Identified as "the difference" by Manchester City FC manager Roberto Mancini, Robin van Persie has been integral to Manchester United FC wresting the Premier League from their neighbours' grasp.
Pipped to the championship by City in agonising circumstances last term, United have resumed normal service this time around. It is the 20th time the English top-flight title will reside at Old Trafford and the 13th Premier League crown on Sir Alex Ferguson's astonishing CV. The venerable Scot, 71, now has more championships than his two nearest rivals – George Ramsay and Bob Paisley – combined. For Van Persie, though, this is new ground, a first championship at the 12th time of asking.
"It's a great feeling," said the Dutch international. "I had to wait a long time. It's weird. It's just fantastic. We have a fantastic team, fantastic players. It's a championship for every single one of them, and I mean everyone: the staff, the manager, trainers, players, medical staff ... everyone has been great. This is our 20th title and, I think, deserved."
Lured from Arsenal FC for €28m last summer, Van Persie's numbers speak for themselves. Monday night's first-half treble in the 3-0 win against Aston Villa FC can be seen as a microcosm of his, and United's, campaign. The 29-year-old gave his new employers a flying start to the season, scoring a hat-trick in his third appearance for the club, and ultimately guided them to the top of the pile.
Van Persie has scored 54 league goals in 72 appearances over the past two seasons, having taken 156 games to rack up 66 strikes in his previous seven years in England. Professional Footballers' Association and Football Writers' player of the year in 2011/12, he is again on the shortlist. "I am looking forward to following in the footsteps of so many great strikers," he said upon joining last summer. For Ferguson, Van Persie already has the potential to join the likes of Eric Cantona, Peter Schmeichel and Roy Keane in the pantheon of his greatest signings.
"He has made a fantastic contribution," said Ferguson, who collected his maiden title months after Cantona's arrival at the club. "In terms of impact he has had as big an impact as anyone I can imagine. Eric Cantona was an incredible impact player and I have been very, very lucky in that I have had some fantastic strikers right through. I think we had an expectation of Robin because his performance last year for Arsenal was sensational. We saw him last year and knew he could gel. He has never disappointed us."
Ferguson's delight is in stark contrast to the despair of Mancini, who made no secret of the fact City "wanted him in the summer". They missed out and are now 16 points adrift in second. Perhaps most worryingly of all for the Italian and his players is that they may have to watch Van Persie strutting his stuff across town for a long time yet. "I want to win it again," said the Netherlands striker. "I want to win more stuff. I want to win the FA Cup, the Champions League. I want to win it all."
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