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When Sir Alex Ferguson signed Robin Van Persie from Arsenal in the summer of 2012, there was a general feeling that he did so for two reasons. The first was in order to bolster a Manchester United strike force that had seen the club surrender the Premier League title to noisy neighbours City. The second reason for Fergie enticing the Dutch master to Old Trafford, however, was simply because he could.
Although, Arsene Wenger was certainly unhappy to lose Van Persie to their biggest rivals, it was a match that was ultimately made in heaven, albeit for a short time. Averaging slightly over one goal every two games, Van Persie netted forty-eight times in eighty-six league matches, and fifty-six times in one-hundred and five games in all competitions in three seasons.
That Van Persie’s move to United came when he was at his peak as a player should not be forgotten. Equally, his early career that led to this pinnacle should also be studied in more detail.
Born in Rotterdam on August 6 1983, Van Persie signed for Feyenoord at the age of sixteen. Despite winning the Dutch Cup (KNVB Cup) and the Dutch equivalent of the Community Shield while with Feyenoord, Van Persie’s time at the club was controversy-riddled.
A headstrong youth, Van Persie clashed repeatedly with coach Bert Van Marwijk and often found himself banished to the reserves. Something had to give, and in May 2004 Van Persie was transferred to Arsenal for a reputed £2.75 million.
Signed initially as the long-term replacement for Dennis Bergkamp, Van Persie made his debut in August 2004 and then settled in for the challenge of nailing down a regular starting spot. His first season saw a substitute appearance as Manchester United were defeated on penalties in the FA Cup Final and a steady if unspectacular return of ten goals in 41 appearances in all competitions.
Injuries seemed to affect Van Persie during much of his early time at Arsenal, and as a result, it was not easy to claim a regular starting spot. The 2005-06 season ended in disappointment as Van Persie remained an unused substitute in Arsenal’s Champions League Final defeat at the hands of Barcelona.
With Bergkamp’s eventual retirement in 2006 and then Thierry Henry’s transfer to Barcelona a year later, Van Persie was handed more responsibility and came more to the forefront of Arsenal’s attacking play. Whereas previously he was generally deployed as a second striker playing off of Henry, with the Frenchman’s departure Arsene Wenger now relied more on Van Persie to lead the line in a 4-3-3 system.
Although picking up personal awards such as the Premier League Player of the Month, the Premier League Golden Boot, and the PFA Players’ Player of the Year Award during his time at Arsenal, no further team trophies were to come his way following the FA Cup success in 2005.
It was thus that Van Persie completed the 2011-12 season as captain of the Gunners and with 30 league goals to his name.
Much to the consternation of Wenger and Arsenal fans everywhere, Van Persie announced that he would not be signing a new contract and was seeking a transfer. If that were not a sufficiently bitter pill for those connected with the Emirates’ club to swallow, the fact that he was eventually sold to Wenger’s one-time sworn enemy, Sir Alex Ferguson, was enough to tip the sanest of Arsenal fans over the edge.
Looking for a proven goal scorer to ensure that United never again missed out on the title on goal difference, Fergie swooped for £22.5 million.
Never short on confidence, Van Persie took the number 20 shirt at Old Trafford with the view that he would score the goals required to fire United to their twentieth title. This he did by way of netting 26 times in the league and another four in various cups for another 30-goal season.
Playing most of the season alongside Wayne Rooney, the two men seemed to see one another as a challenge while bringing the best out of each other. United put the disappointment of the previous season behind them in winning the league by 11 points.
Despite only being at Old Trafford for three seasons, and only really shining as its brightest star for one, thus Van Persie cemented his place as a United legend.
The end of that season saw Ferguson finally retire and be replaced by first David Moyes and then Louis Van Gaal. Injuries restricted both his appearances and his goals tally in his last two seasons at Old Trafford, and in July 2015 he was transferred to Turkish side Fenerbahce.
Two seasons in Turkey were followed by an emotional return to Feyenoord in January 2018 where it all began for Van Persie some seventeen years prior. The 2017-18 season ended with the KNVB Cup being secured again with Van Persie scoring in a 3-0 victory over AZ Alkmaar in the final.
As he comes to what he has stated will be his final season before retirement, Van Persie can also look back on an international career lasting twelve years and producing 102 caps with 50 goals. Appearances at the World Cup tournaments of 2006, 2010, and 2014 followed, and Van Persie went on to become Holland’s top goal scorer of all time, as well as captaining his country.
A fast-running and robust player with a wonderful touch and ball control, Van Persie has been a feature in the game for the better part of two decades now, and with his retirement from the game now imminent, his legacy is sure to be a lasting one.