Title would ease the pain, says van Persie
United and former Arsenal striker all but over the line with 15-point lead over City
Robin van Persie believes he is poised to ease the "pain" that has gnawed at him throughout his career by becoming a league champion for the first time. The Manchester United striker says that nothing is settled yet and he is mindful of how the club squandered an eight-point advantage in the final six matches of last season to hand the title to Manchester City.
But with United 15 points clear with nine games to play, he is confident of a happier ending and the 29-year-old also hopes that any success, which may yet also include the FA Cup, will serve as the catalyst for a personal haul of honours.
Van Persie left Arsenal for United last summer in order to win trophies – he took the No20 shirt at Old Trafford as he said that he wanted to help win the club's 20th title – and he is close to seeing the decision vindicated. Previously, Van Persie helped win the 2002 Uefa Cup with Feyenoord and the 2005 FA Cup with Arsenal.
"That I'll probably win my first championship is very nice," Van Persie said. "I'm really thrilled about it. Not winning titles has given me quite some pain and it has made me greyer.
"It still has to happen. We have to go to Sunderland and West Ham, and we have to play Chelsea [in Monday's FA Cup quarter-final replay] and if we win, we play back-to-back against City in the league and the FA Cup semi-final. Then we have Stoke. These are not summer-night games. I watched United drop the lead last season but it's getting awfully close now, and I'm really happy with that."
Van Persie struggled to suppress his excitement as he spoke to reporters in his native Netherlands during the international break and said his emotions had been further fired by the stories he has heard from his United team-mates, including Rio Ferdinand, for whom he has served as a chauffeur to training. Ferdinand was given a six-month driving ban last September.
"In the last period, I have been the driver for Rio," Van Persie said. "He told me there was a time he thought he'd never become champion. He was becoming totally crazy because of it. But he told me, 'If you get the first one ... well man, that tastes so good and you only want more. That then becomes the standard, the only thing that counts. Anything less isn't good enough any more.' Rio had to wait a long time before he became champion and so have I."
Van Persie has scored 23 times for United, including vital goals in the away wins over Liverpool, Chelsea and City, and is a leading candidate to claim the two Player of the Year awards he won last season. He has endured something of a drought, with only one goal in his past 10 appearances for the club and none in seven, but he has seen his team-mates, most notably Wayne Rooney, pick up the slack. The burden on his shoulders looked more onerous at Arsenal last season.
"My team-mates all stood up," Van Persie said. "Shinji [KAGAWA]scored a hat-trick [against Norwich City] and Wayne produced his usual goals. So that's nice, that it doesn't all go wrong [when he does not score.]"
Van Persie, however, was back on target for Holland with one goal in Friday's 3-0 World Cup qualifying win over Estonia and two in Tuesday's 4-0 victory against Romania. "I'm in a lesser period at my club right now and it's nice to score some goals for the national team to get through that," he said. "I don't put a good performance just down to producing a goal. I'm a striker that doesn't have to make 60 goals per season, I am a player that wants to play well for the team. But scoring is part of my job and when I don't score for seven games, it bothers me.
"The key is to keep working hard. I've also missed some luck. If you analyse my chances, my efforts went just over or on or next to the woodwork. You always have these kind of periods in a season and it's important to train hard, do a lot of finishing work and then, all of a sudden, it will get back and the goals will come. I have quality. I haven't lost that along the way."
Van Persie said he had "listened to the little boy inside me" when he opted to join United and there has since been an almost childlike enthusiasm about his body language. He loves playing with Rooney, and compares the relationship to the one he enjoys with Rafael van der Vaart at international level. He also suggested United could be his "last top club". He has, on occasion, said that he would like to retire at SBV Excelsior, the club in Rotterdam where he began his career as a youth player.
"I think my move to United came at exactly the right time," Van Persie said. "It shouldn't have been any earlier or any later. Arsenal was for eight years the place to be. But last summer was the perfect moment to sign for United.
"You have a couple of good clubs for older players, where they feel OK and are appreciated. In the past those were AC Milan and Juventus, and nowadays, United is a good example. So who knows how long I will stay at the club?"