Louis van Gaal has admitted he is not afraid to drop Robin van Persie from the Manchester United team with questions still being raised over his contribution to the side – but is the Dutch boss realistically likely to back-up his strong public rhetoric?
The former Arsenal forward, by his own admission, has endured a disappointing season with him managing 10 goals from his 23 Premier League starts.
The striker has lacked his usual sharpness in front of goal and seems to be suffering from last term’s gruelling campaign that saw Holland reach the semi-finals of the World Cup. He has also come under fire from Sky Sports pundits Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville for his lack of movement and failure to develop a partnership with Radamel Falcao up-front, who has only managed four Premier League goals.
Van Gaal, meanwhile, has shown with his treatment of Falcao that he is not afraid to make bold decisions – with the former Bayern Munich and Barcelona tactician again insisting none of his big names are safe from the axe.
When asked if Falcao could be dropped to allow captain Wayne Rooney to play up-front rather than as a midfielder, Van Gaal said: “That I have said also with Van Persie, it is not only for Falcao but also Van Persie. You are putting this question in the same way as [you asked about] Van Persie, but there are more aspects to a striker.”
He continued: “You have seen the header back to [Chris] Smalling from Falcao [for the first goal against Burnley in midweek], and that is also an aspect, an assist is also an aspect. [Being] available for your fellow players is also an aspect so I shall not judge only the goals. It is a bigger view on that.”
Earlier in the season Van Gaal also threatened to drop Van Persie but stuck by him – with the striker’s form eventually improving, although nowhere near the level he was at during his first season at Old Trafford under Sir Alex Ferguson.
The United boss made Van Persie captain of Holland and is fully aware of his compatriot’s capabilities, while there still seems to be the strong suspicion he has major reservations over the impact of Falcao, who he recently left out of the squad.
Van Gaal seems determined to stick with his policy of playing Rooney in a deeper role – despite paradoxically saying he is “maybe the best striker” – while only giving youngster James Wilson sparing opportunities.
The end result in all this is that despite his warning to Van Persie that he could be dropped it realistically remains unlikely – with Falcao still likely to be the one to make way if he does decide to push Rooney further forward.