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Golazo Merchants: Robin van Persie – Natural Born Finisher

Robin van Persie arrived in the Premier League as a rough diamond, a raw talent whose early emergence had come alongside a series of disciplinary issues.

Talented but tempestuous, he had first departed SBV Excelsior as a teenager after falling out with coaching staff, crossing to Rotterdam rivals Feyenoord and breaking into the senior side.

He impressed and frustrated in equal measure, winning the UEFA Cup during his debut season and being named as Dutch Football Talent of the Year.

Van Persie scored 15 goals the following campaign, but a series of confrontations and clashes with manager Bert van Marwijk soon led to the fiery forward moving on to pastures new.

Arsene Wenger spotted potential and a project in Van Persie and sealed his signing in a £2.75m deal, with Arsenal viewing the Dutchman as a successor to Dennis Bergkamp.

Van Persie had began his career as a winger, but Wenger was convinced a central role could unlock the best from his new arrival.

Arsenal had won the Premier League in unbeaten fashion the previous season and Van Persie entered a dressing room full of senior stars, initially taking time to adapt to the demands of the Premier League.

Injury issues and off-field allegations hindered his initial progress despite glimpses of his gifts, before 2006/07 proved a breakthrough campaign as he finished as Arsenal’s leading scorer, ahead of Thierry Henry.

That season included a breathtaking goal in a 2-1 win at Charlton, as a Van Persie brace helped Arsenal come from behind to win at The Valley.

Van Persie’s low effort had cancelled out Darren Bent’s opener for the home side, before he produced an extraordinary moment of athleticism and technique to secure all three points for the Gunners.

Emmanuel Eboue’s cross was floated to the edge of the penalty area, with Van Persie arriving on the edge of the box to lash a flying volley into the top corner.

Two seasons later he reached 20 goals in all competitions for the first time and became an increasingly influential figure in the post-Invincibles era. Fitness problems again disrupted his rhythm, before a sustained period of brilliance.

From the second half of the 2010/11 season until his departure from Arsenal 18 months later, there was arguably no finer talent in the Premier League.

Van Persie ended that first season with 18 goals from 19 league starts, before continuing in the same vein throughout the 2011/12 campaign.

Freed of his fitness issues, he featured in all 38 games for Arsenal and scored 30 goals, winning the Premier League’s Golden Boot and being named PFA Player of the Season and FWA Footballer of the Year.

Van Persie had been handed the captaincy following Cesc Fabregas’ departure to Barcelona and assumed talismanic status, ending the season with 37 goals in all competitions and claiming 13 assists.

The goals flowed freely whether from his preferred left foot, right or head, a season of goals arriving wrapped in both quality and quantity.

Sensational volleys became somewhat of a trademark for Van Persie in the Premier League and he added another during Arsenal’s 125th anniversary celebrations, scoring the game’s only goal against Everton at the Emirates.

Alex Song’s lofted cross-field pass was met perfectly with Van Persie’s lethal left boot, rifling a brilliant low effort across goal and in off the far post.

Van Persie’s career-best season would be his last in an Arsenal shirt. Frustrated at the club’s inability to challenge for major honours, he departed in controversial circumstances.

His decision not to renew his contract left Arsenal with little choice but to sanction a sale and Van Persie moved north, signing for rivals Manchester United in a £24m deal.

It proved a stroke of genius from Sir Alex Ferguson.

“Ferguson made the difference for me in my choice to choose Manchester United,” Van Persie told Premier League Productions on his Old Trafford move.

“Because of the way he manages, the stories I heard, because of the players that were there.

“I really wanted to win and when I look at that team of Giggs, Carrick, Scholes, Vidic, Ferdinand they were all winners, they won it all. I was like ‘I want to be part of that’. I was in that period of my life where I felt like a winner but I wasn’t so I had to win. I needed to go to a team that knew how to win.”

Not since Eric Cantona had a new arrival made such an immediate impact at Manchester United, with Van Persie living up to the billing as the Premier League’s finest forward.

He marked his home debut with a fantastic finish against Fulham and in his third appearance scored a hat-trick – including a last-gasp winner – to secure a comeback win at Southampton.

He scored a winner from the spot at Liverpool and the opener to haunt former side Arsenal, enjoying an electric start with the Red Devils and raising both the expectations and levels of those around him.

United had been denied the title in agonising fashion the previous season, as Sergio Aguero’s stoppage-time winner had seen Manchester City snatch the Premier League crown from their grasp.

With Van Persie in their ranks, there was to be no stopping Ferguson’s side from reclaiming their throne.

Van Persie continued to excel and scored a dramatic winner in the Manchester Derby at the Etihad, whilst another goal against Liverpool enhanced his reputation as an instant fans’ favourite.

He ended the season as the Premier League’s leading scorer for a second successive season, with a wondrous hat-trick securing the title against Aston Villa at Old Trafford.

His second was a fitting finale to an exceptional individual campaign, as he watched Wayne Rooney’s long pass come over his shoulder before unleashing an unstoppable strike beyond Brad Guzan.

“Not many people take that shot on. It’s still ridiculous, now. Most would think: ‘Just get it under control.’ The run, the way he pulls off the defender’s shoulder, the way he finished: just world class,” his former teammate, Jonny Evans, later told The Guardian.

“He’d been doing stuff like that in training. I was marking him one day and the ball came to his chest on the edge of the box, and he set it up as if going to volley with his left. As I went to block, he’s volleyed it over my head, back on to his right foot, and volleyed it into the net. All in one movement.

“He had this unbelievable finishing ability: left foot, right foot, with great power in his shots. The speed he got on the ball when putting it in the net was frightening. He was a natural-born finisher.”

Van Persie had been the match-winning maverick to deliver the Premier League title to Old Trafford, a fabulous footballer who executed the audacious in abundance.

In search of the final piece of the puzzle Ferguson had found the prefect fit for his title jigsaw, a Dutch delight whose goalscoring gifts illuminated the Theatre of Dreams.

Ferguson’s sudden retirement at the end of the season came as a blow to Van Persie, who had hoped to build on that success and win the silverware that had eluded him in North London.

What followed was a rapid decline for the division’s dominant force, though there remained moments of improvised genius from Van Persie even as cracks elsewhere began to show.

He spent three seasons with the Red Devils and departed with a goal return of 58 from 105 games, the majority having come during that exhilarating opening campaign.

Fenerbahce brought and end to his career in England in 2015 and he spent three productive seasons in Turkish football before a fairytale finish at former side Feyenoord.

Van Persie’s consistent best lasted little more than two seasons, but it was a period in which he carried the weight of expectations of two Premier League giants squarely on his shoulders.

Glorious goals of flawless technique and a catalogue to match the best in the business, he was one of the great goalscorers of his generation and owner of some truly unforgettable Premier League goals.

Read – Golazo Merchants: A man of flawless technique, David Beckham

Read Also – Iconic Performances: Peak Henry inspires Arsenal to comeback win over Liverpool

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