Robin van Persie in action for United in 2012/13.

How Reds pulled off van Persie coup

Wednesday 17 August 2022 07:00

It seems inconceivable to me that it is now exactly a decade since Manchester United signed Robin van Persie from Arsenal.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then, some 10 years ago.

The talk in the press had been that Arsenal's star striker would follow a steady stream of Gunners exchanging the Emirates Stadium for Manchester City's Etihad Stadium.

If memory serves me right, the Blues fans even sang about him joining their club during a Premier League match between the two sides. Yet Sir Alex Ferguson was able to broker a deal with Arsene Wenger, his much-respected rival and adversary, and the rest is history. 

Robin van Persie discusses joining the Reds in 2012 during his UTD Podcast.

When the managers spoke, Ferguson empathised over the situation Wenger was faced with, either allowing his talisman to leave now or see out the final year of his contract and move under the Bosman ruling.

I was fortunate enough to sit with Sir Alex at Carrington and discuss the negotiations in detail, for an exclusive interview to be published in Inside United, the official matchday magazine, at the time.

"It was a difficult one," he admitted. "Understandably, Arsene didn't want to sell to Manchester United. If you look at the last 25 years, apart from when I first came down, since the day Arsenal won the league in 1989, right up to today, we've been really big rivals to each other - whether it's been George Graham or Arsene Wenger. It wouldn't be easy for Wenger to accept the player wanted to come to us.

"It took a bit of time but the player wanted to come. I think that was the key to it all and that opened the door for us. He told the other clubs he didn't want to play for them, he wanted to play for Manchester United. So, in that sense, it made it a little bit easier for us in terms of the negotiations but Arsene was still wanting top dollar and he fought hard to get the price he got, which I think was a good price for them.

"It was the first time I've had to speak to a manager for a long while," added the legendary former Reds boss. "When I first came down, the old way of doing things was I'd phone the manager to negotiate and the two chairmen or secretaries would get together to finalise it. Those days are gone now.

"I suppose with the advent of agents' involvement in deals, I'll quite happily sit out of it because I can't be bothered with it. Our chief executive David Gill does all that now, you know, but, in this situation, I think the phone call to Arsene helped.”

The backdrop to all this, of course, had been United agonisingly losing out to City on the final day of the season, courtesy of QPR's dramatic injury-time collapse and that much-repeated Sergio Aguero moment.

Out of such adversity, Ferguson had responded by telling his players to remember the feeling of utter dejection when they found out the news soon after the final whistle had sounded at Sunderland, and then focused on landing a top centre-forward to ensure the Blues could be usurped next time around.

I remember having a quick chat with former chief executive Gill on the way back from attending the van Persie press conference at Old Trafford, and telling him how much of a lift the transfer had given everybody, in the wake of that crushing disappointment. There was now a buzz around the whole place.

It was a real boost for all concerned, staff and fans alike, and perhaps it was no great surprise when the move reaped dividends.

All The Goals: Robin van Persie Video

All The Goals: Robin van Persie

All The Goals | Watch all of Robin van Persie's finishes from his incredibly popular spell as a United player...

Van Persie spoke of the 'little boy' inside him screaming to join United. Arsenal fans were not happy but it proved a masterstroke by United.

He fitted seamlessly into the side and struck up a productive partnership with Wayne Rooney. A man on a mission to win his first Premier League title, he appeared unstoppable at times.

The Dutchman's goals fired the Reds to the 2012/13 Premier League title and, fittingly, it was his extraordinary hat-trick against Aston Villa that clinched the trophy at Old Trafford. 

It proved to be the final season for Ferguson, who bowed out on a high, but his capture of the Netherlands international will go down as one of his shrewdest for that campaign alone.