It’s the question everyone in football is currently being asked — is van Persie the best player in the world right now? The answer is almost always no, however; he’s still behind Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. But what a top three to be in...
Big Sam Allardyce suggested Radamel Falcao of Atletico Madrid might also be ahead of him but the West Ham manager knows as well as anyone how potent van Persie is.
His side were seconds away from knocking United out of the FA Cup when the Dutchman latched on to Ryan Giggs’s 60-yard pass on the half-volley and slotted home an equaliser with his ‘wrong’ foot.
He may not be the best overall but at £24m he must surely be the best value? Allardyce admitted that fee now seems cheap for the former Arsenal man.
“The man himself picked the team where he thinks he can get the most trophies, not make the most money, and that is to his credit. Because he is at that team he wants to be successful, and as a professional he wants to hit the ground running. He has already shown everyone what he can do.”
Nemanja Vidic knows a bit about the world’s best strikers, although in this game the United captain struggled to cope with Carlton Cole, and reckons the van Persie goal was one for the coaching manuals.
“His touch is magnificent and his finishing is top class,” he said “It’s movement from the book, touch from the book, goal from the book. It’s something they can show to kids, how to move and finish in the last third. He was magnificent for us. We just hope he’s going to be in the same form in the end.”
Van Persie’s late contribution overshadowed Joe Cole’s triumphant Hammers return after almost a decade away from Upton Park and the former England man left the pitch with hearty applause and two assists, both crosses on to the shaven head of James Collins for the centre-back’s first and second goals of the season, which overturned Tom Cleverley’s United opener.
“You take away Messi and Ronaldo and he’s probably the best player in the world,” Cole said of van Persie. “He is different class and in his prime. He is hard to stop and he is just sublime. Technically, he is fantastic.
“He was playing wide for Arsenal for many years and getting a few problems. Moving central means there is a bit less running in there and he can use his technique and use his finishing, which is just incredible. He uses both feet. He is a joy to watch and a pain to play against.
“You can’t give them a chance like that but to be fair to us you can’t point the finger at anyone it was just a world-class ball from Giggs and a world-class finish.”
West Ham captain Kevin Nolan declared he had been “baffled” by four minutes of Fergie time (although van Persie actually only needed 22 seconds of that to score) but was confident the Joe Cole show would continue to run and run in the East End.
“Joe speaks for himself,” he said. “I thought he was harshly treated at Liverpool and did not get the run of games for the quality he has. It was great for him to come home and produce a performance like that.”
Cole also received a bloody nose to help him remember his second coming but it was the reception from the fans that was uppermost in his mind.
“It really choked me up. It’s great to be here. The fans, even when I came back here with Chelsea or Liverpool, have always given me a good reception but today was special. Onwards and upwards.”
Onwards and upwards to Old Trafford for a replay in fact and Vidic made it clear United intended to take the FA Cup, a competition they famously pulled out of at the turn of the century, very seriously this season despite all the other silverware at stake.
“We believe it’s important,” he said. “We didn’t win the trophy for the last eight years and it’s a trophy we’re looking to win. We showed today in how we celebrated the goal, and I’m hoping at home it will be a different game. I think we have a big squad and we can manage to have one more game.”
WEST HAM (4-5-1): Jaaskelainen 6; Demel 7, Collins 8, Tomkins 6, Potts 7; Vaz Te 5 (Jarvis 61, 6), Collison 6, Diarra 6 (Noble 73), Nolan 6, J Cole 8 (Taylor 78); C Cole 8.
MANCHESTER UNITED (4-4-2): de Gea 6; Smalling 7 (Giggs 78), Vidic 6, Evans 7, Buttner 7; Rafael 5, Scholes 6 (Valencia 68, 5), Cleverley 7, Kagawa 6; Hernandez 5 (van Persie 68, 8), Welbeck 6.
Referee: Martin Atkinson 7.