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Robin van Persie: Short essays on the greatest Dutch Reds

Next in the series...

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

There’s a Dutch flavour to everything around Manchester United at the moment. Erik ten Hag’s been at the hot seat for a little over a month with Frenkie de Jong and Tyrell Malacia likely to join him and Donny van de Beek.

Old Trafford’s been home to many a great Dutchman, from the flying figures of Edwin van der Saar and Robin van Persie to the fierce like Jaap Stam and Ruud van Nistelrooy. The Busby Babe staff felt that it was only right that we celebrate some of the club’s greatest Dutch Reds by coming up with short essays on them.

The essays will be part of a series that also serves as a little game to see who ranks as the greatest Dutch Red of them all. We decided to take inspiration from The Ringer’s Shea Sarrano, who came up with his own quirky metrics to rank different seasons and players in his book Basketball (and Other Things): A Collection of Questions Asked, Answered, Illustrated and gave it our own little spin.

We’ll be using the following metrics to rate each Dutchman:

  • Silverware
  • Stats
  • Transformative
  • Longevity
  • Charisma

We will provide a score out of 5 for each metric. The score assigned for the player by the writer tasked with the essay will either be revealed at the end or form the basis of the piece. Since we’ve got 5 metrics and each metric is scored out of 5, the player will get a score out of 25.

We’ve also got 4 players to write about and each writer will provide a score out of 25 for these players. These scores will be revealed in a separate piece, once all the essays are done. Do the math and you’ll realise that each player will be ultimately marked out of 100.

We’ll also do a poll for the final piece and hope to come up with at least one more series of essays before the season 2022/23 Premier League season starts.

Now, here’s a short essay on Robin van Persie from Pauly.

Robin van Persie

“Ferguson told us he’s going to win you the league if you pass him the ball.” - Rio Ferdinand
“He [Sir Alex Ferguson] literally said to Scholesy, Carrick, Shinji [Kagawa], and Wayne [Rooney], “if you cannot find him, you will not play.”” - Robin van Persie

Robin van Persie was exactly as advertised. A clinical goalscorer with a ferocious left foot was seen as the final piece to get United back above City and reclaim the Premier League title. Van Persie did just that, scoring 26 goals in the Premier League and spearheading United to their 20th top flight title with four games to spare.

Robin Van Persie was a very un-Sir Alex Ferguson like signing. £29 million for a 29 year old who’s battled injury problems throughout his career and would have no re-sale value? That’s just not how Ferguson operated. 29 years old is when Ferguson was getting ready to sell you. David Beckham at 28, Andy Cole and Jaap Stam at 29, Dwight Yorke and Ruud van Nistelrooy were offloaded at 30, the list goes on. Teddy Sherringham is a rare exception who was bought at 31 but he was to be one of four strikers, not the talisman.

When looking at singings Fergie always had one eye on now and one eye on the long term, but Van Persie was very much a signing with both eyes on now. That should have been our first clue that Fergie was planning to retire. Van Persie was bought for one reason and one reason only, win the league this season. Anything after that didn’t matter.

To that extent he was a success. He achieved the goal he was signed for.

That particular goal made Van Persie the most unique signing United ever made. The way we the fans view the signing is unlike any other signing I can think of and that’s solely down to the success he had in his first year.

Mention 2012-13 to any United fan and the first words they’ll say are “ahh, the Van Persie season.” Not Sir Alex Ferguson’s final season, not the 20th league title, just simply, Van Persie. For one season, Robin van Persie was Manchester United. Since winning the league and Champions League double in 2008, United had won the league again in 2009 and 2011 but neither one were as close to as much fun as 2013 and that’s because of Van Persie.

Van Persie in 2013 put in one of the two most fun individual seasons I’ve ever seen from a United player. That counts for something. It counts for a lot, but it also tends to blind us to the fact that overall Robin van Persie did not have a great United career.

Silverware: 2/5

It’s very hard to score Van Persie here. He won only one trophy in three seasons at United. That’s a very low total for a Ferguson era player, but then again he only played one year under Ferguson. Considering United’s dominance in the league that season it was a bit of a shame United didn’t perform better in the cups. They ran into bad luck (or a bad decision from the referee) in the Champions League but one of the oddities of that season was how the goal of the season was so single minded in winning the league that no one was too bothered about their poor showings in the domestic cups.

Van Persie didn’t start the three cup matches United played against Chelsea, and their failure to get by a poor Chelsea side in both competitions is probably indicative of the lack of quality they had in the rest of the squad. Given there were no midweek fixtures to worry about in 2014-15, United failing to make a run in the FA Cup was pretty inexcusable though by that point Van Persie was a shell of his former self.

As will be the theme throughout the scoring, Van Persie was signed to win the 2013 Premier League title. He didn’t just win it, he put the team on his back and carried them there. That counts for something and he gets an extra point for that.

Stats: 4/5

In season one Van Persie was exactly as advertised. 26 Premier League goals along with nine assists. A 0.92 npG+A per 90 and 30 goals in all competitions. Van Persie wasn’t as electric the following season. Injuries started began plaguing him again and his Premier League goal tally falling to 12 reflects that, but as his 0.57 npG per 90 shows, he was still performing when he played. By 2014-15 a career plagued by injuries had caught up to him. Van Persie started looking every bit like a 31 year old who couldn’t keep up. He did manage to score 10 goals but that 0.37 npG per 90 shows how hard it was to even get there.

Overall he finished with 58 goals, 21 assists in 105 Manchester United appearances. A 0.89 npG+A per 90 and 0.65 npG per 90 aren’t too bad but aren’t nearly as high as you would have hoped after that first season. Then again, that first season counts for a lot.

Transformative: 3/5

This is another tricky one. In 2011-12 Manchester United finished with 89 points, having scored 89 goals and conceding 33. In 2012-13 Manchester United finished with 89 points, having scored 86 goals and conceding 43.

Those results are partially screwed by United not needing to win their final four games of the season but how ultimately transformative can you really say Van Persie was?

Transformative is probably the wrong word here. A better word is simply, fun. Robin van Persie made Manchester United fun. United were a really good side in 2011-12, something that is often forgotten because of how the season ended and because there wasn’t really anything special about them. Rooney had another good year but the team still seemed to be lacking something.

Van Persie delivered that. As the defense got older and less reliable there were several games where United were going to need to out-score their opponents in order to win. They did that because of Van Persie.

United weren’t much better in 2013 then 2012 but they seemed better. That’s entirely down to their Dutch striker. You didn’t want to miss a match because you didn’t want to miss what Robin van Persie might do. That’s transformative.

Unfortunately, he only had that level for one year.

Longevity: 1/5

This is the ultimate knock on Van Persie, he just didn’t last. Hard to blame him for that. When he signed he was 29 years old with a history of injury problems. That typically means he’s going to keep having injury problems which is exactly what happened. It would be unrealistic to expect him to ever replicate the season he had in 2012-13 (though he was even better in the two seasons prior for Arsenal), but ultimately United only had him anywhere near his peak for one and a half seasons.

Charisma: 4/5

Very hard to define Van Persie’s charisma. He wasn’t the most outspoken person. He wasn’t the character that many other players were. He was a silent leader who lead by example.

The biggest praise you can heap on him was that he rose to the occasion. He scored big goals in big games, the free kick at Anfield, the winner at the Ethiad, the hat tricks against Southampton and Olympiakos, and of course when United had the chance to win the league, THAT hat-trick against Aston Villa. Even in his final injury-plagued season he scored against Liverpool and managed an added-time equalizer against Chelsea.

When the lights were brightest, Robin van Persie performed.

If it was anyone else, we’d be looking at this transfer in a completely different way. He’d like be on some sort of failures list. But then again, Sir Alex only cared about one thing, win the league this season. That he did.

Score: 14/25

· Silverware: 2/5

· Stats: 4/5

· Transformative: 3/5

· Longevity: 1/5

· Charisma: 4/5