Welcome to Last Word on Football’s ‘Returning Players’ series. In this edition, we take a look at Dutchman Robin van Persie. The striker began and finished his senior career with Feyenoord in the Netherlands, and also enjoyed spells at Arsenal, Manchester United and Fenerbahçe.
Returning Players – Robin van Persie
First Spell at Feyenoord
Rotterdam-based club Feyenoord signed van Persie as a youth-team player after picking him up from Excelsior Rotterdam in 1996. The striker played for the club’s youth teams from U17 level through to the U19s, before breaking into the first team in 2001.
Van Persie wasted little time in developing a reputation as one of the game’s brightest young talents, playing in a variety of positions across the forward line and scoring 14 goals in the Dutch top-flight between 2001 and 2004. This brought him to the attention of other clubs in Europe, with van Persie’s future employers Manchester United fascinatingly passing up on the option to sign the player due to a perceived lack of discipline on the pitch.
Arsenal, however, did not need further convincing of van Persie’s talents. Arsène Wenger swooped in July 2004 and brought the Dutchman to North London for a fee of a little over £4 million.
Teams That Robin van Persie Played for in Between
Van Persie’s eight-year spell at Arsenal propelled him to superstar status in the global game. Renowned for his ball-striking with his left foot, the Dutchman made the club’s centre-forward position his own and scored 132 goals in 278 games under Wenger.
Only seven players in the club’s history have netted more times for the Gunners than van Persie, who also holds the record for the most goals by a player in a Premier League season for the club, with 30 in the 2011/12 campaign.
Frustratingly for the player, van Persie’s goals very rarely propelled the club to silverware. The 2005 FA Cup was the only major trophy he won in North London, and with the league title proving ever-elusive, the striker swapped Arsenal for Manchester United in August 2012.
Having witnessed Manchester City pip his United side to the league title on goal difference the season before, Sir Alex Ferguson decided the best way to recapture the trophy was by signing the top scorer in the division from that 2011/12 campaign.
In came Robin van Persie, and, wearing the number 20 on his back, the striker’s goals fired the Red Devils to a 20th top-flight crown. Van Persie ended his first season in Manchester as a Premier League winner. Not only that, the Dutchman retained his Golden Boot award, with his 26 league goals in 2012/13 more than any other player managed in the division.
Unfortunately for van Persie, that was as good as it got for the striker at Manchester United. The Red Devils’ stranglehold on the Premier League loosened with the departure of their legendary manager, and van Persie failed to recapture his best form under either David Moyes or Louis van Gaal.
Indeed, van Persie’s compatriot decided in July 2015 that it was the time to move the striker on, and sold him to Turkish side Fenerbahçe in a £5.85 million deal.
Return to Feyenoord
The Dutchman’s two-and-a-half-year stint in Turkey was not without its sweet moments. Among them was a scoring return to Old Trafford in the Europa League, which won the striker a standing ovation from the Manchester crowd – featuring his old boss Ferguson.
However, the striker secured a romantic reunion with his first club on a free transfer in January 2018 and enjoyed a fruitful return to his homeland.
Indeed, van Persie still had enough in the tank to register an impressive 16 goals and five assists in the 2018/19 Eredivisie season, before announcing his retirement in July 2019.
Overall, van Persie’s record with the club stands at 46 goals and 16 assists in 121 matches across his two spells in Rotterdam. Currently, the Dutchman is employed by the club as their striker coach, meaning his influence has continued even after his playing days.