchase pending) behind Mata, Rooney and Januzaj who would all rotate and support the Dutchman.
Van Persie is one of the world’s best strikers, of that there is no doubt. But with Rooney seemingly being deemed the vital component of Moyes’ version of United, and with Mata surely destined to occupy the position that brings out the best in him, I just wonder what the future holds for the 30-year-old.
image: © Gordon Flood