There was an awkward moment at a press conference in Cape Town last summer when Sir Alex Ferguson denied having spoken about Robin van Persie.
It was then pointed out that some comments from him discussing confirmation of Manchester United’s bid for the striker had just appeared on the club’s official website.
Ferguson has always been fiercely secretive about his transfer targets but only now are people realising why he was so desperate to keep United’s £24million pursuit of Van Persie under wraps for as long as he did.
Not only was Ferguson still smarting after a frustrating year that had seen Manchester City snatch Samir Nasri from under his nose and Chelsea win the race for Eden Hazard, he knew what an important signing it would be in his bid to win back the Barclays Premier League title.
As both he and City boss Roberto Mancini now acknowledge, Van Persie could single-handedly tip the balance of power in Manchester.
‘We knew we were getting a top player who would make a difference to the team, that’s why we went for him,’ said Ferguson after Van Persie’s two goals in the 4-0 win at Wigan on New Year’s Day took the Premier League’s leading scorer to 16 — 19 in all competitions — since moving to Old Trafford.
The day before, Mancini had lamented City’s failure to get their man. ‘It’s clear that the difference is this,’ said the Italian. ‘He has changed the situation. We wanted him in the summer because we knew he would be an important player. He is totally different from our other strikers.’
That much is apparent when you assess the statistics of the Premier League’s top marksmen over their last 100 games. Van Persie has scored significantly more goals (73), provided more assists (29) and created more chances (216) than any of his peers — including United team-mate Wayne Rooney.
Sergio Aguero and Luis Suarez have yet to reach a century but judging by their current rate, it is very unlikely either will match Van Persie’s figures.
More than a third of the Holland star’s goals have been scored with his weaker foot, his right; goals such as his wonderful effort at Wigan when he wrong-footed two defenders before curling the ball into the far corner. Afterwards Ferguson described him as a ‘completely rounded footballer’.
What the stats do not show, however, is Van Persie’s contribution in scoring the decisive goal in wins over Southampton, Liverpool, West Ham, Reading and City; nor do they reflect his ability to bring out the best in the players around him.
The 29-year-old admits he did not expect to settle at United quite as well as he has. ‘You never know,’ said Van Persie. ‘I have to thank all my team-mates, the manager and the fans for being so helpful. They’ve made it very easy for me, put it that way. At Wigan, for example, when I scored my second it was an easy goal. Danny Welbeck could have scored but he passed it to me. Everyone wants to play together and share the goals. I like that.’
Rio Ferdinand paid tribute to his team-mate yesterday but pointed out that United are far from a one-man team.
‘RVP is an important player and at the moment, thankfully, he is doing what he came here to do,’ said Ferdinand.
‘He’s not only scoring goals, he holds the ball up well and brings others into play. But the job is still there to be done. No medals have been handed out.
‘No matter how you win the league, it is mainly down to a group of players rather than an individual. Javier Hernandez has chipped in the last couple of games.
‘It is easy for people to settle in here. We have a great bunch of players and there is a great ambience. It’s a great place to come to if you are willing to work hard.’ – Daily Mail