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Van Persie’s return provides chance for overdue Old Trafford farewell

The Dutchman comes back to Old Trafford with Fenerbahçe

Manchester United v Aston Villa - Premier League Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Three seasons, 105 appearances, 58 goals; Robin van Persie’s Old Trafford career may have been fairly brief but few have burned brighter in recent years.

The summer of 2015 saw the Dutch striker depart Old Trafford in a £3.84 million move to Fenerbahçe. The man who had played a bigger part than any other in United’s 20th title triumph two years earlier was gone.

There was little ceremony upon van Persie’s exit, leaving many supporters feeling that the club should have made more of an effort to publicly thank the Dutch striker for his services with something that would better reflect his contribution to the club than a few meagre paragraphs of platitudes on the official website.

Van Persie joined United in controversial circumstances in 2012. With the player entering the final year of his Arsenal contract, Sir Alex Ferguson spotted the opportunity to boost his offensive options with one of the finest forwards in the world, while simultaneously weakening a direct title rival.

The then-28-year-old had been the top scorer in the Premier League the previous season, with 30 goals from 38 games, and was named both the PFA Player of the Year and the FWA Footballer of the Year.

So the Gunners were understandably reluctant to part ways with their star man. But van Persie made it clear that he wanted to join the Red Devils, rejecting interest from Manchester City and Juventus and instantly endearing himself to his new supporters.

The £24 million fee that United had to pay to secure the former Feyenoord player’s services was an abnormally large sum for a player of his age with only 12 months left on his contract, but it reflected both Arsenal’s disinclination to sell and Ferguson’s determination to get his man.

For his part, van Persie quickly set about making £24 million seem like peanuts. His decision to wear the number 20 shirt was, he claimed, symbolic: he wanted to help United with their 20th league title.

Everton v Manchester United - Premier League Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

Van Persie made his United debut by replacing Danny Welbeck in the 67th minute of a 1-0 defeat to Everton on 20 August. An inauspicious beginning but any concerns would soon be allayed.

In his maiden start for the club, he netted with his very first shot, helping the Red Devils earn a 3-2 victory over Fulham.

A first hat-trick in the famous red shirt was just around the corner too, as the Dutch international bagged a treble in a thrilling 3-2 win away to Southampton.

It was early days, but van Persie’s addition was already beginning to look like the x-factor that was going to help United wrestle the Premier League trophy back from rivals Manchester City.

Not only was van Persie proving to be just as prolific in Manchester as he had been in North London, he was also making a habit of scoring in crucial fixtures: a later winner from the penalty spot against Liverpool at Anfield, a goal away to Chelsea and, of course, the dramatic late winner against City thanks to a deflected free-kick.

A 10-game mid-season drought was ended in April with a penalty against Stoke City. As if to prove that his scoring touch had well and truly retuned, van Persie claimed his second hat-trick of the season in comfortable victory over Aston Villa at Old Trafford.

The second goal of his treble against the Villains was the finest of his United career.

Wayne Rooney played a long, arcing pass from midfield and the former Arsenal striker fixed his gaze on the falling fall as it came over his right shoulder. From 20 yards out, van Persie connected with the sweetest possible left-footed volley to fire past Brad Guzan in the Villa goal. Ferguson described the phenomenal strike as the "goal of the century".

United romped to the title, finishing 11 points clear of second-placed City. Van Persie was voted the club’s player of the season.

Ferguson announced his retirement at the end of the campaign and was replaced by David Moyes. The former Everton manager’s cautious approach didn’t jive with van Persie, but the Dutchman still managed 18 goals from appearances during the 2013-14 season.

Louis van Gaal was drafted in to replace Moyes ahead of the 2014-15 campaign. The former Ajax and Barcelona boss had just guided the Netherlands to a World Cup semi-final that summer. Van Persie, who captained the Oranje and scored four goals during the tournament, was expected to flourish under his compatriot.

Fenerbahce v Shakhtar Donetsk - UEFA Champions League: Third Qualifying Round 1st Leg Photo by Burak Kara/Getty Images

But the once deadly striker struggled to recover his best form, managing just 10 goals from 29 appearances and was sold to Fenerbahçe during the off season.

Van Persie’s first season in Turkey was a moderate success as he scored 22 goals in 48 cames, helping Fener finish second in the Turkisg Süper lig.

This season has seen the Netherlands’ all-time highest goal-scorer struggle slightly as, at 33, age has begun to catch up with him. In eight all-competitions appearances this term, he has managed just a single goal.

Though his best days may be behind him, van Persie is still remembered well on the red side of Manchester, where his contribution to United’s most recent title win has not been forgotten.

So when van Persie returns to Old Trafford with Fenerbahçe tonight for a Europa League group stage game, United fans will get the chance to afford van Persie the kind of farewell that has been more than a year in the making.