How van Persie proved he was ready for English football

Thursday 30 July 2020 13:00

In the latest episode of UTD Podcast, Robin van Persie discusses how a career low eventually paved the way for him to flourish in English football.

In 2004, a 20-year-old van Persie, then of Feyenoord, was assaulted by Ajax fans after a reserve match between the rival clubs finished 3-1 to the Amsterdam outfit, with Robin scoring a consolation goal.

Robin has previously spoken of the incident as ‘the worst thing he has ever experienced’ but told us how his reaction to the attack actually convinced Arsenal to go back in for him – seeing off competition from PSV Eindhoven and Sevilla – after a failed attempt at a move earlier in the year.

“After the game, the fans came on the pitch and threw a couple of punches,” van Persie recalls.

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“It shouldn’t have happened, but it did and in a way it did me a huge favour because there were some doubts about my mental stability.

“The scouts of Arsenal were having second thoughts about how I would behave in extreme games. That was an extreme game, where people threw beer over me, they were spitting at me, it was very negative.

“But I stayed calm, I scored my goal.

“That was the final check for the chief scout of Arsenal, Steve Rowley. He was convinced: ‘Okay, he’s strong enough, he’s ready to start his journey at Arsenal.’”

Although Robin turned out to be a roaring success in north London, netting 132 times in 278 appearances, he was required to draw upon that mental toughness on more than one occasion, especially during a couple of injury-hit campaigns, in 2007/08 and 2009/10, when knee and ankle injuries limited his involvement.

That ability to overcome setbacks stood him in good stead for when he signed for United in 2012 and van Persie was immediately struck by how resolute the Reds' squad was in our attempts to wrest the Premier League title back from Manchester City.

“I was talking with [Michael] Carrick after the [Manchester City] game [in which Robin scored the late winner] and he said if you start to win these type of games, we have a very good chance of winning this year.

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“That is what I felt during that whole first season: everyone was so relaxed and confident. We went behind in 16 different games in the league and we still won by 11 points.

“The toughness of everyone, physically and mentally: I was impressed at the level.

“In training sessions they were tough on each other, but everyone was okay with it. They were just cracking on and dealing with injuries, setbacks and defeats.

“There was a calmness, in combination with the characters and staff we had. There was some kind of arrogance floating around everyone: we got this, whatever happens, we got it.”

Listen to the Robin van Persie episode of UTD Podcast on all your favourite podcast platforms now.