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Robin van Persie -- Manchester United's first true talisman since Cristiano Ronaldo left

Clive Mason

I'm currently reading Phillipe Auclair's phenomenal biography of Eric Cantona and in the chapter that covers the latter half of Manchester United's 1993-94 title-winning season, he captured this description of the legendary Frenchman by Sir Alex Ferguson:

"He's capable of providing moments of inspiration that we haven't seen in the British game for years. He inspires people around him. He changes his way of playing in different games; he has the intelligence to understand the tactical part. Perhaps this club, this stadium, is what he always needed."

- Ferguson on Cantona

What a simple, yet brilliant portrayal of King Eric's impact at Old Trafford. It's also a fitting depiction of Manchester United's newest talisman -- Robin van Persie.

Not since the great Cristiano Ronaldo departed in the summer of 2009 have the Red Devils had a true talisman like van Persie. Wayne Rooney certainly was the club's leading figure from the summer of 2009 to this past summer and at times -- particularly during the 2009-10 season and during the run-in of the 2010-11 season -- he's been genuinely world-class. He, though, has some limitations and inconsistency is an issue as well. In contrast, van Persie has been unplayable since the beginning of 2011 and he is at the peak of his considerable powers. So much so that one of his counterparts on Saturday night, West Ham United's Joe Cole, feels that the Dutchman is currently one of the top three players in the world:

"You take away [Lionel] Messi and [Cristiano] Ronaldo and van Persie is probably the best player in the world. He was playing wide for Arsenal for many years and getting a few injury problems but moving central means there is a bit less running and he can use his technique and finishing, which is just incredible. He is a joy to watch and a pain to play against."

- Cole on van Persie

United captain Nemanja Vidic added to the praise for van Persie after the striker's stunning stoppage time equaliser* at Upton Park:

* That sublime first-touch by RvP from Ryan Giggs' delicious long-ball almost seemed to defy the laws of physics.

"His touch is magnificent and his finishing is top class. It’s movement from the book, touch from the book, goal from the book. It’s something they can show to kids, how to move and finish in the last third."

- Vidic on van Persie

After defeats of Chelsea and Arsenal earlier in the season, former United defender Gary Neville had this to say about van Persie in a column for the Daily Mail:

"Everything Van Persie does on the football field means something; he doesn't move without it mattering. If he makes a run, it has a purpose, even if it is to drag a defender out of position."

- Neville on van Persie

Neville, later in the column, continued on with his appreciation for the striker and he also provided what turned out to be some prophetic words about December's Premier League clash with chief title-contending rival Manchester City:

"He has taken two big games [Chelsea and Arsenal] by the scruff of the neck. If he does the same in the Manchester derby in a month's time, every United fan will know they have a special player on their hands... There is something about Manchester United, along with Barcelona and Real Madrid; if you do special things with those clubs, then it elevates you to a whole new level. If Van Persie can continue like this, he has not left it too late to attain that legendary status."

- Neville on van Persie

Perhaps this club, this stadium, is what van Persie always needed. Perhaps van Persie -- genius, true talisman -- is what Manchester United desperately needed.