He had played there since the age of 20. Thanks to the help and guidance of manager Arsene Wenger and mentors like Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry, he had reached maturity there—both as a player and as a human being. But in 2012, after eight years, he felt like he had no choice but to leave.
At Arsenal, Robin van Persie’s hunger for silverware had not been satisfied with enough glory. He had become one of the greatest strikers in the world, but he had never won the Premier League, and by the looks of it, this wasn’t going to change anytime soon.
More than likely, he had plenty of options, as some of the world’s biggest clubs will have been after his autograph. But Van Persie had something else in mind. He needed a leader with a vision. He needed someone he could trust.
Largely for this reason, he decided he wanted to move to Manchester United. There, Sir Alex Ferguson was in charge, the old and battle-hardened Scot whose behaviour was sometimes wild and unpredictable but who was always a guarantor of success.
He signed the contract, and as if reality was transformed into a fairytale, everything went exactly the way he had hoped. With relative ease, Manchester United won the Premier League, and what’s more, Van Persie became the competition’s top scorer. At long last, he had won his gold medal.
But while the Dutchman’s first year at Manchester United proved that dreams can come true, his second year showed that nightmares can be real as well.
After only one year at the club, Van Persie saw Ferguson, his manager of choice, retire from football management. David Moyes, who was unproven but seemingly cut from the same cloth as his predecessor, became new Manchester United boss.
Disaster quickly unfolded. As it turned out, Moyes was not suitable for the job at all, and Manchester United became the main actor in what seemed like a disaster movie. Never mind silverware: Ingloriously, the club finished seventh in the league.
How happy must Van Persie have been to leave Manchester behind him the following summer and join the Netherlands national team for the World Cup in Brazil. There, he had the chance to once again team up with a manager who could also act as his mentor: Louis van Gaal.
From the start of his Netherlands reign, when the Dutch boss quickly and openly singled out Van Persie as his most important striker, the 31-year-old had been on great terms with Van Gaal. Like with Wenger and Ferguson before him, the Dutch boss managed to make Van Persie feel comfortable, confident and ready to score.
Moyes, on the other hand, had never managed to get the best out of Van Persie. Where the Dutch striker’s relationship with the aforementioned managers seemed to be based on trust and warmth, his bond with Moyes was nonexistent at best, troubled and cold at worst.
A close relationship with his manager seems to be a prerequisite for Van Persie. If it’s not there, he cannot perform. It’s as simple as that.
In this regard, the assignment of Van Gaal as Moyes’ successor will help the star striker to return to his form of two seasons ago. As we have seen with the Dutch national team, Van Gaal knows how to motivate Van Persie.
Although at one point in time it seemed like Moyes as a logical successor to Ferguson, it’s now clear Van Gaal has actually much more in common with the legendary Scotsman. Both managers are squad builders, and in many ways, both managers are father figures to their players.
Now that Van Persie has returned to fitness, ready to become a regular starter again, it is reasonable to expect Manchester United will receive a boost of much-needed confidence.
This year, we might just see the old Van Persie again.