Bryan Robson expects Robin van Persie to captain Manchester United next season. One of Louis van Gaal’s most important tasks in his new role as United manager is to select his leader on the field following the summer exit of Nemanja Vidic.
After spending ten years at the club, Wayne Rooney was tipped to take the armband, but Van Persie skippered the Dutch national side at the World Cup and he enjoys a good relationship with the new man in charge at Old Trafford.
Last week Van Gaal said he would take time to decide who should take the honour, but Robson appears to think the Dutchman has already made up his mind. “Robin was his captain of Holland, so that is an obvious one,” United’s former ‘Captain Marvel’ said. “I would be really surprised if he didn’t give Robin it.”
The close bond between Van Gaal and Van Persie was clear to see throughout the World Cup. The pair spoke publicly about their admiration for each other and Van Persie raced over to the bench following his stunning opening goal against Spain to give his manager a high five.
Van Gaal defied his critics to guide the Netherlands to the semi-finals of the World Cup before they were knocked out by Argentina on penalties. Robson believes their run to the last four bodes well for United, who finished seventh last year under David Moyes. “He has been a winner all his coaching career, so, hopefully, he will install that back into the club,” said Robson, who played 461 times during a 13-year spell at United.
Van Gaal has put his squad through tough training sessions since landing in Los Angeles, where United kick off their pre-season campaign against LA Galaxy on Wednesday.
The players in the 25-man squad, which includes new signings Anders Herrera and Luke Shaw, have been keen to impress their new manager, who was appointed as Moyes’ successor in May.
The disappointment of last year’s dismal showing under the Scot will also be driving the players on, according to Robson. “The fans and the club were disappointed last year, but nobody hurts more than players,” said Robson. “I know these players. They have won the title, the Champions League, and a lot of them were really disappointed about what happened. The lads still at the club will want to bounce back. They will want to prove to people that they are top players and can win things.”
Robson, though, believes United could fall short unless they sign a centre-back. After losing Vidic, Rio Ferdinand and possibly Patrice Evra, Robson is concerned United lack experience in their back line. “When you lose three class defenders like that you need to bring in a really top centre-half to the club. That would really give us a chance of winning the title.
“You look back over the years and United have had Nemanja and Rio as a pairing, Brucey [Steve Bruce] and Pally [Gary Pallister]. Then we had Jaap Stam. He was a really dominant and aggressive player and we need one of those to come in to the club.”
Robson believes Bruno Martins Indi would have been the ideal signing for United. The 22-year-old Dutch centre-back joined Porto from Feyenoord on Wednesday after enjoying a successful World Cup under Van Gaal.
“He really impressed me in Brazil, especially against Argentina when they were up against it,” Robson said. “He had a really good tournament. He had a big presence on the pitch and we need someone like that.”
Meanwhile, Denis Irwin is convinced Shaw will be a big success at United. Shaw became the most expensive teenager in history when he moved from Southampton to Old Trafford this summer. The initial £27 million down-payment, which eclipsed the £25.8 million fee United paid for Rooney, raised a few eyebrows as Shaw turned 19 only a week ago.
But Irwin is sure United have made a sound investment in the England full-back, who went to the World Cup ahead of 107-cap defender Ashley Cole, who subsequently retired from international football.
Irwin had a 12-year stretch as United’s undisputed first-choice left-back, and he believes Shaw has the potential to hold on to the same position for a similar length of time.
“He is going to be a fantastic signing for years to come,” said the former United defender. He showed he has great pace for England at the World Cup and in the warm-up games.
“He has always been great going forward, we have seen that in the Premier League. There was talk of Chelsea being in for him so I am delighted that he signed for United. He is a fantastic player, who will improve and get stronger.”
United are so confident about Shaw’s ability that they are willing to let experienced campaigner Evra depart even though he signed a new contract in May. Back-up Alexander Buttner has also been sold to Dynamo Moscow.
Irwin is sure the hefty transfer fee United paid for Shaw will not prove a burden for the young left-back even though he made his full Premier League debut only 16 months ago. “As a young lad, you don’t feel the pressure as much as older players,” he said.
“He is a strong lad for a 19-year-old. He has great pace, great going forward. He is still only young. He will make mistakes defensively. We have to accept that, but he is a fantastic player.”
Irwin also believes new manager Van Gaal will be a resounding success at United.
Because the Netherlands reached the World Cup semi-finals, Van Gaal has only a month to get to know his squad before the season starts.
However, Irwin is sure the 62-year-old will be able to turn United into title contenders after a fallow year under Moyes.
“We would have liked him in earlier, but he did well with the Netherlands,” Irwin said.
“Slowly but surely he will be able to put his own imprint on the way he wants Manchester United to play.
“The manager has won trophies all over the world. His experience will be good for us. Next season we have to aim for the summit.”