He came, he saw, he conquered. Robin van Persie’s three year spell at Old Trafford comes to an end this summer, but he leaves a champion. His goals led United to a twentieth league title and a fitting farewell for manager Sir Alex Ferguson as the great man bowed out in style. Now it’s van Persie’s time to exit, and while he won’t leave with the same fanfare, he leaves United fans with some incredible memories and unforgettable moments.
I don’t need to remind anyone about his signing from Arsenal. The excitement of the rumours, the disbelief at the possibility and then the anticipation when he was finally holding a United shirt, Ferguson had signed the best player in the league from one of our biggest rivals. This was massive.
So it proved. A goal on his full debut was immediately surpassed by the first big van Persie moment. Two goals in the final five minutes away at Southampton completed a memorable hat-trick for the Dutchman, turned a possible defeat into a last-gasp win and spared his own blushes, having missed a penalty earlier in the game too. Those final few minutes at St. Mary’s set a benchmark for the season. When the big moments came, van Persie stepped up. He delivered when his club needed him the most. He was spectacular.
Goals came in all shapes and sizes. Tap-ins, penalties, free-kicks. Inside the box, outside the box. Left or right foot. Volleys and headers. Van Persie scored a lot and he scored regularly. He finished his debut season with 30 goals in all competitions, 26 of them in the league but what separated van Persie from the rest, what made United’s newest recruit such an important part of their title success, was what he did when the big boys came to town. In the opening six months of the season van Persie scored against all of United’s rivals and decided all of the big matches. He scored at Anfield and Stamford Bridge in two huge wins, before hitting a stoppage time winner at the Etihad in his first Manchester derby. One of the many unforgettable moments from his first season.
Van Persie also got the winner at home to Arsenal and Liverpool as United charged towards the title. They were top by the end of November and were unmoved until May. Champions again.
So, abiding memories of van Persie then? Well the biggest compliment to his efforts as a Manchester United player is the way he made the fans feel. That confidence that he exuded with his goals and his performances. Not arrogant, just better. He took United to another level and for that, we are eternally grateful.
There are of course individual moments that will stand out. The free-kick against Manchester City is one. While one City man wilted in the wall, United’s main man grew in the moment and the contrasting fortunes of the two players could not have been more stark. Van Persie was at the peak of his powers, while Nasri was struggling in a faltering side. United had overtaken their cross-city rivals once again. It was magnificent.
Then there was THAT volley against Aston Villa. Part of the hat-trick that sealed the title for United, van Persie’s second goal was something special. A goal so good it’s almost impossible to do it justice with mere words on a page. Wayne Rooney lofted a fantastic pass over the shoulder of the on-rushing van Persie who met the ball with the sweetest of volleys. He sent the ball crashing into the net, he wheeled away in celebration and Old Trafford erupted. Not only was it a demonstration of his sheer brilliance, it emphasised the impact he’d had on the club in such a short space of time. The pass from Rooney was from a midfield position; he’d been relegated. Consider this; Wayne Rooney, the man who is likely to become Manchester United and England’s greatest ever goalscorer, was relegated to a member of the supporting cast. A midfield role, number 10, out-wide at the Bernabeu and sometimes on the bench. Why? To accommodate Robin van Persie. That’s how good he was.
When Sir Alex Ferguson retired and David Moyes took over, United’s form struggled and so did van Persie. It’s well documented that he took the news of Ferguson’s retirement harder than anyone and it showed in his performances but he still managed to make his mark. At home to Olympiacos in the Champions League last-16, 2-0 down from the first leg in what was the most horrific display in the entire campaign, Manchester United were in a hole. Enter stage Robin van Persie. Another hat-trick, sealed with a glorious free-kick, sent Manchester United through but it was a complete performance. He led the line, he battled, he kept possession. He took pressure off his team-mates, stood up to be counted but most importantly he took his chances. The man for the big occasion hadn’t quite lost his touch.
And so to one final Robin van Persie memory. With a new manager in Louis van Gaal, Manchester United welcomed Chelsea to Old Trafford. United’s league form wasn’t great, Chelsea’s was magnificent. With Wayne Rooney missing, van Persie was made captain for the game and United played extremely well. They took the league leaders to the edge and should have come away with more but were losing with no time left on the clock. My lasting memory of van Persie might well end up being the man who rattled the ball into the net and watched the Stretford End erupt as he was mobbed by his teammates. Of those who piled on top of him, so many were youngsters who hadn’t experienced the success under Sir Alex. James Wilson, Luke Shaw, Adnan Januzaj. These were players who didn’t deserve defeat that day and thanks to van Persie, they didn’t have to. He stood up, just when his side needed him the most and he delivered. He had a knack of doing that in a red shirt. Not bad.
So thank you Robin. You may not leave the same player as you were when you signed, but you made your mark, no doubt.
In his short time at Old Trafford he was many things to many people. He was more than goals, that’s for sure. Yes, without them United would only have nineteen. But it was so much more than that. After the heartbreak of watching that Sergio Aguero goal just months before, United fans could have been forgiven for not enjoying football quite as much. Van Persie made it fun again.
So thank you Robin, but thank you to that little boy inside you too. He screamed for Manchester United and you listened. It turned out to be pretty decent advice that, because you leave having made your mark on one of the biggest clubs in the world. You leave having led that club to a league title and you leave a champion.
And we loved every minute of it.