By Martin Hardy
Sir Alex Ferguson was last night celebrating a major transfer market victory over his biggest rivals after Arsenal finally relented and agreed to sell Robin van Persie to Manchester United for about £24m.
The move represents the biggest coup of the summer transfer window so far and firmly re-establishes United’s position in English football after surrendering their title to Manchester City in such dramatic circumstances last season.
Roberto Mancini, the City manager, failed in his attempts to implore his board to move for the Dutch international, 29, who announced last month that he would not be entering negotiations to renew his contract at the Emirates Stadium, with his existing deal heading into its final 12 months.
That alone rocked Arsenal’s manager, Arsène Wenger, who believed the bond he had established with the player since he signed him eight years ago from Feyenoord would be enough to convince him to stay.
However, the statement merely acted to strengthen Ferguson’s desire to sign Van Persie, who scored 34 goals in English football last season, and he has spent the summer trying to bridge the gap between the two clubs.
Wenger had insisted he would not allow the player to go for less than £30m but Manchester United’s final offer is believed to be nearer to the £20m that was set aside for the forward. It could rise to £24m.
Wenger had favoured Van Persie moving to Juventus, who lodged a £10m bid at the start of the summer.
Ferguson spoke to Wenger on Monday in an attempt to broker a deal that Wenger was always reluctant to agree to, and talks developed quickly between the two clubs yesterday.
The player had privately set his heart on a move to Old Trafford and that was on the brink of completion last night when both Arsenal and Manchester United released statements saying a fee had been agreed.
Van Persie was due to head straight from the Netherlands’ friendly in Brussels against Belgium last night to have his medical in Manchester today.
Manchester United are believed to have prepared a deal which, including image rights, will land the player near the £200,000-a-week salary he wanted over the course of a five-year contract.
A statement on United’s website said: “Manchester United is pleased to announce it has reached agreement with Arsenal Football Club for the transfer of Robin van Persie. The deal is subject to a medical and the agreement of personal terms. A further announcement will be made in due course.”
Arsenal added their own statement: “Arsenal Football Club can confirm that terms have been agreed for the transfer of Robin van Persie to Manchester United. Van Persie will travel to Manchester on Thursday in order to agree personal terms and complete a medical ahead of the proposed move.”
Van Persie will become the first player to move directly to Old Trafford from Arsenal since Viv Anderson made the same switch 25 years ago.
He is also the latest in a succession of big names to flee the Emirates, following the high-profile departures of Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Gaël Clichy.
There could be further disappointment, with Barcelona still chasing Alex Song, who has admitted he was flattered by the interest of the Catalan giants.
In contrast, Manchester United have reaffirmed their position in the domestic game with the addition of last year’s double player of the year.