Verheijen: Van Persie would have never joined Man United knowing of Fergie's retirement
Robin van Persie may have failed to break through Olympiakos' rearguard in 90 minutes of unrelenting misery for Manchester United fans, but the Dutchman wasted little time breaking ranks afterwards in the mixed zone of the Karaiskakis Stadium's bowels.
His comments about team-mates often occupying the same areas of the pitch he likes to work in were seized upon by a media pack already scenting the whiff of bad blood in the United dressing room.
But while his implied - and subsequently denied - criticism of his team-mates came as a surprise to some, they certainly weren’t to a man who has worked closely with the Dutch striker for almost a decade.
To Raymond Verheijen, who was a member of the Dutch coaching staff at the 2006 and 2010 World Cups, Van Persie’s views were merely an indication of the tactical confusion that has engulfed the Premier League champions under the leadership of under-fire David Moyes.
“A lot of things are happening right now at United, but the major one is that they’re not playing as a team,” he tells FFT. “There’s no technical structure, and in football that’s the most important thing because it is not an individual sport.
“You have to develop an understanding between the players – 'if you do this I do that... if you do that I do this'.
“This is based on verbal and non-verbal communication between the players but this is only possible if you have a technical teacher.
“In the first game against Swansea this season they won, but only because Robin had some great actions. He rescued them in that game, but I could already see that there was no technical foundation. If you don’t have a coach with a technical picture then the problem is that even your team-mates become unpredictable.”
No love lost
Verheijen’s criticism of Moyes is nothing new. It wasn’t so long ago that he was labelling Moyes “a dinosaur” and described United's Carrington training ground as “Jurassic Park”.
What’s different now, though, is that Manchester United are in a tailspin that even two of Europe’s finest strikers appear to be unable to shake them out of.
Van Persie arrived at United in the summer of 2012 in a four-year deal that he hoped would see him finish his career with a medal haul commensurate to his ability. Now, just 19 months on, Verheijen is in no doubt that the Dutch star would never have moved to Old Trafford if he had known of Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement.
“Robin isn’t stupid, he knows exactly how late (in his career) it is,” says his compatriot. “For years he was at Arsenal winning nothing, and then he made the move to Man United so at least he could win some things in his career because he was already in his late 20s.
“He had a lot of loyalty to Arsenal and it was difficult for him - it was a painful move. Ideally he would have finished his career at Arsenal winning some trophies.
“He knew that was not going to happen, so he had to make that move. He made a painful, but brilliant move. He had a very successful first year, wins the title and then thinks 'let’s go for the Champions League now'.
“Then, all of a sudden, Ferguson retires. How do you think he felt? If he had known that was going to happen he still would have left Arsenal, because staying there would mean zero trophies. He would definitely have moved but would have more than likely gone to Barcelona or Bayern Munich.”
Away from his woes in the Premier League and in Europe, Van Persie will be acutely aware that a World Cup – conceivably his last – is also looming. Verheijen believes that the contrast between club and country will never have seemed so stark.
“Can you imagine, one moment you’re working with a tactical mastermind like Louis van Gaal, who is extremely detailed in tactics,” he says.
“One moment you have Louis van Gaal teaching players to move one metre back to make better triangles, then the next you go back to your club and you’re doing all this superficial stuff again.
“This transition is very tough. Playing with the Dutch national team, with this technical mastermind, makes his perception of the situation at Man United even worse.”
It was the goals of Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder that inspired the Dutch to within an inch of glory in South Africa four years ago, but Van Gaal’s side are likely to be heavily reliant on Van Persie’s brilliance if they’re to repeat the feat in South America this summer.
After being drawn in a group containing Spain, Chile and Australia, they face an uphill task even making it to the knockout phase.
And if Van Persie arrives with a face like thunder and his confidence on the floor, qualification will be an impossible ask, says Verheijen.
“Without him we will not qualify for the second round,” he declares. “With him we might.
“As usual in Holland, once the tournament starts everyone gets very excited. What people don’t necessarily understand is that they might not be in the group of death, but they’re definitely in a group of death.
“Spain and Chile are two very good sides. Chile at Wembley were very impressive and they’re going to be a huge challenge for Holland. They definitely need Robin this summer and they need him to stay in shape.”
All eyes would have been on Van Persie for Wednesday's friendly against France, but the 30-year-old fell ill earlier this week, missed training on Tuesday and seems unlikely to feature.
In Manchester, meanwhile, Moyes will be glad that the focus has switched – albeit briefly – from club to country.
The former Everton boss looked like a man heading for the gallows when he picked over the bones of United’s most recent humiliation in Greece. “I’m surprised, I didn’t see that level of performance coming,” he said. There were plenty who did.