Robin van Persie has started the 2014 World Cup on fire, scoring three goals in two matches, including a flying chipped header in Holland’s opener against Spain that may yet prove the goal of the tournament.
As captain of the Netherlands national team and a key player in the side that captured Manchester United’s historic 20th Premier League title last year, Van Persie is universally revered as perhaps the best out-and-out striker in the world.
But it could so easily have not worked out this way for the Dutchman.
Born to artist parents in the port city of Rotterdam, Van Persie was a juvenile troublemaker who could have been bound for bigger problems down the road had he not found an outlet in soccer.
Although he was naturally gifted, developing into the player he is today has been a lifelong pursuit for Van Persie. As a kid going to school, he always had a soccer ball at his feet, dribbling through the streets, feinting at lampposts, and doing keepie uppies in grocery store aisles.
At five, Van Persie joined his local side Excelsior. At 13, he joined Feyenoord, one of Holland’s biggest clubs. It should have been the stuff that dreams were made of. But it nearly didn’t pan out due to the youthful Van Persie’s disciplinary problems.
Despite playing well for his club, at times Van Persie’s self-confidence bordered on arrogance. When an opportunity arose for Feyenoord to offload the talented but troublesome 20-year-old to Arsenal, the Dutch club pounced.
At Arsenal, the disciplinary problems he’d experienced in Holland followed him. Coach Arsene Wenger was often frustrated with Van Persie in those early years, when the player would accumulate pointless red and yellow cards.
In 2005, he was selected for the Netherlands national team for the first time. It was the high point of his life at the time, but the low point was quick to follow, as soon after, Van Persie was accused of sexual assault and imprisoned for two weeks.
Ultimately, the charges were dropped and Van Persie exonerated. Yes, something had taken place, but it had been consensual. Still, it nearly cost him his marriage and his career. It was then and there that Robin van Persie began to take life seriously and repay the loyalty shown to him by his wife, his club and his coach.
Van Persie devoted himself to his family and to his career and that commitment paid off. At Arsenal, he developed into one of the world’s best pure strikers.
But as Arsenal’s trophy drought extended towards seven years, Van Persie grew frustrated. Eventually he transferred to Manchester United where he helped lift the club to a historic 20th Premier League title.
Today, Van Persie is the captain of his national team and the Netherlands’ all-time leading scorer. His past indiscretions and youthful arrogance have long since faded in his rearview mirror and he has a reputation not only as a leader, but also as a friend that younger players can turn to for advice.
At the age of 30, he may or may not be playing in his final World Cup. But by the time 2018 rolls around, he will likely no longer be at the peak of his powers, meaning that this summer in Brazil is perhaps Robin van Persie’s best chance to fire the Oranje to its first World Cup.
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