Going back in time, April 2013 saw one of the finest goals ever scored in the Premier League, the second of a hat-trick of goals that sealed Manchester United’s record 20th league title in an astounding fashion, an immaculately timed volley sailing past Brad Guzan that led Ferguson claim he’d just seen what was in his opinion, the ‘goal of the century’. Though a certain diminutive left-footed Argentine whose surname is not Messi will have his doubts about it, the goal against Aston Villa on the night in some ways was the microcosm of Van Persie’s entire 2012/13 campaign with the Red Devils – lethal, influential and borderline breathtaking. As the rest of the evening was spent celebrating a remarkable 13th Premier League title, at a canter if you like, Van Persie his first and what would be his last, might not have expected what was about to hit him, something that would potentially curtail his Premier League career, contributing to his exit 2 years later.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s shock retirement seemed to affect him deeply, something which was later confirmed by his former team-mate Rio Ferdinand. Rio said on MUTV:
“The person it hit more than anyone was Robin. He’d come the year before, tasted that success and wanted more. Visually you could see it hit him harder than anyone else at the time.”
It affected him so much that not only his performances on the pitch suffered which in itself is a worry but also his interviews with the media giving away too much of an information about his disagreement with David Moyes’ management style (or the lack of it) who would replace Sir Alex and get the sack ten months into his job. His body reflected the inner dissatisfaction that he had to put up with, almost the entirety of 2013/14, in that he often found himself on the treatment table like he used to in his first seven seasons at Arsenal. In 2013/14, Van Persie would play a part in just 21 games as opposed to 38 (35 starts), yes 38, in the previous title winning season. A knee injury would rule him out for most part of the middle and final third of the season where his only notable contribution would come against Olympiakos at Old Trafford in the Champions League, a hat-trick that would take United into the quarter-final following a dismal 2-0 loss away from home.
After a thoroughly brilliant World Cup in Brazil for the Netherlands, Louis Van Gaal and Robin Van Persie himself things were starting to look better for Van Persie’s career at Manchester United. Having said that he would even ‘walk on fire’ for Van Gaal that showed the respect he’d had for the Dutch boss prior to the 2014/15 season, Van Persie or rather his body would fail him again in a season of transition and turbulence where he would make 27 appearances in the league (29 in total), scoring just 10 goals, his lowest in the last 5 years or so it would seem. A look at the numbers shows a startling decline from where he was in his last season at Arsenal and the first at United, his two best seasons in the Premier League where he scored a combined 67 goals in 96 appearances (in all competitions) between 2011 and 2013 to his last two campaigns at Manchester United plagued by injuries like most part of his career.
His falling numbers of goals per game, assists, chances created and not to mention the number of appearances is evident. In 2014/15, Van Persie created 0.07 clear cut chances per game which is dwarfed by the amount he did in his first season at United (0.25) while the total number of shots he attempted per game reduced from 3.71 to 2.81 showcasing his lack of confidence as would his declining number of goals themselves. From scoring at the rate of 0.75 goals per 90 minutes in 2012/13, the frequency of his finding the net would reduce to 0.43 goals per 90 which is roughly a goal in 208.5 minutes. Either it’s a case of age catching up with him, which he would disagree with, or it’s just a drop in form which will only persist, Manchester United can’t afford to have him under-performing for one more season on the books and Van Gaal is probably right in looking for replacements for the Dutchman already.
Despite all the ill-will that surrounded his controversial move from North London to the North West of England, Robin Van Persie will be remembered for the two seasons, two incredible seasons he’s had in the Premier League between 2011 and 2013, albeit more so for the season he had in 2012/13 for the simple fact that he achieved what he set out to, almost single-handed. Ferguson was right when he said, “He has had as big an impact as anyone I can imagine.” about Van Persie’s heroics in the 2012/13 season, an individual contribution that can certainly be put in the same bracket as Eric Cantona’s to Manchester United’s title win in 1995/96.
So where does he rank among the pantheon of great strikers in the Premier League? Right up there with the best, if you ask me. It staggers me that despite injuries limiting him to only two seasons out of 11 in which he made 30 or more Premier League appearances, his time with Arsenal and United still yielded a combined total of 144 league goals in 280 games. While his scoring rate in England’s top division trounces the likes of Andy Cole, Michael Owen and Robbie Fowler who were all great marksmen in their pomp, it’s safe to say he deserves to be called a Premier League great if not one of its more decorated as he would leave with just one Premier League medal to his name alongside a solitary FA Cup win in 2005.
It’s a given that he will always be remembered as the pantomime villain in sections of North London and by Arsenal fans around the world for the manner in which he moved from the Emirates to Old Trafford, although one could argue he had a selfish yet genuine reason to do so. Whilst his goals had a purpose at Old Trafford, they also meant his place in Manchester United’s history was never going to be in question. Although it’s fair to say his Premier League career had ended prematurely for obvious reasons, his best years, should see him go down as one of the best in Premier League history.