By Mike Njoroge
Sometimes, some decisions change everything. For Manchester United, that must have been the day when ‘that little boy inside’ Robin Van Persie decided that Manchester United, rather than Manchester City, would be his preferred destination.
And on Manchester Derby Day, he himself showed why.
For with a swing of his left boot, Van Persie’s free kick, with the aid of a deflection off his former Arsenal teammate, Samir Nasri, went past the despairing dive of Joe Hart and in off the upright for a 92nd minute winner. That goal, the 5th of the game, the third for Manchester United and Van Persie’s 11th this season, was definitive. It showed just why Sir Alex Ferguson splashed the money for him. For he was brought in to win games like these for United. That is exactly what he did.
And that is exactly what he has been doing. His career at United has, already, seen him haul Manchester United from the depths of defeat to the heights of victory. His first ever United goal, an equaliser against Fulham, sent United on their way to a win. A week later, he would, on Sir Alex Ferguson’s one thousandth game in charge, miss a penalty, but complete his hat-trick in a manner that would be enough to endear him as a legend to the Red Devil faithful.
The word legend is however used too loosely these days. In Van Persie’s case, it seems that even though he hasn’t acquired it by status yet, the journey he is undertaking will in all eventuality take him there. For that City winner means that his goals have been worth 16 points. Without them, United would be on 23 points, tied with Stoke City and Swansea City, and a point behind Arsenal.
The former Arsenal talisman however is not only doing it in the Premiership. Already in the Champions League, he secured a comeback victory with a brace against CFR Cluj in Romania. He also started the comeback that at Braga ensured that the Red Devils would qualify as Group Winners with two games to spare.
No wonder he is being missed at Arsenal. It is that sort of impact that makes champions. Then again, he didn’t make them champions last season. But without his 30 goals, Arsenal would have finished in the lower half of the League table rather than competing in the Champions League.
But it is not only Arsenal who miss him. In another possible world, Man City would have bagged the Dutchman for themselves, and it is they who would have been enjoying his goal scoring exploits. Instead, they have had to contend with a drop in form of Sergio Aguero, as well as deal, once again, with the unpredictability of Mario Balotelli and the ill discipline of Carlos Tevez. Lively and for the most part a game changer in the Derby, it was a Tevez foul on Rafael that led to Van Persie’s free kick. Indeed, the indication is that the effects of that night in Bavaria when he refused to play have not been fully dealt with. That may explain why at times he hasn’t started even when it seems ludicrous not to start him.
Man City however showed that they are still the second half specialists. The silky David Silva raised his game and for a while, they looked like they would juggernaut their way past the eternal enemy. Were it not for Sir Alex Ferguson’s introduction of Phil Jones into the midfield to add a bit of bite, as well as pulling two goal hero Wayne Rooney back into midfield, a City comeback was well on the cards. That in itself would have been ironic for only last season, City went away with United’s crown in the most Man United of fashions – on goal difference and winning it in Fergie time. A comeback win in the derby would clearly have shifted the tide.
That tide however would be shifted by Van Persie. His 11th goal of the season ensured that United would go six points clear at the top. It is a situation that City will be aggrieved by considering how many draws have put them in this position. It shows why Robert Mancini wanted him. It shows why Sir Alex got him.
The script for the 2012-2013 Premier League season seems to have Manchester as its main battleground. If that is the case, then it began, and has eventually come to be centered around the battle for Robin Van Persie. United won the initial battle and on Derby Day, did it again. There is still a long way to go and City still showed that their quality can, and will, still rise to the top if and when the moment requires it. However, Robin Van Persie’s late strike meant that, at least for the time being, the rise of the blue moon is being eclipsed by the return of the red sun.