Robin Van Persie Exclusive: Henry over Rooney, Messi Is Like Sushi... And Why Wigan Loss Was Harder Than Missing CL Final
By Alex Reid
"Difficult questions today!" says Robin van Persie, flashing SPORTbible a grin. At the same time, we're discovering what elite defenders have known for decades: RVP is not an easy man to pin down.
For Versus, we've come armed with a series of strict, straight-up, make-or-break questions for Holland's all-time top scorer. However he's still lively enough to slip our challenges and cause a surprise.
Ask him which felt the bigger game: Arsenal vs Tottenham or Man United against Man City and he ends up talking about a completely different rivalry. Test him on sitting out a Champions League final, and he moves neatly on to a defeat to Wigan which really caused him heartache.
Clearly, Van Persie - looking like a slick, silver fox in the box in BT Sport's huge Champions League studio - has still got the skills to wrong-foot you. Thankfully, he's also on articulate form, ready to dissect everything from VAR to spectacular volleys. Take it away, Van the Man...
Bigger influence: Arsene Wenger or Sir Alex Ferguson?
"The biggest influence must be Wenger, because he was the one who worked with me. I came in as a kid and he helped me develop. He saw something in me. Sometimes I messed up. I got a silly red card or - as kids do - I made mistakes. But he still gave me another chance. Chance after chance sometimes. Sir Alex was at a different time because I came as a mature player. But I'm very happy to have worked with those two great managers - only a couple of players can say they worked under both!"
Goal: Volley against Aston Villa or World Cup header?
The volley, because of the meaning to it. The goal for Holland was beautiful but it was in the first game - it didn't win us the World Cup. And that volley made a big difference on that day for Manchester United. We were winning the league anyway, because we were so many points in front, but it's the occasion - a decisive goal. It had the extra meaning of, on that day, delivering a trophy.
Stadium: Highbury or Emirates?
Highbury. I just really loved it. I played there for two years and it was a small pitch; fans were really tight next to the pitch. Emirates is beautiful, it's like a huge spaceship. Highbury, there was culture there, history - you could feel it. A proper, English stadium.
Best defender: John Terry or Rio Ferdinand?
Rio and Vidic were a very tough duo to beat, because they worked so well together. When one was going to the ball, the other was in the back checking everything out. They were almost never next to each other, only when they were pushing up high. But they were always covering each other. With Terry, you never really knew when he was coming. Sometimes he was dropping back, sometimes he was coming to challenge you - and if he was coming, he was coming strong. Not dirty. Just tough and hard, which is fair. Both great defenders... The most difficult one? Rio.
Biggest game: North London derby or Manchester derby?
Difficult, because they were in different periods of my career. I grew up with the London derby. In Holland, you have Feyenoord against Ajax for example - that's what you grew up with as the biggest game of the season - and it's that feeling of: I just really want to beat them. That's the exact feeling I had with Arsenal against Spurs. North London was aggressive, but within the lines. In terms of the fans, the one in Holland is more aggressive. Feyenoord against Ajax is really raw with the fans. You can really feel the tension.
VAR: Yes or no?
Yes, in the basics of it, I am a fan. It's just the practical side of it sometimes annoys me. The last period of my career, I played with VAR and it's a difficult feeling when you've scored a great goal as a team, you celebrate and then you have to wait a minute because they check it. It takes the edge away from that moment, because you always have second thoughts. Before you used to check the linesman - with one eye... and if he didn't react, then you know it's a goal. Now, you have to check the linesman, you have to check the referee [puffs out cheeks] it's taking too long. But I do like the idea of an honest game, so it's difficult.
Most skilful: Thierry Henry or Wayne Rooney?
Skilful? Thierry Henry. In training, he did stuff which you hadn't really seen before. He was doing tricks and I'd think: "Wow, I've never really seen that in my life." The same as Giggsy or the passes of Dennis Bergkamp and Paul Scholes.
Toughest moment: 2010 World Cup final or being benched for the Champions League final?
The World Cup final. Because I was young [for the Champions League final], so I wasn't really expecting to start. It didn't feel like my tournament. For example, it sounds a bit silly, but the Carling Cup loss that year against Wigan - that really hurt me! Because that was my cup. I was scoring goals in that cup, I was helping the team to win - and then we lost in extra time against Wigan. That felt harsher than the Champions League final - just to me. For the club, the Champions League final loss was bigger.
GOAT: Messi or Ronaldo?
I really like both, I respect both because what they're doing for over a decade now is unbelievable. But it is about taste - it's like some people like sushi or some people prefer Moroccan food or whatever. So I like... Messi. Messi is unique, very special. Ronaldo is unique in his own way, both incredible. But personally, I really like to watch Messi, just for the choices he makes. It's art! It's like watching art.
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