By Mike Njoroge
Tensions relieved, emotions outpouring and overflowing. Those could be the words used to describe the image of Robin Van Persie racing down the touchline to jump into the arms of Sir Alex Ferguson.
Rarely do grown men jump into the arms of old men. But such is the nature of sport, such is the emotional connection that Van Persie could not contain himself. Like a little boy jumping into the arms of his father. Then again, didn’t Van Persie’s Manchester United career begin with that little boy inside him?
Against Stoke City, Van Persie had been brought down in the penalty area and as the penalty was signalled, here was the chance. The goal drought was now ready to be shattered. 10 games in the Premier League. 13 overall. For last season’s top scorer, it was not making for a pretty narrative.
Not only for the Dutchman alone. His teammates had come to rely on his goals. Now, the goal drought had taken something away from their title push. Their juggernaut like momentum had been reduced to that of a crawling marathoner. Inching ever closer to the finish line but without the same conviction that had led to the bursting out of the traps at the start.
But, Van Persie stepped up, and tucked it away. Then came the most compelling image. A statement in itself. ‘Where was he running to?’ turned into ‘who was he running to?’ What he did next summarised everything.
Sir Alex may not be the ultimate father figure that Van Persie has ever had. There have been the academy coaches at Feyernoord and Arsenal. Then, Arsene Wenger turned him into this goal scoring machine that he is. For two seasons at Arsenal, he was unplayable. Unstoppable. Any shot in the general direction of the goal and it was a goal. Everything he touched turned to gold.
Yet, he has not touched gold yet in the form of a Premier League medal. Indeed, his majority goals, had not won anything major.
Last season, outside of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, Van Persie was probably the best forward in the world, if not, the best footballer. Yet, when the FIFPro World XI was mentioned at the FIFA Ballon D’Or Gala, Radamel ‘Falcao’ Garcia took his place alongside the superhumans in a quite vicious and fictional front line. Why? Because Falcao won the Europa League. Falcao’s goals won Atletico Madrid the Europa League.
Van Persie won nothing. Van Persie’s goals won him nothing but the Premier League’s Golden Boot.
For all the individual greediness that footballers tend to be associated with, it is the joy of winning a trophy with a team that brings the most satisfaction.
That was what Van Persie was alluding to when he stated that he was leaving Arsenal because the club did not match his ambitions. Some will disagree; some will call it a betrayal of a club that had taken care of him in his injury prone days. A betrayal of a manager that was patient enough with him.
But, nobody considers whether that same club and manager betrayed him by not giving him the assurance that a trophy would be won.
That was the assurance that Ferguson sought to give the flying Dutchman in the summer as he made him his major season signing.
On the flip side, nobody considers it in this way. How a manager took a huge chance on a 29 year old with a reputation of incurring injuries. That this manager made a final big move possible for an ageing striker. That he bought him without the warranty of time, but hoped that he would guarantee goals.
And how in his quest to reclaim the Premier League trophy, that same manager made him his team’s star man. Definitely, first choice. Evidently, irreplaceable. Even the once untouchable Wayne Rooney had to play second fiddle. Even the promising Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez had to understand. Dimitar Berbatov had to leave. All because all the eggs were placed in the Van Persie basket.
And even now, in his drought, Sir Alex had still kept faith in him. “Robin Van Persie was fantastic” he had said after the Manchester Derby loss. You really found it hard to understand how.
But as Van Persie scored the penalty at the Brittania, all the relief of the few weeks were swept away with the perspiration. The run was fuelled by inspiration. The need to thank the man who was making it all possible for him.
That must have, and surely was the reason for all that. Thank you for believing in me.
Undeniably, those must have been the words that Van Persie uttered to his manager as he hugged him. Thank you for making a Premier League trophy possible. Yet, those could also be the same words Sir Alex will utter to his Dutch striker once the Premier League trophy is won.
As they inch ever closer, Van Persie reminded everyone that it is goals like these that will hand the Red Devils a 20th League title. And in thanking Sir Alex, he reminded everyone just who has ensured that they are competing for a 20th Premier League title in the first place.
And why they will achieve it.
Mike Njoroge is the Writer of Football Triangle