Robin Van Persie defied all odds and delivered exactly what Manchester United required to stay alive in the UEFA Champions League Wednesday, but when he was carried off the pitch on a stretcher in the game’s closing minutes at Old Trafford, his future and the prospects of Manchester United appeared in serious doubt.
Trailing Greek powerhouse Olympiakos by 2-0 coming off the first leg of their Round of 16 tie, the Reds had to win by three goals without allowing any to see their way to the quarterfinals. Manchester United had scored a mere 18 goals at home all season in this year of despair for the defending Premier League champions. A 3-0 victory seemed an impossible ask.
But Robin Van Persie came up with the answer, driving home three goals for a historic hat-trick. The Manchester United defense and Spanish goalkeeper David De Gea did the rest, keeping a clean sheet, allowing the Van Persie miracle to stand up, keeping Manchester United alive and with at least a shot at capturing its third Champions League trophy and first since 2008.
The Van Persie hat-trick provided not only a huge relief for embattled United manager David Moyes, whose job was said to be on the line if Manchester United got bounced from the Champions League, but it also had to be especially satisfying for Van Persie himself.
All season long, rumors have swirled around the Dutch superstar, claiming that Van Persie wasn’t getting along with Moyes and that he planned to engineer his exit after the season is over. One report even had Robin Van Persie returning to his original Premier League side, Arsenal, and back into the arms of his mentor, manager Arsene Wenger.
But Moyes made what turned out to be a genius decision, giving 40-year-old Manchester United legend Ryan Giggs a start in the midfield position, despite the fact that Giggs had played only 81 minutes in the entire 2013/14 campaign.
Giggs sent a ball into Robin Van Persie about 25 minutes into the game that was so impossible to defend it led to a penalty, which Van Persie easily sent home for Manchester United’s opening goal.
Giggs also played a key role in the build-up to the second Robin Van Persie tally, reaching Van Persie’s strike partner Wayne Rooney with a precision pass, allowing Rooney to feed Van Persie for a gimme goal off a short, side-foot tap.
But just prior to stoppage time in the second half, with the game already sealed for United, Olympiakos center-back Kostas Manolas drove his leg into the back of Robin Van Persie’s knee.
The Dutch hero collapsed, in obvious pain and was carted off on a stretcher.
Thursday morning, however, Moyes announced that Robin Van Persie would be ready for next Tuesday’s derby against Mancheser City at Old Trafford, even though Van Persie probably would be kept out of the weekend Premier League clash with West Ham United.