This is not an article bashing our ex hero for the sake of it, although it is not surprising we Gunners enjoy that indulgence. No this is more a vindication possibly of a piece I wrote last summer when it became apparent our then talisman would depart. There has been much recrimination about the club’s decision to sell to a rival and this is natural because we sold what most fans believed to be a world class striker at the absolute pinnacle of his game and at the peak of his powers.
Well you know what happens after you reach the pinnacle or peak? You go down the other side. And you know it takes a longer time to climb to the top of the mountain than to descend. In fact on the down slope the downward journey can on occasion be rapid. Enough of the clever analogies, I will get straight to the point.
The article I wrote last July revealed that of the 20 strikers who had scored 20 or more league goals (and there were only 20) in the previous 2011/12 season, from Europe big 6 leagues ,only 4 were 30 or over. If you are interested they were Ibrahimovic, Di Natale, Milito and Nene. Only 2 of these look likely to repeat the feat this season. Now we can all make statistics sing the tune we wish but they were the facts. The chances were that RVP would like so many others in the modern game find goals harder to score in your 30s.
When I wrote a piece recently asking why players can’t seemingly play as many games in the Premier League era as they did previously I was told that the pace of the game is more exacting, pitches firmer etc. Indeed the better playing surfaces make for more pleasing on the eye football but they are harder on the modern player’s body. Wear and tear kicks in earlier and RVP has had his share.
The facts and the truth in the case of RVP were sort of blanked out at the end of the last season by Gooners when he was our player. The reality was in March we all felt the breaking of Shearer’s EPL scoring record was a formality. With 10 matches left RVP needed 8 goals and such was his form we all thought he would make it. Arsenal’s form from February and March faltered in April and May and it coincided with our talisman failing to score in 6 of the last 10 matches. Of the 4 he did score the only one in a winning cause was a penalty versus already relegated Wolves and none were decisive strikes. As I say this dramatic decline in form and influence was missed or ignored by most in the Euphoria of grabbing 3rd from Tottenham on the last day at the Hawthorns. The truth is that had RVP been scoring still, it would not have gone to the last day and should not have. The turning point in his form is pictured below:
Did Wenger have the feeling that Robin in his 30th year was unlikely to hit the same heights? Was £25 million to good to turn down? Now who we sold him to of course is an entirely different discussion and I will not defend that call, but is there evidence that van Persie’s star is fading?
At first glance it is easy to conclude that he is as potent as ever with 20 goals in the Premier League. However only 5 of the 20 have come against the teams competing now for the top 6 places and he has not scored in the league for over 2 months until yesterday. The last time our greying Dutch friend hit the net in anger in the Premiership was on the 10th of February, until Sunday when he scored a penalty against Stoke. We all saw the relief in his celebration. He knew he needed a goal.
Anyway I am not intending to use only Van Persie himself for my research or to prove my point. I don’t need to as there really is emphatic and overwhelming evidence from the modern Premier League era to suggest dear RVP is unlikely to regain the form that took him to the peak of his individual attainment in 2011/12 with 2 Player of the Year awards. I am sure you might doubt this to be the case but here goes…..
Ian Rush – One of the greatest goal scorers in history of the modern game. Scored 26 in 1989/90 to nick title back from Arsenal in his 29th year and never came close to doing so again. His best league return after that was aged 31 in the first Premiership season when he hit 22 but on 14 in the EPL.
Andy Cole – The 2nd top scorer in EPL history hit 24 in his 29th year to assist Man U win the treble in 98/99 and 22 the year after in his 29th year. He never scored more than 13 in a season after that.
Alan Shearer – Fairs better than some but he hit 30 goals in his 29th year and never did so thereafter. The greatest scorer in the league’s history did continue to score but he nwver reached the heights he had prior to his 30th birthday/
Jimmy Floyd Hasslebank – The league’s top scorer in 2000/1 in his 28thth year and hit 26 goals for Chelsea in all competitions. He was pipped by Henry in 2001/02 in his 29th year when the Dutchman hit 29 that season. His highest total from then on was 17.
Thierry Henry – Our greatest ever hit 33 in his 29th year in 2005/6 and never looked like hitting his Highbury heights after that last year at the Home of Football. He only managed over 20 once at Barca.
Ruud van Nistlerooy – The Dutchman and Henry were great rivals for the Golden Boot in the early 2000s. The Dutchman left Man U and hit 33 for Real Madrid in his 30th year, having scored 24 times as a parting gift to the Old Trafford faithful in his 29th year. He dropped to 20 goals in his 31st year and has not troubled the statisticians since.
Nic Anelka – The ex- Gooner topped the EPL scoring charts in 2008/9 with 19 goals in his 29th year. He hit 25 in all competitions for Chelsea. He followed this with poor returns of 15 and 16 in his 30th and 31st year.
Didier Drogba – The Ivorian slightly bucks the trend by having his finest season in his 31st year scoring a very impressive 37 goals in 2009/10 taking Chelsea to the title and topping the EPL Goal Chart with 29. In the next 2 seasons he managed 13 and 13!
I will leave the most pertinent until last….
Dimitar Berbatov – The Bulgarian was bought for big money by Sir Alex Ferguson helped them to the title in 2010/11 when in his 29th year Berba hit 20 league goals. He finished as the league top scorer but was dropped by the ruthless Scot for the title run in, with the younger legs of Hernandez being preferred. After a season mostly on the bench last term he is playing again for Fulham but despite the plaudits, he is playing every week and has 13 goals to date in 2012/13.
Why is the last example so relevant if it has not grabbed you yet? Well because it illustrates the point that Ferguson and United, rightly or wrongly are willing to splash huge cash get a quick return in silverware and then discard and make a huge loss on the investment. It would not surprise me to see RVP rotated increasingly next season in favour of Hernandez and Welbeck, assuming they don’t move for Falcao that is.
Just in case the above does not convince you that top strikers rarely continue performing into their 30s. we could just quickly assess the strikers currently at the top of their game around Europe? Here are the current top 5’s from each major league:
France – Ibrahimovich, Aubaneyang, Aliadiare, Cvtanich, Gomis
Germany – Lewandowski, Keisling, Mandzukic, Meier, Szalai
Holland – Bony, Finnbogason, Pelle, Altidore, Malki
Italy – Cavani. De Natale, El Sharaaway, Denis, Pazzini
Spain – Messi, Ronaldo, Falcao. Negredo, Castro
England – Suarez, RVP, Bale, Michu, Ba
(those players over 30 are in bold type)
So we have compelling evidence to suggest that the likelihood of van Perise’s career taking and upturn in 2013/14 are slim. Of the 30 players making up the top 5’s in Europe’s top leagues presently only 4 of the 30 strikers are over 30.
As we have seen above only Didier Drogba of all the Premier League’s top strikers over the past 20 years had bucked the trend and peaked beyond 30.
My guess is that RVP like Berbatov before him will play less of a role next season at Old Trafford or be moved back slightly. I do not see him leading the line with the same devastating effect as he did when he was 27 to 29 and the odds are in my favour. Another possibility is that we may see our former idol drop deeper as Bergkamp or Sheringham did but will we see him hit close to 30 or over again? History and compelling evidence says it is exceedingly unlikely.
Time will tell and I cannot deny the first 5 months of the season were painful to watch from a Gooner’s perspective. However what I do know with some certainly is that Podolski, Girouid and Walcott will be 28, 27 and 25 next season and all record suggest still have their prime ahead of them. All have hit double figures with ease in 2012/13 and it is hard to argue against a further improvement next term. Possible assisted by a new striker to be signed in the summer. Only this week Wenger has been talking of coaching Lukas to play more centrally. If this is our future then next 2013/14 could be the German’s year to hit the peak in scoring form.
Chances are my friends that we are approaching the peak of our form mountain whilst our erstwhile skipper will be beginning his slide down the slippery career slope, possibly assisted by a ruthless red nosed Scot we all love to hate.
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