LONDON (Reuters) - Less than a year into his Manchester United career and Robin Van Persie has already guaranteed himself a place in the pantheon of greats to have worn the famous red jersey.
Manager Alex Ferguson lauded the Dutchman on Monday after his hat-trick in United's title-clinching 3-0 win against Aston Villa, saying the 29-year-old's impact since his arrival from Arsenal was already comparable to the likes of Eric Cantona and David Beckham.
Van Persie has scored 24 Premier League goals this season, one third of his team's total, and it is hardly an over-statement to suggest that the title would probably have been retained by Manchester City without him.
Ferguson has worked with some of the world's best players in his 26-year reign at United, but Van Persie's capture has arguably been his greatest transfer coup.
"In terms of impact he has had as big an impact as anyone I can imagine," Ferguson, who has won 13 Premier League titles for United, said after the club took its overall tally to 20.
"Eric Cantona was an incredible impact player and I have been very, very lucky in that I have had some fantastic strikers right through, probably 10 great strikers at the club.
"I think we had an expectation of Robin because his performance last year for Arsenal was sensational. We saw him last year and knew he could gel into the way our team was, and he has never disappointed us."
Van Persie's second goal on Monday, an unstoppable first-time volley as Wayne Rooney's long pass dropped over his shoulder, made the 24 million pounds ($36.59 million) United paid Arsenal seem like a bargain.
"It was a marvellous hit, head down, over the ball, perfect timing - a magnificent strike," Ferguson added.
"Of all the great goals we've scored over the years, from David Beckham through Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Eric Cantona, that goal has joined that.
"He's been unbelievable. His early form in the first six months was fantastic. He had the spell where he didn't score but he was unbelievable against Villa."
Van Persie is now favourite to win the Premier League's Golden Boot award for the second successive season having scored 30 last year for Arsenal.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by John O'Brien)