Finally on track

Robin van Persie... integral part of the Holland team.-AP

Robin van Persie has shown his true class when it mattered the most and is now one of the star names in the English Premier League, writes Joshua Evans.

When Robin van Persie joined Arsenal in May 2004 for a modest sum of GBP3 million, his signing was greeted with a mixture of intrigue and scepticism.

The Dutchman, 26, had already developed the unenviable reputation of being something of a difficult character to deal with in his time with Feyenoord, though his natural talent has always been apparent.

However, question marks remained as to whether the youngster would adapt to the Barclays English Premier League, and realise his potential under the tutelage of Arsene Wenger. But Van Persie has shown his true class when it mattered the most and is now one of the star names in the EPL.

He began his professional career with Feyenoord, where he caught the eye with the club’s youth and reserve teams. Those performances earned him a place in the Feyenoord first-team list and he made his debut at the age of 18.

Van Persie’s time at the club, however, was undermined by a series of disciplinary problems. There were constant rumours linking the Holland international with training-ground bust-ups with team-mates, and he was even sent home on the eve of the 2003 UEFA Super Cup final against Real Madrid because of reported attitude problems.

Despite hitting the headlines for the wrong reasons, the Rotterdam-born star still attracted plenty of interest from a number of Europe’s elite clubs, including Werder Bremen and Sevilla. But when the time came to further his career elsewhere, he ultimately signed for Arsenal in May 2004.

Van Persie made his Gunners debut and collected his first piece of silverware in the English FA Community Shield in August 2004 — he was a second-half substitute during the 3-1 win over Manchester United.

Initially, the striker was seen as an understudy to Dennis Bergkamp, and there are obvious similarities between the two. Consequently, Van Persie was only a peripheral figure in his first season in English football, with his playing time restricted to cameo appearances and cup games.

However, as Bergkamp’s appearances were rationed during 2005/06, Van Persie was to assume greater importance. In spite of this, he was an unused substitute in the 2006 UEFA Champions League final as Barcelona ran out a 2-1 victor in Paris.

But with Bergkamp retired, Van Persie began 2006/07 in spectacular fashion, and his partnership with Thierry Henry quickly established into one of the most feared in the EPL.

The highlight of the Dutchman’s season was, unquestionably, his extraordinary volley against Charlton at The Valley, which Wenger dubbed the “goal of a lifetime.”

However, Van Persie’s season ended prematurely in January 2007 when he broke the fifth metatarsal in his right foot in a game against Manchester United. Persistent injury problems continued to restrict Van Persie throughout the following season, but he still plundered seven goals in 10 games at one point.

The 2008/09 campaign was the most productive of Van Persie’s time at Arsenal so far — he had the most assists in the EPL and scored 20 goals in all competitions.

At international level, Van Persie has also emerged as an integral part of Bert van Marwijk’s Holland team. He made his debut in 2005 in a World Cup qualifying match against Romania, and he scored his first goal four days later against Finland. He was also part of the Dutch set-up at the 2006 FIFA World Cup and the 2008 UEFA European Championships.

The low point of Van Persie’s Arsenal career to date came against Southampton in 2005, when he was sent off for a reckless lunge on Graeme Le Saux. He was described as “21 going on nine” by one journalist for his part in the flashpoint.

He is married to Bouchra and they have a son named Shaqueel, who was born in 2006.

Van Persie claims not to be the stereotypical modern footballer in terms of his wheels. “I have a home, and a car. I don’t need four,” he has said in the past. His first car was, according to the man himself, an “ugly green BMW.”

Factfile Name: Robin van Persie Position: Striker Club: Arsenal D.O.B.: 06/08/1983 Netherlands caps: 37 Netherlands goals: 13 Netherlands debut: v Romania (04/06/2005) Moment to remember

Van Persie scored a brilliant free-kick during the 2006 FIFA World Cup group game against the Ivory Coast. It was his only goal of the tournament, but it was, by any estimation, one of the best.

Moment to forget

While at Feyenoord, Van Persie was embroiled in a bizarre incident during a reserve match against bitter rival Ajax. He was one of a number of Feyenoord players who clashed with a group of Ajax fans during a pitch invasion. Indeed, riot police had to be drafted in to quell the trouble and Van Persie was reported to have been punched twice during the incident.

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