Manchester United

Robin van Persie's World Cup Form Is Cause for Manchester United Optimism

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - JUNE 14:  Robin van Persie gives a thumbs up to the ball boys during the Netherlands training session at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil held at the Estadio Jose Bastos Padilha Gavea on June 14, 2014 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
Paul AnsorgeFeatured ColumnistJune 19, 2014

Robin van Persie has been in spectacular form so far during this World Cup, and Manchester United fans everywhere have been given plenty of reasons to be cheerful.

Louis van Gaal's Netherlands found themselves 2-1 down against Australia in Wednesday's World Cup clash. Those keeping a close eye on the activities of United's new manager, and star striker, could have been forgiven for raising a concerned eyebrow.

The Netherlands were in an "after the Lord Mayor's Show" situation before the game with Australia. They looked very relaxed in the tunnel beforehand, perhaps even a tad complacent, and while it took a fortuitously awarded penalty for Australia to take the lead, Van Gaal's men found themselves facing a stern challenge.

It was a challenge to which they rose admirably, and the Manchester United duo of Van Persie and Van Gaal played a crucial role in their country retaking the lead. Van Gaal brought on Memphis Depay, who provided the assist as Van Persie scored the Netherlands' equaliser.

Michael Sohn/Associated Press

When the youngster scored the Netherlands' winner, he shared a moving embrace with Van Persie.

Van Persie now finds himself in joint first place in the World Cup's leading goalscorers chart so far, although he has played one more game than Germany's Thomas Mueller. Given that last season was so hit-and-miss for the Dutchman, seeing him so clearly happy and focused is a fillip for United fans.

In the Netherlands' remarkable 5-1 demolition of Spain, Van Persie scored what is still, with apologies to Tim Cahill, the goal of the tournament so far, with a truly remarkable header.

It was a thoroughly "Van Persie-esque" goal, a display of the truly outstanding qualities of a man who is unquestionably one of the best forwards in the world. In spite of being a header, it was in some ways reminiscent of his remarkable volley against Aston Villa at the end of the 2012/13 season.

Like that goal, it saw Van Persie make a remarkably complex calculation of how best to take advantage of a goalkeeper being slightly out of position while tracking the flight of a long, diagonal pass. Like that goal, it required staggering technical proficiency to pull off.

SALVADOR, BRAZIL - JUNE 13: Robin van Persie of the Netherlands scores the team's first goal with a diving header in the first half during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group B match between Spain and Netherlands at Arena Fonte Nova on June 13, 2014 in S
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

It was a volley against Villa, but here it was a remarkable flying header, a goal of poetic form and devastating function. The greatest jazz improvisers are able to achieve the spectacular because of their relentless commitment to practice of the basics, and this goal displayed improvisation of the highest order.

It was also a profoundly Dutch goal, if the theory of writer David Winner in his book Brilliant Orange is to be believed. Winner writes that "space is the unique defining element of Dutch football," which purports that the limited land mass available to the Dutch has been instrumental in the development of their football, making their players use space more effectively than those of other nations.

Van Persie made spectacularly efficient use of his space, not controlling the ball and attempting to round Iker Casillas in the Spanish goal, but using one extraordinary touch to send the ball flying into the net.

Dutch fans were sent into raptures, and so were United fans upon seeing Van Persie dashing to the touchline to celebrate this remarkable moment with the coach who had once again brought the best out of him.

SALVADOR, BRAZIL - JUNE 13: Robin van Persie of the Netherlands shoots and scores his second goal and team's fourth against Gerard Pique of Spain during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group B match between Spain and Netherlands at Arena Fonte Nova on June
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

He scored again in that game, showing his hunger in chasing down Casillas and dispossessing him, then once again demonstrating his speed of thought. Under pressure from an approaching Spanish defender, Van Persie did not have time to take a "proper" shot, and so fell into a position which allowed him use the bottom of his left foot to poke the ball into the empty net. Once again, the space was used as well as it could have been.

His goal against Australia saw him take three touches in quick succession, one to receive the pass, one to get the ball out of his feet and the third to find a sure finish.

United fans have seen enough of Van Persie by now to know the difference between him when he is fit, happy and in form, and when he is struggling. During this World Cup, he is certainly proving to be the former.

Martin Meissner/Associated Press

That he is working with the same manager that he will be working with next season means these are once again exciting times to be a Manchester United fan. The best of Robin van Persie is a sight to behold, and there is every chance it will once again be on display at Old Trafford.

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