Despite becoming Netherlands all time leading scorer on Friday, Robin van Persie still has a lot to prove in the Oranje shirt.

  • By Stephen Rivers
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van pThe first was an awkward looping header from a Daryl Janmaat cross to give the Netherlands the lead in their World Cup Qualifier against Hungary. The second a far cleaner headed attempt that capped a wonderful Lens – Robben breakaway. The third, a great display of commitment to arrive in the box late and unmarked, time enough to take a touch before slotting the ball home in typically composed fashion.

To say that the 11th October 2013 will be remembered as the day Robin van Persie broke Holland’s international goalscoring record – beating Patrick Kluivert’s previous tally of 40 – would be an overstatement. The achievement however remains impressive and one could expect to see van Persie remembered as one of Oranje’s greatest Strikers. Still, not everyone would agree.

Despite 41 goals in 80 national team appearances there is plenty of work to do if van Persie is to really be remembered as one of Holland’s greats. His talent has never been in doubt, but the detractors will look to his performances when it really mattered against the best opposition on the grandest of stages. Of the 41 scored only two came against truly top class opposition, France in the group stage of Euro 2008, and Germany in last year’s Competition.

And what of that tournament held in Poland and the Ukraine? Van Persie’s inclusion as the focal point of the attack ahead of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar was questioned before a ball was kicked. An impotent performance in the Netherlands’ opener against Denmark, bereft of the confidence and composure that had seen him score 30 Premier League goals that season for Arsenal, only served to raise further questions. His first touch deserted him when he found himself with just Danish Goalkeeper Stephan Andersen to beat. Then with Holland trailing in a game they had dominated, van Persie managed to connect only with the ground as he got in behind the Danish defence once more.

The Netherlands would go on to limp out of the group stage losing all three games. While it should not be forgotten that it was van Persie who scored in the second group game to give his side faint hope of an ultimately failed comeback against Germany, fans should neither forget that his failure in front of goal in the opener was one of the main contributing factors to the overwhelming failure of the national side in Euro 2012.

There are definite signs ahead of Brazil in 2014 that a more confident van Persie is ready to put in the big-tournament performance that will really define his international career. His temperament and mental-maturity have often been called into question. Disciplinary issues plagued his time at Feyenoord, and it was only once all of Arsenal’s bigger stars had left the club and van Persie found himself the biggest fish in an ever-receding pond – a luxury he was never afforded with the national side – that he was able to settle and show himself to be a truly World-Class number 9.

The Rotterdam-born Striker answered similar doubts last season when moving from Arsenal to the bigger Manchester United. No longer intimidated, confidence no longer short, van Persie thrived playing with better players with big reputations. It is no stretch to suggest that it was the signing of van Persie and the goals he bought that secured the Red Devils the Premier League title.

Consider that Holland had already qualified for the World Cup prior to the Hungary game, that there were doubts over van Persie’s fitness, and that Oranje Coach Louis van Gaal had publically named him as one of just three players guaranteed a spot in his World Cup squad, the player could have been forgiven for sitting this one out. The desire and hunger to play was evident, the determination to still put on a performance ahead of what is likely his last chance at a major international tournament should set him in good stead for Brazil 2014.

It seems ridiculous that the national side’s highest ever goalscorer still has a point to prove yet that is the reality. As part of a Dutch side that has re-found its rhythm since 2012, next year’s World Cup could see van Persie emphatically define his international career and silence the critics once and for all.

Stephen Rivers (2 Posts)