Robin Van Persie: Where Does He Rank Among Man United's Strikers of the EPL Era?

Paul MurphyCorrespondent ISeptember 6, 2012

Robin Van Persie: Where Does He Rank Among Man United's Strikers of the EPL Era?

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    There is a saying that that the hardest thing is football is to put the ball in the back of the net. A solid defence and skillful midfield is futile without a capable striker.

    That is why teams place a premium on goalscorers, and why they dominate the tabloid talk every summer.

    This summer, Manchester United spent £24 million on a proven goal scorer when they signed Robin van Persie.

    He is the latest in a string of illustrious names that have led the line for the Red Devils.

    After a brilliant start to his United career, where does the flying Dutchman rank among our top strikers of the Premier League era?

15. Diego Forlán, 2001-2004

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    Considered by most to have been a flop during his spell in England, his two goals against Liverpool back in 2002 left most fans with fond memories of the Uruguayan.

    In many ways, he moved to Manchester too early in his career. He was not ready for the pressure of playing at such a high-profile club and he didn't flourish until he got away from the spotlight.

    His long spells without a goal led the press to dub him Diego Forlorn, but United fans loved his work rate. Despite his problems in front of goal, he never stopped running and trying.

    In the end, as with many players, a disagreement with Ferguson spelled the end of his time at Old Trafford.

    On a damp night in London, Ferguson insisted he change his studs for ones more suited for the wet pitch. Forlan ignored Fergie and when through on goal, he slipped and wasted a gilt-edged chance.

    It would be the last time he would represent United.

    He forged a successful career in Spain and was linked with numerous moves back to Old Trafford over the years, but none of these ever materialised.

14. Dimitar Berbatov, 2008-2012

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    Before van Persie, the last time United made a big move in the transfer market was a deadline-day deal for the enigmatic Bulgarian.

    In truth, Berbatov never really settled into life at Old Trafford, becoming a periphery figure for much of his time at the club.

    His signing gave United tactical flexibility, but they never found a way to get the best out of the languid Berbatov.

    During the 2010-11 season, he enjoyed his best spell at the club scoring a league-leading 20 goals, including a memorable five-goal haul against Blackburn and a marvelous hat-trick against Liverpool, capped of with an audacious overhead kick.

    Being left out of the match-day squad for the 2011 Champions League Final seemed to cause a rift between himself and Ferguson, and the remainder of his time at the club was spend languishing on the bench.

    This summer, United picked up an option to extent his contract by 12 months, hoping to manufacture a return on their initial £30 million investment.

    After a rumoured move to Fiorentina collapsed, he returned to London, this time, joining former manager Martin Jol at Fulham.

    His hefty price ensures that, despite being more successful on the field, he is ranked lower than the next man on the list.

13. Michael Owen, 2009-2012

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    The No. 7 shirt is the stuff of legend at Old Trafford. A host of great players have called their own. George Best, Bryan Robson, Eric Cantona, David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo.

    The most recent owner of the shirt was far less impressive. After the departure of Ronaldo, there was a host of names inked with the shirt, but Ferguson surprised us all when he handed it to free-agent acquisition Michael Owen.

    The former Liverpool legend's signing did not go down well with the fans, but he quickly won them over by scoring the winner in the injury-time of the Manchester derby.

    His time at the club wasn't particularly fruitful for either party, but considering he was on a pay-for-play deal, it has to be considered a fairly decent investment.

    He provided an experienced head in the dressing room and behind the scenes and helped mentor the next generation of United strikers.

    His three-year run at the club came to an end this summer, and he has since signed for Stoke.

12. Danny Welbeck, 2011-Present

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    A serious bugbear for Ferguson over the years was the fact that the club had failed to produce a home-grown striker in his time at the club.

    Despite the stream of talent out of the Academy, none of the striking prospects had ever been able to make the step to the next level. All that could change with the arrival of Danny Welbeck. 

    First spotted as a six year old, he has been on the club's books for more than a decade.

    After an illustrious career in the youth team, he joined Preston and then Sunderland on loan.

    A rangy striker capable of playing across the front line, he has had a huge impact in the last year for both United and England.

    His versatility might explain his average goal-to-game ratio, but he formed a deadly partnership with Wayne Rooney last season, bringing out the best in the Liverpudlian.

    Capable of sublime finishes, he still needs to iron out some flaws in his game. He is very much a confidence player, so can't really be counted on when the going gets tough.

    But the sky's the limit as far as his potential, so if he continues to work hard, he could finally give Fergie that world-class home-grown striker.

11. Louis Saha, 2004-2008

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    Louis Saha is another case of what could have been. A bright start to the 2003-04 season with Fulham saw Ferguson make a rare splash in the January transfer market to recruit the Frenchman.

    His first six months at the club were filled with promise as he scored seven goals in 12 appearances and formed a promising partnership with Ruud van Nistelrooy.

    Sadly, he could never build on his great start, as he was dogged by injuries for the rest of his time at the club.

    Every time he appeared to be hitting form, he was struck down once again and relegated to the physio table.

    In the end, he spent much of his time at United as a squad player but continued to contribute key goals when called upon.

    By the summer of 2008, Fergie had had enough and shipped him off to Everton on a pay-as-you-play deal.

    While never a key player, he was always a fan favourite in his time at Old Trafford.

10. Javier Hernández, 2010-Present

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    So sure was Ferguson that he had unearthed a gem, that he made sure he had wrapped up a deal for Hernandez before the World Cup.

    It was a shrewd move as Hernandez had a great World Cup, scoring against France and Argentina.

    The plan was to ease him into EPL action, but Hernandez was having none of it. He opened his account for the club in his very first outing in hilarious circumstances.

    If that goal proved anything, it proved he was a born goal scorer. In a great debut season, he announced himself as the next great super-sub.

    He came off the bench on numerous occasions and turned games in United's favour, ending the season with 20 goals in all competitions.

    His second season was nowhere near as positive, as he struggled with injuries and form. Danny Welbeck moved ahead of him in the pecking order, but he still ended the year with 12 goals.

    The arrival of van Persie, along with the development of Welbeck has led many to question his role in the team but Ferguson seems keen to keep him at the club.

9 Carlos Tevez, 2007-2009

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    His spell was brief, but memorable and largely ignored due to the fact that he is currently starring for our 'noisy neighbours', Manchester City.

    His arrival on a 2 year loan deal, partnered him with Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney, to form a deadly trio of attackers.

    He settled quickly into life at Old Trafford and, despite playing out of position, scored 20 goals in his first year at the club.

    Entering the second year of his loan, there was much speculation about his future. Tevez wanted to remain at United, while United wanted to try negotiate a lower fee.

    United's eventually relented and matched the agreed fee, but it was too late. Tevez had had enough and he should a move else-wear.

    His unveiling at Manchester City caused huge friction between the clubs and was the spark that reignited the passion on derby day.

8. Teddy Sheringham, 1997-2001

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    The retirement of Eric Cantona saw most United fans calling for a big-name striker to replace their departed hero.

    Many were underwhelmed when his replacement was unveiled. Signing a 31 year old Teddy Sheringham, whose best days were behind him, was not what they had in mind.

    His transition wasn't helped when the club ended the season trophy-less. Further complicating matters was the complete deterioration of his relationship with fellow forward Andy Cole.

    Despite struggling to score goals himself, his intelligent link-up play brought out the best in those around him.

    His place in United history was sealed that night in Munich, when he scored the goal that pulled United level before setting up the winner.

    Freed from the burden and with the fans behind him, he finished his United career in flying form. In his last year at the club, he won both the PFA and FWA Player of the Year awards at the age of 33.

    In the end, Ruud van Nistelrooy's delayed arrival at the club brought his United career to an end as he rejoined Tottenham on a free transfer.

7. Mark Hughes, 1992-1995

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    When you mention Mark Hughes these days, most people think of the journeyman manager currently overseeing the Queens Park Rangers revolution.

    Fans of an older generation will remember the bustling centre-forward who led the line for Man Utd at the dawn of the Premier League.

    A product of the club's youth system, he left the club in 1986 to join Terry Venables in Barcelona. After an unsuccessful two-year spell in Spain, including nine months spent on loan to Bayern Munich, he returned to United in the summer of 1988.

    While never a prolific scorer, he was hugely respected for both his work rate and ability to hold up the ball and would form a formidable striker force with Eric Cantona.

    Perhaps his finest moment in a United shirt was scoring a brace of goals in the 1991 European Cup Winners Cup Final, steering United to their first European trophy in 23 years at the expense of his former employers Barcelona.

    By 1995, he was deemed surplus to requirements and his departure paved the way for Fergie's fledglings to make the team their own.

6. Dwight Yorke, 1998-2002

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    His time at the club was brief, but he did enough to secure his place in United history.

    His partnership with Andy Cole will go down as one of the greatest in club history, and fans have fond memories of the man from Trinidad and Tobago.

    In his first two years at the club, he scored a goal every other game and helped the club win numerous titles.

    In the end, his love for the high life led to a deterioration in his relationship with Ferguson and he was a bit-part player by the 2001-02 season.

    He recently returned to the club on completion of his coaching badges, and is an assistant coach of the reserve side.

5. Andy Cole, 1995-2001

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    It's not often that Sir Alex Ferguson makes use of the January transfer window, and so it was a huge shock when he made a move for Cole back in 1995.

    68 goals in 84 games for Newcastle had made him a hot commodity, and Ferguson couldn't risk one of his rivals swooping him up.

    It didn't take him long to deal with the pressure of a £7 million price tag, as he scored 12 goals in his first 18 games for United, despite the club losing Cantona to a seven-month suspension.

    Despite his impressive goal scoring record, he was never really comfortable at United until the retirement of Eric Cantona.

    He would go on to form two excellent striker partnerships. The first was with Teddy Sheringham, despite a mutual hatred for each other, and more famously with Dwight Yorke.

    Fans' fondest memories of him will come from that partnership with Yorke, which appeared almost telepathic at times. They blitzed both the EPL and Europe on their way to treble success, scoring 53 goals over the course of the 1998-99 season.

    He would stay at the club until 2001, when Ruud van Nistelrooy's arrival would lead to his departure.

4. Ole Gunnar Solskjær, 1996-2007

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    Not often has player captured the hearts and minds of the Old Trafford faithful to the level that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer achieved.

    The "Baby-faced Assassin" made a habit of rescuing United from the jaws of defeat in his role as super sub.

    Ferguson once said he had an innate ability for sitting on the bench, studying the game and finding ways to make an immediate impact. 

    His legacy was cemented due to the role he played in the greatest three minutes of Man Utd history. It was his foot that diverted a Teddy Sheringham header goalward to win the 1999 Champions League Final.

    He would remain faithfully loyal to United despite the lack of first-team football, and despite the interest of other clubs for the rest of his career.

    Though his influence on the field began to wane, he transitioned into a coaching role at the club with great success.

    He would eventually leave the club in 2010 to coach Molde in the Norwegian Tippeligaen.

    His success in Norway has led many to consider him for the top job at United when Ferguson eventually retires.

3. Ruud Van Nistelrooy, 2001-2006

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    He couldn't dribble, wasn't a great passer and rarely scored from distance, but Ruud van Nistelrooy was the king of the box.

    Fergie was confident so that he had found a gem, he waited 12 months to seal the deal after van Nistelrooy suffered a cruciate knee ligament injury.

    No sooner had he arrived in Manchester than he was doing what he did best, scoring goals.

    In five years at the club, he scored 150 goals in 219 games, broke Denis Law's club record of 28 goals in Europe and became the most feared hitman in world football.

    Unfortunately, his time at the club coincided with a barren spell, as he only won a single League title.

    After he missed much of 2004-05, Ferguson began building the team around the dynamic pairing of Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo and van Nistelrooy didn't fit the team's style of play.

    After a training ground bust up with Ronaldo, his fate was sealed. He departed to Real Madrid for £24 million in the summer of 2006.

    When it came to pure scoring, no one did it better and he left fans with many fond memories.

2. Wayne Rooney, 2004-Present

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    Such was the talent of the kid, that many felt Ferguson got a bargain when he spent £27 million on Wayne Rooney.

    He had, after all, just lit up the European Championships and had two years of Premier League football already under his belt.

    He was a once-in-a-generation talent that you could build a team around, and that is exactly what Ferguson has done.

    A hat-trick on his debut announced him on the world stage and he has remain there ever since.

    Though not without his flaws, he has had eight fruitful years at Old Trafford and became one of the finest footballers in the world.

    His fiery personality fits will with both the club and the manager, and his 182 goals for the club has earned him a place in the club record books.

1. Eric Cantona, 1992-1997

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    Eric Cantona was one of a kind. His time at Leeds was so short that it was only at Old Trafford that he truly came out of his shell.

    Flamboyant, arrogant and hot tempered, he was loved at Old Trafford but loathed everywhere else.

    Strutting around the field with his collar up, there was a grace and elegance to his play that was alien to English football at the time.

    What many forget is that this arrogance was built on a foundation of hard work and commitment to the cause.

    He may have only scored 80 goals for United, but his legacy was much greater.

    He was the first to arrive at training and the last to leave. He created a culture at United that is still in place today, one in which players must always strive to be better.

    Ever the enigma, he walked away from both the club and football in 1997 at the age of just 30.

Robin Van Persie, 2012-Present

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    So where does that leave RVP?

    United fans will hope he can replicate van Nistelrooy's brilliant spell at the club, while hoping he isn't another Berbatov.

    He has started like a train with four goals in two starts. So if he can stay fit, he could find himself flying up this list.

    He came to United to win trophies, so anything less will be considered a failure. The rise of Manchester City, coupled with the resurgence of Chelsea gives United a pair of serious competitors. RVP will need to be at his goal-scoring best to deliver those titles.

    He doesn't have time to find his feet, and much will depend on how his relationships with both Shinji Kagawa and Rooney develop.

    In terms of talent, he would be near the top of this list. Let's hope he lives up to that talent and delivers the goals needed to regain our place at the head of the table.