Reliving Robin van Persie's historic 2012/13 season with Manchester United
August 15, 2012, was the day that the Premier League saw one of its greatest ever strikers move from one of the biggest clubs in England to arguably the biggest club in the world. Arsenal's enigmatic Dutchman, Robin van Persie, decided against signing a new deal with Arsene Wenger's Gunners and was free to speak to other clubs over a potential transfer with Manchester City having already laid the groundwork to bring him to the Etihad Stadium.
Out of nowhere, Sir Alex Ferguson made a case for Manchester United being the Dutchman's next destination and blew City out of the water, with van Persie eventually joining the then 19-time English champions. United activated his £24m release clause and took him to Old Trafford and upon his unveiling, he dropped a quote that has been etched into both the Red Devils' and the Premier League's folklore. Van Persie said,
"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. 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."
United's new No.20 was one of the fiercest strikers in the game at the time, and his shirt number coincided with the fact that he eventually spearheaded United to their 20th league title in the English top-flight in the most glorious fashion. Van Persie's excellence served as a phenomenal climax for Sir Alex's illustrious time at the club.
Van Persie was quite evidently at the peak of his powers in every way imaginable. He could simply do no wrong and essentially turned everything he touched to gold. With clutch goals against Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, and Liverpool, he helped Sir Alex's men come back from behind and dominate games, thereby always giving them a certain edge over their opponents.
The Dutchman featured in all 38 of United's Premier League games that season and scored a whopping 26 goals to lead their title charge. He not only ended the season as the Manchester club's top scorer, but also as their top provider, having set up a further 9 goals for his teammates and 15 in all competitions.
No club in the top flight that season could avoid conceding a goal that was either scored or created by van Persie. Such was the undeniable influence of the former Arsenal forward who scored goals of all natures, distances, and varying quality for United. He could open the scoring, give the side a crucial equaliser, and pop up to score late winners under the most excruciating circumstances and win games for his club.
Van Persie scored a sizzling free-kick to define the result of the Manchester derby two minutes into extra time, a late, precise penalty against Liverpool, and most importantly, his iconic hat-trick against Aston Villa.
The hat-trick consisted of goals that essentially sealed the Premier League title for Manchester United, the Golden Boot for the Dutchman and the Goal of the Season award in that order. The third in particular was one of the greatest goals scored in the Premier League era, let alone that season, as he judged a Wayne Rooney lob to absolute perfection before exquisitely volleying it past a helpless keeper.
Passing the 'eye test' is something that van Persie has never had a problem with, considering that he was one of the most aesthetically pleasing players to watch during his prime years. With a godly left foot and a seasoned footballing brain that helped him make quick decisions and score snapshot goals, he truly was a joy to watch.
A further examination of his statistics and analytics for the season sheds light on a number of aspects of his gameplay which could've potentially gone unnoticed while watching him play.
By that point of his career, he was a direct player and all the flair in his game was, more often than not, utilised to score improvised goals from astonishing angles and crafty touches rather than beat the opposition man with a sublime piece of dribbling skill. In fact, he only clocked 0.67 successful dribbles per 90.
In stark contrast, he averaged a healthy 3.68 shots per game and had a massive 4.3 touches of the ball in the opposition penalty box, highlighting his excellent positional sense in attack. His major involvements in open play were all located near the opposition penalty area given his position and had an average of 1.24 key passes per 90 and had a further 0.97 passes into the box from open play.
The Dutchman's xG (Expected Goals) per 90 was at a figure of 0.56 goals, which translated roughly to a goal every other game. Pair that with his xG Assisted of 0.26 and you have a goal-scoring machine installed at the tip of Sir Alex's historic United side regularly supplying a goal or assist virtually every time they took to the pitch.
By the time his 8-game goal drought began, he had already scored 21 goals in his first 23 games but at that juncture, it hardly seemed to matter because when he didn't score, he created chances for his teammates and more importantly, helped United win games.
There is a certain profile of players who fit a club's requirements well enough to make their transfer a successful one. Robin van Persie's mo to Manchester United will forever be remembered as one of those because it embodied the final piece of a well-built jigsaw puzzle and his arrival in Manchester essentially served as a catalyst.
The Flying Dutchman's spell at Old Trafford saw everything: goals, assists, drama, astonishing moments, titles, and most importantly, a sense of invincibility.
Published 30 Dec 2019, 19:44 IST