Robin van Persie ended his wait for a first national soccer championship by scoring a hat trick to propel Manchester United to a record-extending 20th English league title.
The Dutch striker, a 24 million-pound ($36.6 million) signing from Arsenal in August, got three goals in 31 first-half minutes at Old Trafford last night as United beat Aston Villa 3-0 to take an unbeatable 16-point lead atop the standings.
“I’m very happy, but it’s weird,” Van Persie, 29, said in an interview with Sky Sports. “I had to wait so long for my first title and it’s a great feeling. It didn’t really matter who scored as long as we won this game.”
United regained the Premier League title with four matches to spare after losing out on goal difference to Manchester City on the final day last season. That prompted United manager Alex Ferguson to bolster his attacking options by buying Van Persie, the elite division’s top scorer in 2011-12, and the Dutchman responded with a league-leading 24 goals so far this campaign.
“The one thing I said to them at the start of the season was: ‘Make sure you do not lose on goal difference again,”’ Ferguson said in a televised interview. “Robin’s been unbelievable. His early form in the first six months was fantastic. He has to take a lot of the credit, his goals tell you that and his performance levels tell you that.”
Last night’s victory, combined with defending champion City’s 3-1 loss at Tottenham the day before, clinched United’s 13th title in the 21 editions of the Premier League. The Red Devils would set a competition record of 96 points by winning their remaining games.
Van Persie’s first and third goals against Villa were scored from close range and assisted by 39-year-old midfielder Ryan Giggs, who’s been in all Ferguson’s title-winning squads. The Welshman’s 13 championship medals are the most by any player in England’s elite division.
“When you lose it in the manner that we did last year, to win it back is something special,” Giggs told Sky Sports. “We did it in style, so it’s really pleasing.”
United’s second goal came from Van Persie’s left-foot volley from the edge of the penalty area as he ran onto Wayne Rooney’s long pass before steadying himself and arrowing a first-time shot into the net.
“His second goal was the goal of the century for me,” Ferguson added. “It was marvelous. The technique with his head down, over the ball and just perfect timing. It was a magnificent strike.”
Before coming to United, Van Persie’s only major club honors in a career that began in 2001 were winning the UEFA Cup in 2002 with Dutch team Feyenoord and the 2005 F.A. Cup with Arsenal.
United’s 27th win of the season lifted it to 84 points after 34 of 38 matches. Second-place City, on 68 points, has seven fewer victories.
The Red Devils’ best points tally in a 38-game season was the 91 achieved in 1999-2000, when they won the league by 18 points. Chelsea holds the record, having won the Premier League with 95 points in 2004-05.
United opened this campaign with a 1-0 loss at Everton and didn’t move to the top of the standings until a 2-1 win over Arsenal on Nov. 3, including a goal by Van Persie. After a defeat at Norwich dropped it behind City, United regained the top spot by beating Queens Park Rangers in their next game.
A 3-2 win at City on Dec. 9, with Van Persie scoring a stoppage-time winner, moved United six points clear of the defending champion and the lead continued to grow. By the time the teams met again on April 8, City’s 2-1 win at Old Trafford could only pull it to within 12 points of United.
Last night’s loss leaves Villa 17th in the 20-team standings, three points above the relegation zone. The Birmingham-based club has 34 points from 34 games, one match more than 18th-place Wigan, which has 31 points.
Villa next hosts 14th-place Sunderland, which is three points ahead, and travels to Wigan on May 19, the last day of the season.
United defender Jonny Evans said the Red Devils won’t let up in their last four games as they chase the points record.
Ferguson took over as United manager in 1986, and said he wanted to knock Liverpool, which had 16 championships at the time, “off their perch.” Since the Merseyside club won its 18th title in 1990, the Scotsman has led United to 13.
“His appetite is second to none,” Giggs said of Ferguson. “Every day he’s at the training ground, he’s first there, his enthusiasm is brilliant and that feeds through the club. He is the club.”
While Van Persie and his teammates will have to wait until United’s final home game against Swansea on May 12 to receive the trophy, the striker is already targeting more silverware.
“From now on, our new standard is we want to be champions every year,” Van Persie said. “So we are even more hungry than we were this season because you could just tell, from day one, everyone wanted this. I want to win it again.”