Van Persie reaches striking greatness

Posted by Mark Payne

Robin van Persie's hat trick against Hungary on Friday elevated him to the position of highest Dutch goal scorer in history. Considering some of the other strikers to have pulled on the shirt for the Oranje, this is no mean feat. He has now outscored luminaries such as Johan Cruyff, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Patrick Kluivert and Dennis Bergkamp -- his place at the top table is assured.

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Although there are more international fixtures now than in the past, and indeed a large number of friendlies and qualifiers against weaker nations, van Persie's achievement still stands comparison with other historical markers.

This is an accomplished Dutch side that reached the previous World Cup final and is used to facing top-quality opposition. In addition, van Persie's 41 goals have arrived in just 80 appearances, better than one goal every two games. As such, his strike rate is better than teammate Wayne Rooney's for England, 37 goals in 85 appearances, and Thierry Henry's record for France, 51 in 123 games.

The strikers who are out of sight in terms of goals-per-game are all from the distant past, Pele with 77 in 92 caps for Brazil, Ferenc Puskas with 84 goals in 85 games for Hungary and the unmatchable Gerd Muller with 68 goals in just 62 appearances for Germany. Nonetheless, van Persie can legitimately claim to being one of the best strikers in the world, perhaps even history now too, but he is far too modest to even contemplate that.

Manchester United have contributed several players to this exclusive club. Bobby Charlton still holds the goals scored record for England with 49 several decades after he hung up his boots. Charlton was almost a freak of nature, able to score from distance with either foot and amassed his tally while playing in a variety of positions in the front six. Almost no modern player is comparable.

The underappreciated Dimitar Berbatov is Bulgaria's all-time top marksman with 48 goals in 78 matches. That is evidence of hard work from someone many consider to be lacking in drive. It is easy to forget that Berbatov is worshipped in his homeland. With those statistics fresh in the mind, you can understand why.

Charlton's 1960s teammate Denis Law is also Scotland's top scorer. Although technically level with Liverpool's Kenny Dalglish on 30 goals, Law's strike is by far the more impressive feat considering he only played for Scotland on 55 occasions. Dalglish, on the other hand, played for the Scots 102 times including under the management of Sir Alex Ferguson in 1986.

The current player with best chance of reaching these heights is, of course, Rooney. He knows it too and is working towards Charlton's record bit by bit. He is not the first to try though; Michael Owen was considered certain to reach the milestone for years before fading away, Gary Linekar was cruelly taken off against Sweden in 1992 with 48 England goals to his name. If Rooney manages to score 12 goals on the way to a successful England campaign in Brazil next year, many are sure to be happy.

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