The rise and rise of Robin van Persie

by Sam Bowden

Van Persie Manchester United‘I wasn’t artistic in drawing or painting but I think I am artistic in sport. I think I’m always looking for the ultimate, the maximum. It’s a challenge that excites me.’

When Arsenal tied up a deal for the relatively unknown 20 year old Feyenoord striker at the end of the 2003/04 season, the Dutchman was tipped to be Dennis Bergkamp’s long term successor at Highbury. His qualities shone through at a young age and he was voted young Dutch footballer of the year in the same year he signed for the North London side.

From 2004-2010, Van Persie’s terrible luck with long term spells on the treatment table hampered his development and subsequent impact at Arsenal. His longest spell of being injury free during that period came in the 2008/09 season where he made 44 appearances for the Gunners, bagging 20 goals in all competitions.

Since Van Persie picked up an ankle injury during Arsenal’s 2-1 win over Blackburn back in August 2010, which ruled him out for a couple months, the Dutchman has stayed injury free. Because of this, Van Persie’s quality on the pitch has been emphatically illustrated. At the end of the 2010/11 campaign he finished two goals off Carlos Tevez and Dimitar Berbatov who were joint top PL scorers with 20 goals even though he was injured for almost 1/2 of the season. RvP’s 18 goals which averaged to one in every 98 minutes of football made him the most efficient striker in the league according to Opta. Despite the Dutchman’s fantastic goal scoring tally in the second half of the 10/11 season, Arsenal failed to win any silverware and finished in 4th spot.

It was the 2011/12 season where Van Persie left his mark in English football. Due to the £35million sale of club captain Cesc Fabregas in August 2011, Van Persie was handed the armband for the forthcoming season, Arsenal’s most valuable player was now their skipper. After the Gunners worryingly poor start to the campaign, which included defeats to Liverpool, Manchester United, Blackburn and Tottenham Hotspur, Van Persie began to make the difference. For many parts of the Gunner’s season, the dutch striker almost single handedly won them maximum points out of nothing. RvP scored against every PL side except Fulham and Manchester City in the 38 games played. Norwich, Chelsea, Liverpool, Borussia Dortmund, Sunderland, Everton and QPR would have probably taken points of Arsenal if it wasn’t for the Dutch magician’s goal scoring efforts.

He was undoubtedly named PFA Player of the Year after an astonishing season at the Emirates. Van Persie featured in every one of Arsenal’s 38 league matches, scoring a quite brilliant 30 goals. Only a handful of players including Cristiano Ronaldo, Thierry Henry, Andy Cole and Alan Shearer have equalled or bettered that goal scoring feat in the Premier League era. His goals proved vital to Arsenal as they clawed their way back from a poor start to the season to finish above Spurs (who had a 10 point lead over their neighbours in mid February) in 3rd place.

As the dust settled on a momentous season for Arsenal’s talismanic centre forward, there was one major issue that needed to be sorted and was on every Arsenal fans mind over the summer months. Van Persie’s contract at the Emirates expired in June 2013 and negotiations between the player, Wenger and chief executive Ivan Gazidis had been ongoing from May until after the Euro 2012 championships. On July 4th 2012 Van Persie announced on his personal website that he wasn’t extending his contract with the club due to disagreements over the future direction of the North London side. In his 8 year spell at Arsenal the Dutchman collected just two winners medals (FA. Community shield 04, FA Cup 05)

After his public announcement, a host of big name clubs were linked with the Dutchman’s services. Manchester City seemed to be early favourites for his signature and for a while speculation grew over Van Persie and a possible move to Turin to join the Old Lady. However in late July, Sir Alex Ferguson admitted in an interview that he had made a bid for the striker, United had registered a real Interest.

1987 was the last time Arsenal sold a player to United, it is a path that is rarely trodden upon. As the weeks negotiations continued people began to wonder whether Van Persie was going to have to see his contract out due to the clubs reluctance to sell to a direct rival, especially Manchester United. But on 15th August a fee between the clubs was finally agreed, some speculation suggests the price was in the region of £24million which meant the Dutch forward was going to swap London for Manchester.

I listened to the little boy inside me … that boy was screaming for Man United.

Van Persie’s arrival at United was a statement of Intent by Ferguson, especially after the way he saw his side throw an 8 point lead away to see City snatch the title on goal difference. He vowed it would never happen again, Van Persie’s arrival was his response to City’s title triumph.

The Dutchman’s impact at United has been world class. He is currently the clubs top goal scorer this season with 22 goals in 28 games, he is the Premier League’s number one striker with 18 goals to his name already. He helped United beat the Champions and end their two year unbeaten run at the Etihad with a last minute deflected winner. It is not just his goals, he has a healthy amount of assists to his name too.

A fee of £24million for a player in the last year of his contract seems like a pricey deal, but Van Persie has bought maturity and experience to not just United’s strikeforce, but the whole side. Sir Alex tends to invest in youth and develop them into the finished article over a number of years, but he knew this was too good a player to not be interested in. RVP’s arrival also takes some of the goal scoring pressure of United’s number 10, Wayne Rooney. Rooney netted 27 Premier League goals last season which helped United go so close to winning the title.

With United’s leaky defensive displays this season, Van Persie’s goals have become even more significant. Without the Dutchman netting week in, week out then that 7 point gap between them and City wouldn’t exist. Interestingly Van Persie seems to be improving the older he gets. His game doesn’t rely on pace, his intelligence and movement in and around the box is second to none, he brings others into play as and his link up play with strike partner Wayne Rooney has been truly outstanding this campaign. When asked about his partnership with Rooney he said they were both 9.5’s and not a traditional number 9 and number 10 because both can play in each others position as effectively.

His impact on the red half of Manchester has been likened to that of Eric Cantona when he joined United in November 1992. Cantona brought a class and arrogance to the side which United had been lacking for some time. Cantona had a major impact on United’s success between 1992-1997, especially during the 95/96 campaign where Cantona’s goal’s impacted majorly in the title race. He also scored the winner against rivals Liverpool in the 96 FA Cup final at Wembley. Only time will tell if Van Persie’s influence on United will prove similar to the Frenchman. But the signs are there, if he stays injury free then United will benefit dramatically.

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