LONDON – Alex Ferguson has hailed Robin van Persie as the missing piece in Manchester United’s title jigsaw as the Premier League leaders prepare to try and extend their lead at the top against Newcastle on Wednesday.
Van Persie has had a superb start to his United career after leaving Arsenal in a £24 million move before the season and the Dutch forward’s haul of 15 goals have help fire Ferguson’s team four points clear of defending champion Manchester City heading into the hectic Christmas program.
The 29-year-old’s dynamic displays have added an extra edge to United in the same way French playmaker Eric Cantona and Portugal forward Cristiano Ronaldo galvanized previous teams in the Ferguson era.
After missing out on the title last season, United was in need of a new driving force this term, and Ferguson believes van Persie is providing it.
“I am reluctant to subscribe to the cult of an individual. But sometimes you find the last piece of the jigsaw,” Ferguson told United’s official matchday program.
“We did it when we brought Eric Cantona to Old Trafford and he proved to be the right player at the right club at the right time. He became the catalyst and springboard for our surge to success.
“It doesn’t have to be signing someone for a record fee. Cristiano Ronaldo was not a record buy either but he certainly made a difference as he prospered with us to the extent that he came to be regarded by a lot of people as the world’s best player.”
Without van Persie’s goals, United would be eighth and that perhaps explained Ferguson’s fury when Swansea defender Ashley Williams kicked the ball into the Dutchman’s head as he lay prone on the turf during Sunday’s 1-1 draw at Liberty Stadium.
How Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini must rue van Persie’s decision to snub the champions in favor of joining United.
Mancini had hoped to make van Persie the centerpiece of his team as he looked to build upon last season’s title triumph, but instead he has had to watch the striker revitalize his club’s hated archrival, while his own strike-force has gone through a barren period.
Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez and Edin Dzeko all labored against Reading, the division’s bottom club, on Saturday and it was left to England midfielder Gareth Barry to show them how to put the ball in the net with a stoppage-time winner.
The good news for Mancini’s side was United’s failure to defeat Swansea 24 hours later, a result which will give fresh impetus to City’s challenge according to defender Kolo Toure.
“It’s giving us encouragement because we haven’t played to our best yet,” Toure said ahead of Wednesday’s game at Sunderland.
“Every team knows we are champions. They play 200 percent and that makes it really hard for us. We just keep fighting, keep pushing and we can still be better.”
United and City could be forgiven for regarding the title race as a strictly Manchester affair this season, especially as Chelsea have appeared on the verge of self-destructing at times.
But the Blues finally showed signs of emerging as a serious contender on Sunday thanks to an 8-0 demolition of Aston Villa.
That victory left Chelsea 11 points behind United but with a game in hand.