Van Persie, who completed his £22 million transfer from Arsenal on Friday, claimed his inner-child was “screaming for United” and is expected to make his debut for the club against Everton on Monday if he proves his match fitness during training this weekend.
Yet having arrived at Old Trafford as last season’s double Footballer of the Year and Premier League leading goalscorer, the Dutch forward begins his career as a United player shouldering a heavy burden of expectancy.
At 29, Van Persie is the oldest outfield player to be signed for a transfer fee by Ferguson since the 31-year-old Teddy Sheringham was lured from Tottenham as Cantona’s direct replacement in the summer of 1997.
Having been credited with transforming the fortunes of United following his arrival from Leeds in November 1992, Cantona remains an iconic figure at Old Trafford. But after United ended last season without a trophy, Ferguson admitted that Van Persie’s signing echoed that of Cantona in terms of the qualities he can bring to Old Trafford.
“I think he is what we have needed for the last couple of years,” Ferguson said. “He’s got maturity to his game now – an authority, timing and understanding of the game – and I think we will benefit for the next four years and beyond. We needed a ‘finished’ player. Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs are coming to the end and I need mature top players to replace them.
“We have had several players who have been that sort of catalyst, starting with Cantona. I don’t think we’re short of all that, I think we were still capable of winning the title without Robin, but he gives us a sort of certainty for the future.
“He is a player that every time I gave team talks was a problem for us because he kept popping up in different positions, sometimes on the right, sometimes dropping off, sometimes in the middle, so at least I’ve take that problem away from myself.
“He can play, score, he’s quick, he’s a different physical specimen to the players we have. Also, you always learn from great players. If you look at what Cantona did, he was a tremendous teacher for the young players and I think Danny Welbeck will welcome that.”
Ferguson admitted he did not think Arsenal would let Van Persie go, and said Arsène Wenger had driven a hard bargain. “He [Wenger] could run a poker school in Govan. He got a great price but we are also happy the matter is concluded. From the starting position, when we first started negotiating, Arsène has done well.”
United ultimately had to overcome competition from Manchester City and Juventus. Thwarting City’s interest is viewed as a coup inside Old Trafford following the champions’ dominance of the transfer market since Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan’s takeover in 2008.
Van Persie claims that the lure of United’s history drew him to Old Trafford. He said: “Why United? I think everyone knows me by now and knows that I love football. It’s always difficult to find a perfect match, but I think this is a perfect match for me.
“Manchester United breathe football, you look at all the players, the stadium, the manager and the choice was made very soon in my mind. My decision was based on a lot of things and all those things went to Man United. When you have to make a hard decision in your life, I always listen to the little boy inside me. What does he want? That little boy was screaming for Manchester United.”
Van Persie’s exit from Arsenal has led to accusations of disloyalty from the club’s supporters. But Van Persie insists that his departure from the Emirates has been amicable. “From my side and Arsenal’s side, there are no hard feelings, it’s just on certain elements I had different view,” said Van Persie. “Nobody is angry at me and I’m not angry at them. Sometimes you disagree on certain things. But I am here now and it is the biggest challenge of my life so far.”
Van Persie, who will wear the No 20 shirt previously worn by Treble winner Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, is expected to partner Wayne Rooney when Ferguson selects his strongest team.
Ferguson said Van Persie, who has played less than 20 minutes of football this pre-season, could yet start on the bench against Everton on Monday. Ferguson said: “He hasn’t played much, but adrenalin will help him.
“We will have a look at him on Saturday and Sunday and have a chat with him to see how he feels. After that, we’ll have a good idea of whether to start him or put him on the bench.”
His arrival has left club record signing Dimitar Berbatov with a bleak future at Old Trafford, but Ferguson admits that there has been little interest in the Bulgarian, who could yet be sold for as little as £3 million before the transfer deadline on August 31.
Ferguson said: “There’s nothing happening on Berba. There’s been a bit of interest, but nothing definite that has encouraged us to sell.”
Zenit St Petersburg coach Luciano Spalletti has claimed that the Russian outfit have lodged a bid for United winger Nani. The Portuguese winger’s Old Trafford future could be clouded by the summer signings of Van Persie and Shinji Kagawa, despite his recent claim that he is prepared to fight for his future at the club.
“The news about Nani is true,” Spalletti said. “Everything will depend on how much players cost because we won’t pay excessive amounts of money.”