The morning after the night before the feeling of elation, sheer joy, pride and a grin extending to both corners of the mouth balance the – undoubtedly – heavy heads with whom we have gone to work, school or university today, following a night spent on that adrenaline mixture that boasts alcohol and United as its main ingredients.
Readers will know that throughout the season I warned against the sin of becoming giddy too soon as, aware of the psychological and physical trauma experienced last season, I, like many others, refused to get carried away until United had mathematically clinched the title.
Following our recent wobble in form my fears increased a tad – even though I actually never believed we could blow it again – but when Spurs condemned City to a 3-1 defeat on Sunday even I allowed myself to indulge in the thought of us lifting the trophy this season, and I’m eternally grateful to Sir Alex and the players for not embarking on a rollercoaster ride last night.
United, so often castigated by the media this season for a perceived lack of brilliance, produced arguably one of the best 45 minutes spells of their season, and how fitting that the man who grabbed his hat-trick was the man who spearheaded our campaign for long spells.
When Robin Van Persie signed in the summer, many questioned Sir Alex’s decision to fork out £24m for a player who had just turned 29 – and whose injury record was admittedly far from ideal – when other areas of the pitch seemed to require strengthening.
I, for one, was slightly disappointed when United’s marquee signing turned out to be a striker rather than the imposing central midfielder this team so badly craved (and still does). On the other hand, as many pointed out here and on Twitter, if signing the current PFA Player of the Year doesn’t get fans buzzing, what will?
From the moment he arrived at the club Van Persie did what, in my 25 years, only Eric Cantona had done. He galvanised the club, the fans and his team-mates. When Eric arrived in 1992, United were haunted by the prospect of another fruitless campaign, having fluffed their lines at the crucial stage the previous season when Leeds pipped them to the title. They were, in other words, flat.
The same feeling that would have swept through the current crop when Sergio Aguero’s goal wrestled the title away from their grasp last season, and Van Persie’s arrival was as strong a psychological message as Fergie had sent out in recent years.
Having rallied his troops in the dressing room of the Stadium of Light, the signing of Van Persie was Sir Alex’s statement of intent – to his players, his opponents and the fans – and one that might not have come had United won the league last year.
Furthermore, Van Persie’s signing was a huge blow for City for it spelt out that the richest club in the world wasn’t going to have it all their own the way, even now that they could call themselves Premier League champions. Roberto Mancini’s petulant remarks about “the one that got away” did his team no favours at all, rather they undermined some of his players’ confidence.
The doubters were quickly converted into strenuous believers, as the Dutchman tore through the league in the same fashion he had done for Arsenal in the previous campaign, providing United with a “fear factor” they had missed in previous years, arguably since Ronaldo left for Real Madrid.
The taunts of “one-man team” aimed at United as Van Persie netted crucial goals against Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and, more importantly, a last minute winner against Manchester City, were as much an effort to dismiss United’s form as they confirmed that Sir Alex had hit the jackpot in the transfer window.
Sure, United weren’t at their swashbuckling best and Van Persie became an increasingly talismanic figure but it wasn’t borne out of desperation, rather it was the result of £24 very well spent millions. Ironically, the stick that had beaten United so long, turned against Van Persie as his form suffered an inevitable dip that coincided with United tumbling out of Europe and out of the FA Cup.
While not as easy on the eye as teams of yesteryear, Van Persie’s goal drought proved that the current United vintage is every bit as ruthless as their predecessor, considering the way the powered through the league while the Dutchman negotiated nine games without a goal.
That he would find his form at the crucial stage of the season to clinch United’s 20th, was a fitting way to crown his first season at Old Trafford, one in which he became an instant hero. And perhaps, one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s best ever signings.
To paraphrase a City chant – admittedly, not something I thought I’d ever do – “You sign Scott Sinclair, we sign RVP”.
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