Robin Van Persie – Good, But Not A Great
Robin Van Persie is just days, maybe hours, away from completing his Premier League exit with a move to Turkish club, Fenerbahce.
It’s undeniable that it will be an odd way for one of the most prolific strikers in England for over a decade to leave such a big stage.
The Dutch international has had a mightily strange career. So many seasons blighted by injury and yet he has still managed a near 1:2 goal ratio: 211 goals in 460 games. Despite such a lavish record, though, his Premier League ‘great’ status is hugely up for debate.
He arrived at Arsenal from Feyenoord as a precocious 20-year-old, your typical inside-left forward: quick, agile & skilful with an eye for goal. He lacked discipline, though, and constantly suffered from various injuries.
Over the course of the next five seasons, Arsene Wenger set about the same mission he had completed with Thierry Henry: moulding him into a no.9 goal-scoring machine from a winger-cum-forward.
In the eight seasons he spent at Highbury and the Emirates he was widely regarded as one of the Premier League’s best players, and yet, he only broke the 20-goal barrier three times – twice in his final two seasons as he entered the prime of his career.
In those last couple of seasons, the narrative kicked about that he was carrying the Gunners with his goals and, due to a continued failure to add to their trophy collection in that time, ‘RVP’ deserved more.
Sir Alex Ferguson smelled blood and swooped for the then 28-year-old for an initial £22.5 million. The United manager was desperate to reclaim the title after that heart-breaking ending to the 2011-2012 season and felt the Gunners striker would be the final piece of a Premier League-winning jigsaw.
“I always listen to the little boy inside of me in these situations – when you have to make the harder decisions in life. What does he want? That boy was screaming for Man United.”, exclaimed Van Persie.
“From my side, and Arsenal as well, there are no hard feelings. There were certain elements which were vital to me that we had a different view. That is life. Nobody is angry at me and I’m not angry at them.”
He was surely deluding himself. Gunners’ fans spat blood. They felt betrayed and renounced his ‘legend’ tag.
There can be little doubt Van Persie passed up that status at the Emirates to win more titles. Few can argue it wasn’t a smart decision and his stellar first season at Old Trafford, in which he fired 30 goals and lead United to their 20th Premier League crown, proved he had made the correct call.
Having managed 48 appearances in that debut season for the Red Devils, covering himself in glory, injuries would strike again in the following two seasons, making just 28 and 29, in comparison.
He was still scoring goals, however, with 28 goals in those 57 combined games and the installation of Louis Van Gaal, Van Persie’s international manager, as new United coach, was believed to have been a positive but it hasn’t turned out that way.
The former Barca and Bayern coach has not been happy with his former Oranje captain’s fitness, and, with his 32nd birthday just around the corner, he probably believes Van Persie’s best days are now behind him.
The Premier League title he managed whilst at Old Trafford was just his third major trophy and his first as a senior pro, having won the UEFA Cup with Feyenoord as an 18-year-old and the 2005 FA Cup with Arsenal in his debut season. Is that really enough to qualify you as a Premier League great?
He remains Arsenal’s 8th all-time top goal scorer, which would usually be enough to qualify you as a club legend, but that relationship has been irrevocably soured now.
Having helped Manchester United to that 20th league title, he has managed little else in the proceeding period. On his way to Turkey, he will limp out of Old Trafford fondly remembered but likely not cherished in the same way an Eric Cantona or even an Ole Gunnar Solksjaer will.
In a decade’s time, when the best ever Premier League players are regaled, Robin Van Persie will be recalled as a great goal scorer and a scorer of great goals, but mitigating circumstances throughout his career means a place in the pantheon of greats is beyond him.