Putting the Robin van Persie ‘One Man Team Argument’ to Rest

Without Robin van Persie, Manchester United would be 16th in the table, right?

The flaws in the ‘One Man Team’ argument are numerous, but the biggest of these flaws is that when arguing United would be a lesser team without van Persie, you assume every other team retains their own leading scorers. If you really want to argue that Manchester United would be facing relegation without their Dutch striker, you’ve also got to remove the goals of every other team’s lead goal scorer – because after all, if you provide the majority of goals, you’re clearly the ‘One Man’ in a ‘One Man Team’, right?

The truth is that if you take out not only Robin van Persie’s goals but also the goals of each team’s most prolific goalscorer, the Premier League table doesn’t change even half as dramatically as a 15-place drop. Before we take a look at that hypothetical table, here are the leading goal scorers for each Premier League team after Round 21 of competition and in brackets the amount of Premier League goals they have scored so far this season:

Arsenal – Theo Walcott (8)
Aston Villa – Christian Benteke (6)
Chelsea – Fernando Torres (7)
Everton – Marouane Fellaini (8)
Fulham – Dimitar Berbatov (7)
Liverpool – Luis Suarez (15)
Manchester City – Edin Dzeko (9)
Manchester United – Robin van Persie (16)
Newcastle – Demba Ba (13)
Norwich – Robert Snodgrass (4)
QPR – Adel Taarabt (4)
Reading – Adam Le Fondre (5)
Southampton – Rickie Lambert (8)
Stoke – Jonathan Walters (5)
Sunderland – Steven Fletcher (8)
Swansea – Michu (13)
Tottenham – Jermain Defoe (10)
Wigan – Aruna Kone (6)
West Bromwich Albion – Romelu Lukaku (7)
West Ham – Kevin Nolan (5)

Below we have the hypothetical Premier League table after Round 21 without the goals of each team’s top goal scorer, plus the difference in positions on the ladder from each team’s actual position in the Premier League at the same point in time.

So what can we learn from this hypothetical table?

Firstly, it’s important to note that no team moves more than four positions higher or three positions lower Without Top Scorers (-TS) than they currently sit Including Top Scorers (+TS). If you were shown this table before the beginning of the Premier League season it would not be overly difficult to believe – the biggest surprises would perhaps be Arsenal and Everton placing above Manchester United, who would be fourth, and Aston Villa lying four points off safety in nineteenth. The top of the table is much more compact than reality, with just four points separating first-placed Manchester City with Tottenham in sixth.

When you’re doing comparisons like this, you look for big differences. But there are not a great deal of significant differences in the –TS table from the +TS table. Unsurprisingly, what bigger differences there are come at the top of the table, where strikers such as van Persie, Walcott, Fellaini and Defoe have scored more goals on average to then lose -TS than lower-table counterparts Le Fondre, Benteke and Taarabt.

Even then, there are only six occasions on which the number of wins, draws or losses of any team -TS is different by a margin of more than two from their +TS number of wins, draws or losses. Those occasions include Arsenal (1 loss -TS, 4 losses +TS), Everton (6 draws –TS, 9 draws +TS), Manchester United (10 wins & 8 draws –TS, 17 wins & 1 draw +TS), Tottenham (6 draws –TS, 3 draws +TS) and West Ham (8 draws –TS, 5 draws +TS). Obviously the biggest of these margins features Manchester United, who drop from first to fourth without Robin van Persie’s sixteen goals. But even in this situation they are a mere two points off top spot, a far cry from the cries of ‘You’d be sixteenth without van Persie’ that are touted around by those claiming Manchester United are a ‘one man team’.

Perhaps the most damning statistic lies at the very bottom of the table. QPR would have just a single win without the brace of Adel Taarabt goals which gave his side victory over Fulham. This would leave them two points further adrift from safety than they currently sit +TS. Similarly, Aston Villa would also be more than a win away from escaping the relegation zone, sitting on just fourteen points without the prowess of Christian Benteke.

On a more positive note, despite losing Dimitar Berbatov, Robert Snodgrass and Theo Walcott respectively, Fulham, Norwich and Arsenal are the big winners, all gaining four places in the –TS table. In reality, this would indicate one of three things – that these teams have spread their goals around the team more evenly than others; that they have participated in just a small number of matches where other teams’ top scorers have scored crucial goals against them; or that conversely their own top scorers have scored a significant number of point-earning goals.

In Norwich’s situation only one of Robert Snodgrass’ four goals changed the outcome of a match – his goal against Tottenham in Round Three earned the Canaries a draw. But with only four goals this would seem to suggest that Norwich tend to spread their goals around the team. For Fulham, a number of Berbatov’s finishes have changed the outcomes of their matches, with goals from the former Manchester United striker earning the Cottagers draws against Reading and Arsenal.

For Arsenal, these statistics should have a serious impact on their thought process when deciding whether or not to re-sign Theo Walcott.

Walcott has scored eight goals this season, but just one of these – his goal in the first minute against Everton – was scored in a match with a victory margin of less than two goals. Three more could be considered important in the context of their games – his goal as a substitute against West Ham that put Arsenal 2-1 up en route to a 3-1 victory and his first and second of a hatrick against Newcastle, putting them 1-0 and 4-3 up respectively. But for someone who wants the kind of money and position as central striker that he is asking for, Theo’s goals reveal that he is not delivering when it really counts:

– One goal in a 6-1 win over Southampton (Scored the last goal of the game in the 87th minute as a substitute)

– One goal in a 3-1 win over West Ham (Scored second as a substitute)

– One goal in 5-2 win over Tottenham (Scored the last goal of the game in the 90th minute against ten men – despite starting)

– One goal in a 1-1 draw with Everton (Scored in first minute)

– One goal in a 2-5 win over Reading (Scored the last goal of the game in the 80th minute – despite starting)

– Three goals in a 7-3 win over Newcastle (Scored first and fourth – but also scored last goal of the game in the 91st minute when 6-3 up)

When you also remove Marouane Fellaini’s goal as Everton’s top scorer in the 1-1 draw, the end result is confronting: you could remove every Theo Walcott goal this season and not a single net result would change. In the –TS table, when we remove Theo Walcott’s goals, Arsenal gain four places from their +TS position. Not an encouraging statistic for someone seeking a vastly improved contract at a top four club.

So that’s that. Let’s banish the idea of ‘RvP, the One Man Team’. If you remove RvP, you’ve also got to remove every other top scorer to even things out. Manchester United don’t go 16th, they go 4th – and only two points behind leaders Manchester City. Someone has to be the top scorer in every team – let’s instead sit back and enjoy watching the spectacular goals that van Persie delivers so consistently.

Note: One final interesting statistic – when you account for –TS, only five games across the 208 that have been played so far this season flipped the results on their heads. These results were:

– Manchester United’s 2-3 victory at Southampton (a 1-0 victory for the Saints without RvP’s hat trick and Rickie Lambert’s goal),

– Manchester City’s 1-2 victory over West Brom (a 1-0 win for the Baggies without Dzeko’s brace),

– Reading’s 2-1 victory over Everton (an 0-1 victory for Everton minus Le Fondre’s double),

– QPR’s 2-1 win against Fulham (as mentioned above, an 0-1 win for Fulham without Taarabt’s goals), and:

– Manchester City’s 3-4 victory against Norwich (a 3-2 win without another Dzeko brace).

14 thoughts on “Putting the Robin van Persie ‘One Man Team Argument’ to Rest”

  1. Four points separating 1st from 6th with Man Utd NOT top but in 4th is not as sensationalist as saying they would be 16th for sure.

    However, it could be argued that without RVP it WOULD be a massively different league even with the other teams top goal scorers missing, it clearly makes a massive difference.

    Instead of leading the league by 7 points from Man City & 18 points ahead of everton ! 18! they would be in 4th & below Everton. Am I missing something??

    How is that not a massive departure from the current league picture? How does it back up the point Man utd is a one man team? looking at this table and positioning it as with no team dropping. more than places doesn’t adequately explain the impact he has had.

    Can anyone honestly look at that hypothetical table and say man Utd isn’t a one man team if UTD go from top to fourth & drop 14 points?

    Sure sensational statements of utd being relegated aren’t valid, but from what I see from your own table is a drastically different table with a 6 team race for a title! With Man Utd the biggest losers as they are just in a pack instead of enjoying a comfortable lead….

    1. I think there’s a very easy counter-argument to this: Robin van Persie is clearly a high quality striker who scores goals when it counts (unlike Walcott). If his goals have earned them that many points, it doesn’t mean he’s a one man team, it means he’s worth every single pound of the 20 million plus paid for him.

      1. I don’t think anyone would suggest he hasn’t looked like he is worth every penny..so far…if they do not win the league then maybe he won’t be?

        Your statement above doesn’t “easily counter” the argument, the Walcott example is more of a distraction to answering the question of Manchester Utd dependence on RVP.

        First of all, define reasonably what is the acceptable premis for the statement of “a one man team”.

        A fair or reasonable definition might be that the player drastically improves or catapults their team to results & /or standing/position they would otherwise not have with that player.

        With that being said, Using the hypothetical league you set out above, RVP catapults Man Utd to the actual lead they have now. No other player for any other team has the same effect in your hypothetical league.

        There dependence on him is clear, in reality 7 points clear of city! Suarez, Michu & Dzeco don’t add 14 points to their teams in your hypothetical.

        Also as suggested the bench for top teams always having great replacements is fair to a point. However, SAF added RVP that’s it, one play. We have seen MUFC with Rooney & Chicharito & Wellbeck & they did NOT do for Utd what RVP has done.

        RVP also had just as impactful effect for arsenal last season, Clearly he has blossomed these last 2 seasons into a game changer, a league changer. There is no doubting his value (so far), that however doesn’t change the reality as you prove unwittingly above, Man Utd without RVP it is a different story completely.

        Just because people get upset with the idea of their “team” being so dependent on one player, doesn’t mean it isn’t true. [Messi, Ronaldo, Falcao, RVP] are all game changers, & there is nothing wrong with that. I would take any of them
        All Day Long

        1. Who’s to say that whoever stepped in for RVP wouldn’t recreate what he’s doing? Rooney can net with the best of them, not to mention that would just mean more time for Chicharito; no slouch himself.

  2. What I find good & also disturbing about this for spurs is….. after taking out our top goal scorer there is only a three points difference for us. The disturbing part is that there is only 3 points difference…lol …so it perhaps underline how much we need an RVP ha!

  3. This is still only part of the way to look at it. Of course, when you call someone a “one man team” you have to a like-to-like comparison and remove every team’s top striker for a fair comparison. But, it would be worth considering the next level of analysis too: Who comes onto the field to play for that top striker?

    The top clubs will always have less drop off because they have quality depth. Until Rooney got hurt, United was sometimes having trouble finding enough minutes for Chicarito and he’s a 10+ goal scorer already this year. He wouldn’t score all of RVP’s goals, but he would score some of them.

    I think the lower sides are more dependent on their best players because the back-ups aren’t as high quality as the top 4-5 sides.

    1. Dean, this is exactly my point. No-one ever takes into account that if you remove RvP, someone else – and in Manchester United’s case, that someone is Rooney/Hernandez/Welbeck – has to come in to replace them, and I wouldn’t complain about any of those three coming on to score goals. A vast majority of those goals are still going to get scored one way or the other.

    2. Dean
      “I think the lower sides are more dependent on their best players because the back-ups aren’t as high quality as the top 4-5 sides”

      Look at the table Adam provided above and count the points difference not just the position

      “Dean, this is exactly my point. ”

      ?? The lower teams in the hypothetical didn’t loose or gain as many points as man utd. show another team as impacted as Man U without RVP in your hypothetical?

      It ‘s an interesting article but your own hardwork does not prove your point, just the opposite infact.

      Perhaps instead of just a position column you should do a points column as that is the game of math played by managers, x player will ad value by adding x points.

  4. Adam,

    First, I think you are underrating RVP’s contribution massively. Every striker can be replaced. There is no doubt. If Ronaldo can be replaced then yes, RVP can be replaced. Same goes to Messi and Iniesta and Xavi and every top level players. I don’t think you are proving anything here.

    For the most part, RVP’s goals have contributed to away wins at Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool, not to mention home wins, and his contribution to the all around play has been massive.

    But here is why I think RVP’s importance comes into picture. How many times has United have to come back from a deficit and yet they manage to crawl back and win? They have leaked goals for fun but have scored enough to win. If you don’t have a top class striker at the helms of things, you can only come back for so long. Not game after game. This is where I think Hernandez and Welbeck may not have done the job what RVP has done for United. They just don’t have the skill and the talent to produce game after game, incredible match winning performances that RVP has done this year so far for Manchester United.

    He is an exquisite talent and while I don’t agree people saying one man team, but you can’t say that he hasn’t dug United out of the hole they were in so many times and managed to squeeze out a win. Who knows for sure where United would have been without RVP, that’s not an argument I would like to get into, because those are hypothetical.

    Therefore you entire argument of United being one man team is slipper slope to begin with. Because those are unknowns and every situation and team is different.

    1. Without RvP Ferguson would have bought another top striker instead; or Rooney would be playing a more forward role rather than the one he is currently playing.

      Your conclusion is exactly my point: These are unknowns and saying ‘if you didn’t have him you’d be nowhere’ is equivalent to me saying ‘if I had turned left at that traffic light instead of right I’d be famous now’.

      1. Again, RVP is among very few top level strikers that is plighting his trade at the very high level. No other top striker available in the market would be doing what RVP is doing. That’s my conclusion.

  5. The thing about this argument concerning any of these strikers is the fact that Robin van Persie was bought for exactly this reason. Just like Luis Suarez was bought by Liverpool, Torres by Chelsea, etc, etc.
    It would be a bigger deal if he wasn’t scoring goals and winning games (i.e. Torres).

  6. For the sake of the haters, I’ll go with the one “one man team” argument for a second. So lets pretend you leave all the other teams untouched. You only remove RVP from the equation. BUT…you have to fill his spot with someone in all those games. Maybe Rooney is healthy instead. Maybe the players you replace RVP with are in the same spot to get the goals of opportunity. Maybe they create there own goals. Do things change? Maybe a lot , maybe not much at all. Either way its a lot of speculation that doesn’t matter. The whole argument is just people looking to find a reason to hate on United and RVPs success so far. Somebody has to be on top, and somebody is going to have the most goals.

  7. If it wasn’t RVP, someone else would be playing and scoring. The “one man” team argument is stupid and should be put to rest.

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