LONDON – It was, at the same time, another superb bit of business by Arsenal and a brilliant coup by Manchester United two days before the new season begins.
Arsenal will receive £24 million for Robin van Persie, who started less than 50 percent of the Premier League games the Gunners played during his eight years with the club.
Only once did he start more than 20 matches. Van Persie’s move to Old Trafford brought the profit made by Arsene Wenger in the transfer market since his appointment in 1996 to around £175 million.
Despite his injuries, van Persie still averaged just over a goal every other league game for Arsenal and last season notched 30 in what was his only injury-free campaign as a Gunner.
United has paid a huge sum for the Holland international, 29, who has signed a four-year contract and who had only a year left on his Arsenal deal; with van Persie’s wages the total outlay for United will be almost £60 million, a massive investment for an undoubtedly talented player, but who is almost 30 with a history of injuries.
It is unrealistic to expect van Persie to have another season as prolific as the last one, but Sir Alex Ferguson, as usual, got his man.
Not only has he strengthened United, he has weakened one of its main rivals and you can bet that Fergie would never sell a top player to a club the Reds would be locking horns with for the title.
The prospect of Wayne Rooney and van Persie, who scored 57 league goals between them last season, leading the line has United fans licking their lips in anticipation for its first game, against Everton on Monday.
With Danny Welbeck, Ashley Young, Nani, Javier Hernandez and Antonio Valencia high-powered attacking options, Fergie has the sort of selection problems any manager would want.
In contrast, the purchases of Lukas Podolski (£11 million from Cologne), Santi Cazorla (£15 million from Malaga) and Olivier Giroud (£12 million from Montpellier) have been overshadowed by the transfer of yet another Arsenal superstar.
Supporters are once again left to wonder why the Gunners are becoming a feeder club for their rivals and why players do not want to stay at the Emirates.
It is seven years since Arsenal won a trophy, in which time United, Chelsea and Manchester City have dominated the honors board.
Last year, Wenger said that Arsenal could no longer be considered a big club if Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri were sold. They were, to Barcelona and City respectively, with van Persie joining the exodus which may soon include Alex Song to Barca.
With every such sale, it lessens the chances of Arsenal ending its silverware drought.
United lost the title to City on goal-difference last season and the Reds’ noisy neighbors have been quiet in the transfer market so far, midfielder Jack Rodwell, £12 million from Everton, the only summer purchase.
But City remain the team to beat, a rejuvenated and lightweight Carlos Tevez almost like a new arrival at the Etihad. With Tevez, Sergio Aguero, Mario Balotelli and Edin Dzeko, City are guaranteed goals. Manchester is in for a goalfest this season.
European champion Chelsea has bought two excellent midfielders in Edin Hazard (£32 million from Lille) and Oscar (£25 million from Internacional), but the loss of Didier Drogba to Shanghai Shenhau leaves the Blues thin in attack, with Fernando Torres and Daniel Sturridge the only experienced strikers.
Of the chasing pack, Liverpool under Brendan Rogers should improve; Tottenham supporters, who still cannot understand why Harry Redknapp was sacked, will not give Andre Villas-Boas any honeymoon period, the sale of Luka Modric to Real Madrid inevitable but his exit leaves Spurs without a playmaker; David Moyes will no doubt overachieve with Everton despite a shoestring budget; Newcastle has signed players few have heard of, such as Romain Amalfitano and Vurnon Anita, but if it proves as potent as Papiss Cisse the Toon Army will be delighted.
For half of the Premier League survival is the first option, but the title will be fought out by the usual suspects with the champion once again coming from Manchester.
THE COMPARISONS will be as inevitable as they are spurious. Football is back today, but with the country still basking in the goodwill created by the hugely successful Olympic Games Sunday’s back pages will no doubt be along the lines of “Olympic spirit disappears as football returns.”
Football’s image certainly needs improving, though if anyone believes what we saw at London 2012 will have any effect on the national sport they will be taking naivete to new levels.
Forty-one minutes into the Community Shield last Sunday, Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic launched himself at Manchester City’s Aleksandar Kolarov, who was fortunate not to sustain a serious injury.
Referee Kevin Friend correctly showed the Serbian a red card which prompted the predictable Chelsea protests. Football was back.
The Olympics showed us the side of sport we all love to see. There were cheers and tears almost in equal proportions and the Games gave Londoners a pride that had been absent for too long, but comparisons between footballers and Olympic medalists have little credibility.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.