Over the years, Old Trafford has been the home to countless great players, though some may argue that the numbers have become easier to count on either hand in recent years. Since Cristiano Ronaldo departed, the only consistent hero for Manchester United has been David de Gea, a goalkeeper, who rose from a scrawny young shot-stopper to the best goalkeeper in the Premier League by a massive distance. However, it is almost impossible to dispute that, of all players at United this decade, Robin van Persie would have to be named the best outfielder.
Winning the PFA Player of the Year award at Arsenal in 2011/12, he was robbed of retaining the award after carrying United to the title in Sir Alex Ferguson’s last season. A season of four players, including van Persie, Tottenham’s Gareth Bale (now Real Madrid), Liverpool’s Luis Suarez (now Barcelona) and Chelsea’s Juan Mata (now United), but the award should never have gone to Bale after van Persie scored a remarkable 26 Premier League goals and provided 15 assists over a 38 game season. That domestic year, he was arguably the third best player in Europe, so obvious was his quality.
Consistently inspiring in front of goal, van Persie not only established his name as arguably the best striker in world football that year, but he also became famous for his deadly finishing ability. In any angle in which a ball could be struck, van Persie could bury it, regardless of height, and often regardless of body part. His left-foot blew any opposition defence away as he became unplayable. In a unique style of football that consistently exposed the offside trap, van Persie’s yard of pace was the most important aspect of his football and was perhaps the cause of his downfall. In losing a touch of speed and fitness, van Persie became more prone to injuries and began to accumulate offsides as United faltered under David Moyes.
The media myth, as is often the case with United, detailed that van Persie’s years were over and he was set to move on. However, the Dutchman still accumulated a remarkable 18 goals and three assists in the 28 matches he played, which is a greater tally than currently expected of Zlatan Ibrahimovic up top. Comfortably silencing his doubters at the World Cup with an incredible performance and the best goal I’ve seen with my own two eyes, van Persie was supposed to be rejuvenated by Louis van Gaal, United’s new manager, but that wasn’t the case.
Though the Dutchman still managed to score over 10 goals in the Premier League under the other Dutchman, van Persie clearly showed he was past his prime. However, I think he still had something to offer that would’ve warranted keeping him over Wayne Rooney. Louis van Gaal seemed to lose it with van Persie when he missed a penalty against West Bromwich Albion, a match United lost 1-0 despite having a remarkable 80% of the ball. Keeping Rooney and removing van Persie, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao from United’s attacking ranks ensured that the Red Devils were comfortably under-prepared as youngsters Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial carried United to their worst goals tally since 1990.
Two years later, though, and it seems like the right decision from van Gaal (though Rooney should’ve gone too). While van Persie managed to score 22 goals in 48 appearances in his first season at Fenerbahce, the likes of Martial and Rashford have emerged as options for the future and already look capable of replicating such numbers in a far more difficult league. Seemingly disenchanted with his life at the Turkish club, though, van Persie was spotted not celebrating a Fenerbahce goal with his teammates on the bench, displaying his discontent at the club. Unhappy with his lack of playing time that day, van Persie said this:
“To be honest, I am not very happy at this moment. I was not happy that I started on the bench. I am fully fit, physically very well and able to play for 90 minutes. The only right answer I could give was with what I did: helping the team to get the victory.”
In failing to make the knockout stages of the Champions League with Fenerbahce, van Persie failed to do much better than his former club did, bowing out of the Europa League at the hands of Molde. While van Persie was hardly poor in Turkey, his side had an underwhelming season and he was linked with a move back to the Premier League. West Ham United and Crystal Palace were said to be in the contest for a loan deal before Fenerbahce stated their intentions to keep him at the club. It would have been great to see van Persie back in the Premier League, competing with the other former United strikers around the league, and outscoring Rooney to make a point.
Hardly a great at Manchester United, van Persie should still be known as one of the most astute buys of Sir Alex Ferguson’s time at United, for the moments he delivered. His goals at Aston Villa to secure United’s 20th league title will never be forgotten and neither will his incredible hat-trick at Olympiakos to paint a masterpiece over a broken team. While he was unable to lead United into a new legacy of football, one that has been postponed for three seasons now, he was certainly able to play one of the finest swan songs in the history of English football.