Van Gaal & Van Persie: Manchester United's match made in heaven

The striker skippered an unfancied Netherlands side to third place at the World Cup and Old Trafford fans will be hoping he can thrive once again under the 62-year-old coach
By Richard Jolly

Robin van Persie's World Cup ended as it started. He was on the scoresheet. Netherlands defeated one of the pre-tournament favourites. His partnership with Arjen Robben functioned beautifully.

More importantly for Manchester United, his relationship with Louis van Gaal seems a meeting of minds. Despite the Dutch tradition of dissent and disharmony, two intelligent, opinionated individuals appear allies. Van Gaal began his second spell in charge of the national team by putting Van Persie on the bench. He ended it with the striker his skipper and sidekick.

Given the pattern of Van Persie's career and the performances he produced for Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson - the managers he respected - their bond is as auspicious as any signing at Old Trafford. Much as Van Persie and David Moyes kept on denying they fell out last season, it was hard to believe that was a mutual admiration society.

The Glaswegian who produced the best from the Dutchman was Ferguson. Gareth Bale may have secured the individual honours in the 2012-13 campaign but Van Persie was the season's most significant player. He was the decisive footballer in that title race.  

As the Dutch, captained by Van Persie, surpassed most expectations by finishing third in the World Cup, it became ever easier to imagine the forward donning the United armband. Patrice Evra's move to Juventus will remove one credible candidate. Moyes would surely have selected Wayne Rooney, but there are plenty in the United support who argue the Englishman has received enough preferential treatment already.

Had Moyes remained, Van Persie probably would have ranked second among equals in the forward line; if, that is, he had opted to stay under the Scot. Instead, the odds are that he will be the new leader for the new age. As Arsenal can testify, captaincy can bring the best from the 30-year-old. As United know, they need more from Van Persie. 

He provided the sole highlight of their league campaign with his winner against Arsenal and, with his hat-trick against Olympiakos, was integral in Moyes' best performance at Old Trafford. His return of 18 goals in 23 starts seems impressive.

Yet the statistics don't provide an altogether accurate reflection of his efforts last season. Some might say he owes United. Indeed, with the exceptions of David de Gea and Adnan Januzaj, perhaps everyone owes United after their abject season last year.

The key lies not just in the excellent goal ratio, but in the comparatively slender number of appearances. When Van Persie is at his best, he is combining his natural artistry with productivity and durability. Van Gaal drew six starts from him in Brazil. Once again, it is encouraging.

So, too, the link-up with Robben. The third-minute penalty, converted expertly by Van Persie, was won by the Bayern Munich winger. But only after the United forward served selflessly as the target man, holding the ball up to allow his speedier colleague to burst beyond them.

Robben has become the brightest star in the Dutch firmament. Van Persie has acceded to his in-form team-mate and supplied him. When Thiago Silva brought Robben down, he was the beneficiary.

One of United's many issues last season was a lack of chemistry between their premier players. Moyes failed to find a way of getting the best from Van Persie, Rooney and Juan Mata on the few occasions each was available. It falls to Van Gaal to solve the conundrum of how to forge an understanding between the mismatched trio who, to borrow the phrase Van Persie used after the abject away defeat to Olympiakos, "sometimes occupy the spaces I want to play in".   

The key, though, is that he wants to play. Last season, his body language was not that of a man who was enjoying his football. Van Gaal has consulted him, about the tactical switch to 5-3-2, and galvanised him. The shame for Netherlands and Van Persie is that his most ineffective game came in the semi-final against Argentina. Yet he led by example in a youthful, unified group who overachieved. There are worse precedents for United.