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Why Robin van Persie’s legacy at Manchester United is intact despite his fading powers

It will come as no surprise if Manchester United striker Robin van Persie departs the club this summer.

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He has not kicked a ball in anger since February, he has managed only 26 appearances in all competitions, with a return of 10 goals, and his 32nd birthday arrives before the start of the 2015-16 campaign.

When he has featured under compatriot Louis van Gaal he has at times seemed sluggish, at best ring-rusty but at worst playing from memory, a shadow of the player who terrorised opponents two years ago.

Even if the Dutchman produces a headline-grabbing run of goalscoring form in the remaining five matches – realistically he is unlikely to be on the pitch that long despite returning to full fitness – the most likely scenario is that he is moved along, should his employers find a willing suitor.

With 12 months left on his lucrative contract the biggest stumbling block could be his salary expectations, but his name still carries enough gravitas to surely earn a final big pay day overseas.

It is set to be a sad, unspectacular end to the Old Trafford career of a man who had a hugely-significant impact on the club’s fortunes at the point in his career when he found his absolute peak.

That is why, despite all logical explanation pointing towards a summer exit, van Persie’s legacy at United is intact.

Any jibes from those whose allegiances lie with the red half of Manchester are thoroughly undeserved and misguided, because if it wasn’t for him, there is a good chance that their beloved team would not have reclaimed the Premier League crown from rivals City in 2013.

Returning to the summit upon the conclusion of the 2012-13 season carried far greater significance than any other table-topping campaign. Cash-rich City represented a new danger, the next Chelsea but this time in United’s own back yard, a rivalry which made the Blues’ 2011-12 title triumph a truly bitter pill to swallow.

At the time City looked capable of embarking on a trophy-laden decade in similar fashion to all those great United sides of years gone by.

It was van Persie’s goalscoring exploits which stopped them in their tracks. A return of 26 goals in 38 league appearances is superb by anyone’s standards, let alone someone playing in what was widely-acknowledged to be the least flamboyant Sir Alex Ferguson team in a long time.

Yes, City imploded in the chaotic final months of then-boss Roberto Mancini’s tenure at the Etihad Stadium, but someone still needed to produce the goods and capitalise. Ferguson’s men, inspired by a striker operating at the height of his powers, punished them in the most brutal manner.

The flying Dutchman struck fear into the minds of every Premier League defence. He was expected to score, and more often than not he did. His hat-trick against Aston Villa secured the club’s 20th top-flight title to the relief of the home contingent who 11 months earlier feared the ‘Noisy Neighbours’ were about to crank up the volume.

It’s fair to say things have never been the same since for van Persie. The injuries which plagued him at previous club Arsenal have returned with alarming frequency. Yet he still managed 18 goals in a David Moyes side which finished seventh, and 10 this term in a van Gaal set-up which only found its mojo two months ago.

He has picked up a small fortune during those absences from the team and his powers are fading. But if you think he has done well out of the arrangement, don’t forget United have too.

Ferguson was reeling when City won the title with the last kick of 11-12. He identified van Persie as the man to fire his side back to the top and, in doing so, prevent the balance of power shifting even further in Sheikh Mansour’s direction.

Fergie knew that at the age of 29, the Arsenal captain was not the long-term answer. He got his man, and United won the league. Mission accomplished.

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