Robin van Persie was classed an enigma when he arrived at Arsenal six years ago from Feyenoord. He was hugely talented, but was perceived to have attitude problems after a series of run-ins with his coaches. Ronald de Boer, the former Holland international, has watched the progress of his compatriot with interest since those days as a temperamental teenager.
He had his doubts that van Persie could meet expectations and become a great player. Now De Boer has no such reservations and draws comparisons between Van Persie and a legend of the Oranje. "For me, he has the quality to be as good as Marco van Basten [the former AC Milan striker]," said De Boer, who played with such distintion at Ajax and Barcelona. "His left foot is like gold. Van Basten was one of the best and had to stop early, but could have been more legendary.
"If Van Persie can stay fit and continue to perform at the highest level, he can achieve that. "In Holland, we always had high expectations about him when he was younger, but he never fulfilled his potential until probably this season. "Before, there was a doubt about whether he could keep his head straight and focused. Now he doesn't lose his head, he is very professional and calm. He has matured and it has made him a better player."
Van Persie has flourished since their departures of Thierry Henry and Emmanuel Adebayor from north London. He has thriven on the responsibility of being the focus of the attack and, now 26, is also entrusted with the captaincy in the absence of the injured Cesc Fabregas. Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, has admitted their challenge for the Premier League and Champions League would have been stronger had van Persie not missed almost six months of the season with an ankle injury.
De Boer concurs and says Holland can reap the benefits of his enforced rest at this summer's World Cup finals. "He was fantastic before the injury," he added. "When Adebayor left, Van Persie took over the attack, created and scored goals, and became an important player for Arsenal. "They looked a very strong side when he was there and any team would miss him. In a selfish way his absence could be a good thing for Holland. He will now be fresher for the World Cup and hungry to do well because he has missed so much for Arsenal.
"This will be the perfect stage for him to show what a top player he has now become." Arsenal will hope Van Persie can do that in the final two league games to help the club finish their season on a high, starting with the trip to Blackburn today. But, as Manchester United and Chelsea will testify, Ewood Park has this season become a difficult place for any visiting side. A top-10 finish is still possible for Rovers and Sam Allardyce, the Blackburn manager, hopes last week's golfing break in Scotland will provide an end-of-season zest for his side.
"Earlier this year we went to Dubai and that also worked as we had another surge of results," he told reporters. firstname.lastname@example.org Blackburn Rovers v Arsenal, 8pm, Showsports 1 & 2