If his national team coach is to be believed, Robin Van Persie moved from Arsenal to Manchester United because he wanted people to be mean to him. If that indeed was the Dutchman's true motivation behind a switch that cost United a transfer fee of $38 million, he is going the wrong way about it.
In Champions League play Tuesday, Van Persie scored both goals as United survived a tricky away clash to beat Romanian champions CFR Cluj, a result that set the club on course to a likely spot in the knockout stage, even after only two of six group games.
While some have speculated on where Van Persie's mind was at when he chose to leave Arsenal, his soccer home of the previous six years, and join one of its English Premier League rivals, Netherlands head coach Louis Van Gaal revealed some of the 29-year-old's thought processes.
"Robin had several options of course, to stay, to go to Manchester or to go somewhere else," Van Gaal told Dutch television. "To me it seemed that his priority was to go somewhere where he would be pushed. All of his options were great clubs and it was important to him that wherever it was people would not just agree with him, but they would be mean to him, if necessary, and push him to improve and to be his best."
United has had mixed results in the early part of the EPL season, losing at home to Tottenham last weekend and slipping four points behind leaders Chelsea. Van Persie has already shown glimpses that he can bring the kind of scoring productivity that boss Sir Alex Ferguson craves though, and Tuesday's double will help the settling-in process no end.
Cluj, situated in the Transylvania region that literary mythology claimed was home to Count Dracula, might be relatively unknown outside Romania but had served notice of their ability by winning their opening group match at Portuguese side Brada. The hosts made a confident start against United and deserved their opening goal, when Pantelis Kapetanos produced a calm finish after 14 minutes.
At that point United's critics were busy whetting their knives once more, and the theory that this is far from being Ferguson's best crop of players in his long career, especially defensively, seemed to carry some weight. That argument will be settled over several months and not 90 minutes, yet this was still a comeback to give Ferguson some level of satisfaction.
If Van Persie's equalizer on 29 minutes was scrappy – with the ball glancing off his shoulder and flying into the net – his second was outstanding, a skillful flick of his left boot just after halftime that beat goalkeeper Mario Felgueiras.
Van Persie was the player Ferguson urgently wanted over the summer, making him the focal point of his transfer activity, and it seems that the team's fortunes may hinge on his productivity. It was a carefully researched move on Van Persie's part, who is at a point in his career where he has the potential to elevate himself into the discussion of the world's very finest players.
He spoke at length to experienced mentors such as Van Gaal and former United players such as goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar before eventually taking the plunge in choosing United over Italian giants Juventus.
"He wanted to hear my thought about [United and Juventus]," Van Der Sar told the Daily Telegraph. "We spoke for five minutes about Juventus and 55 minutes about United."
Van Persie, then, has perhaps found his natural home, as these sixth and seventh goals since his move would indicate. If this kind of scoring rate continues, he may have difficulty in finding the hard time he seems to want.
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