Van Persie leads from the front as Manchester United clinch title in style

The former Arsenal striker was in scintillating form as his hat-trick set the tone on a celebratory night at Old Trafford that saw the Red Devils win a 20th Premier League crown

By Jeremy Butler at Old Trafford

Manchester United may be a club where winning titles comes easy but there was something about this 20th crown that never seemed certain.

In the hours before the Theatre of Dreams held its Premier League title party, it would have been hard for an outside observer to believe the clinching of one of sport’s biggest prizes would be sealed tonight.

Almost disbelief that it was arriving so easily. A sense that it should have been harder to come by. Maybe that was why hours before the PA blasted out Queen’s “We are the Champions” and United’s players jogged on the pitch there was a sense of self-doubt.

But once more Manchester United made fools out of the doubters.

It was a different story pre-match. The touts selling scarves bearing the legend ‘Champions’ were looking decidedly worried as they congregated on the pathways and roads approaching Old Trafford before kick-off – they were finding surprisingly few takers.

And there were no street parties. No local pubs boasting banners. Apprehension rather than adulation seemed to be the watch word before this game.

Despite motoring away to the title there were still doubts this Manchester United team were capable of romping over the finishing line.

Nervous smiles were exchanged between fans before kick-off rather than high-fives – they had watched their team draw at West Ham last Wednesday and were not expecting a walk-over.

Despite their dominance United had never looked convincing during a campaign where challengers fell away quickly.

No game had seemed a gimme. No victory a certainty. And now with the title there for the taking there was still a worry that talk of a coronation might be premature.

But within just 90 seconds Robin van Persie had eased that anxiety. Within 13 minutes he had sealed his place in United folklore with a volley worthy of any title win.

And just after half an hour into the game, he had his first title winner’s medal in his pocket.

It was then the majority of the 75,591 packed into Old Trafford breathed a collective sigh of relief. All their worries were washed away as a shout of “Champions” flooded down the stands.

It was the 20th and one of the sweetest. Not because of the style in which it was won. Not because it had broken the cycle of decades of disappointments but because it brought bragging rights back across the city from the blue corner once demeaned by Ferguson as “noisy neighbours”.

The year of pain since Manchester City picked United pockets to grab the crown with a stoppage-time Sergio Aguero winner was over. The upstarts had been put back in their place. As the final seconds ticked down Old Trafford rose to its feet in unison to applaud their heroes.

And no-one deserved the accolades more than Robin van Persie and the man who brought him to United. For this was not a title won on the pitch but in the transfer market.

Sir Alex Ferguson took a massive gamble when he paid out £24m for a striker with a reputation for spending as much time on the sidelines as he does in his shooting boots.

But Van Persie’s influence on the title race was huge. Not just the stunning hat-trick that clinched the title tonight, but throughout the season he has weighed in with crucial goals.

Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini was fuming the day Ferguson beat him to the punch for the Arsenal striker. He knew that was the day his hopes of back-to-back titles died.

Van Persie recently endured a ten-match dry spell, hard to believe he could go so long when you watch his sensational volley for his second goal.

It was a goal-of-the-season contender in a campaign where he has stood head and shoulders above any rival Premier League striker, just as United have been a league apart from their rivals.

As the players celebrated by completing two laps of honour, camera flashes lit up the stands just as Van Persie had lit up the Premier League.

He may have been born in the Netherlands but this title win meant as much to him as any Mancunian.

As the players left the pitch they passed a home made banner stating “Not nineteen forever”. And the scarf sellers outside called for more supplies. The party had begun.

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