Van Persie is Manchester United's greatest coup since Cantona

The Netherlands international has already scored seven times for his new club and is proving to be an ideal fit at Old Trafford following his summer move from Arsenal
By Jonathan Birchall

Once the chaos had settled, the shock had subsided and the title was no longer his, Sir Alex Ferguson went looking for Eric again.

The type of pain felt by Manchester United and their manager on May 13, 2012 had not been experienced on the red half of Manchester for two decades, when on their fifth game in 11 April days, with one point from a possible 12, they lost to Liverpool at Anfield and conceded the championship to Leeds, the great enemy across the Pennines.

The Yorkshire club had not won the league, a shaken Ferguson insisted. His side, somehow, had lost it. Like the eight goals that separated red and blue in Manchester to make City champions five months ago, the collapse at Old Trafford in spring 1992 merely proved that United were not ready to rule. And then came Cantona.

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King Eric's coronation year was to be United's also, after his arrival in November 1992 heralded the beginning of the most successful period at any club in English football history, in which he alone would score 82 goals in 185 games.

Now, with that reign under greater threat than ever before, five miles from the Theatre of Dreams at the Etihad Stadium, Robin van Persie has been tasked with repeating the Frenchman's glorious history.

"Robin is what we have needed for the last couple of years," said Ferguson in August.

"We needed a finished player. We have had several players who have been this sort of catalyst, starting with Eric Cantona.

"We never thought we could get Van Persie. Even if you go back six months I couldn't see us getting him."

The image of Van Persie in anything other than Arsenal red is still proving quite difficult to fully comprehend. As if photoshopped into Ferguson's vision of United 2012, the 29-year-old has made a start befitting the not-quite believable in Manchester.

With seven goals from six starts, including two strikes away to CFR Cluj on Tuesday evening, the Dutchman is already showing signs of being Sir Alex's greatest coup since taking Cantona from the champions 20 years ago. Exploiting his unhappiness under Howard Wilkinson, Leeds' title-winning manager.

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To have repeated the trick by bringing Van Persie to Old Trafford from the Emirates at this juncture, with Arsenal, even without their captain and icon, looking their strongest in years during the opening two months of the season, is a double-edged sword for Ferguson.

In Wenger They Trust in north London, but even he would struggle to convince while claiming that his side is stronger without the man who scored 30 of their 74 league goals last term.

The likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Denis Irwin and Peter Schmeichel each represented a phenomenal bargain on arriving at Old Trafford, but in strengthening themselves with the signings of Cantona and Van Persie, United weakened a rival, exerting their strength all the same.

While still at Leeds, Cantona's sheer genius bridged the divide between football's warring Roses, as United fans stood to applaud his bicycle kick in front of the Stretford End in his last game at Old Trafford as a visiting player.

Van Persie has been held in similarly high regard by Red Devils supporters even prior to his move north. The Dutchman's goal against Ferguson's side in January last year, a finish of understated brilliance past Anders Lindegaard was to be one to be silently expected, appreciated and begrudged all the same.

But now, as a United player for less than two months, the former Feyenoord star is showing the same catalytic qualities as Cantona during his four magical years in Manchester.

From his hat-trick away to Southampton in September to Tuesday's two in Transylvania, Van Persie has proven himself indispensable already. He simply makes United better.
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Cantona was always the ideal fit as a leading man at the Theatre of Dreams. The Frenchman, like Ferguson and United, believed himself to be the best and deserving of it too.

At 29, the same can be said of the Netherlands international, who with only an FA Cup to his name after eight years with Arsenal, has arrived at United knowing that time is no longer on his side in order to match his endless ambition. He has not, at least, wasted any in getting started.

Cantona's legend will forever remain incomparable at Old Trafford - the flick-collared, Gallic genius who set in motion Ferguson's delirious dynasty.

To maintain it from here, United turn to Van Persie; the man who could be king.

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