The Strike: Robin Van Persie’s volley was Man United’s last truly great moment

It was the best of times, it’s since been the worst of times.

It was April 2013 at Old Trafford and it was the epoch of belief for Manchester United.

The Red Devils were on the verge of sealing an unprecedented 20th league title after wrenching it back from their noisy neighbours Manchester City, who had won it the previous year on goal difference in the most dramatic of circumstances.

Sir Alex Ferguson was the undisputed mastermind of this latest United triumph and fans were still completely in the dark that he would be standing down from the club in a matter of weeks.

Everything was rosy at the club after balance had been restored at Manchester in a season which would see United finish 11 points above City, their nearest Premier League rivals.

The title was sealed with a fine 3-0 victory against Aston Villa with all the goals courtesy of a certain Robin Van Persie, the last of many Fergie masterstrokes which saw the prolific striker make that rare move from Arsenal to Old Trafford.

There were whispers that Van Persie, who celebrated his 35th birthday this week, was past his prime and too injury-prone to make a huge difference at United, but he put those to bed by finishing as the league’s top scorer and was largely responsible for the shift of power in Manchester.

The second goal of United’s win against Aston Villa is one of those special moments which will live long in the memory of their fans.

Wayne Rooney played a delightful ball which glided over the defence and fell perfectly in the path of the onrushing Van Persie who connected with it first time on the volley to guide it into the corner past a helpless Brad Guzan.

The vision and precision of Rooney’s pass combined with the incredible technique and finesse of Van Persie’s shot made the goal an obvious choice for Match of the Day’s Goal of the Season.

It was a moment of sheer class that United fans had become accustomed to under Fergie and it’s a moment that stands out when reminiscing upon those glory glory days of Man United.

In truth, it wasn’t the best United team, suffering five losses and conceding 43 goals.

They didn’t get very far in any cup competition and didn’t play the free-flowing fast-paced football that was so closely associated with Ferguson’s reign at the club.

However, for this one goal, everything aligned and everything was perfect before the misery that has dogged the subsequent years.

Only two weeks after this win, Ferguson announced his retirement and David Moyes was appointed his successor – an impossible job to take on but one he still did badly.

Despite throwing money around in the way they used to criticise Manchester City for, success has been hard to come by, with only an FA Cup, a League Cup and a Europa League adding to their bursting trophy cabinet in the next five years.

League dominance of the like epitomised in the 2012/13 season seems a very long way off, and though Jose Mourinho came the closest yet to reclaiming the title last season by finishing second, he couldn’t have been further from a rampant Manchester City.

But five years on, it’s clear to see that Robin Van Persie’s sublime volley was the last truly great moment for Manchester United.