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Robin van Persie's decline could spell an end to international career

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Just 16 months ago, Robin van Persie scored a wonderful flying header to draw the Netherlands level against Spain in their opening game of the 2014 World Cup.

The Dutch would go on to win the game 5-1, with Van Persie claiming a brace - oh how times have changed.

On Tuesday night, the 32-year-old headed in again, except this time it was into his own net and helped condemn his side to a qualification exit rather than resounding victory.

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The dramatic decline of the Netherlands national team has come as a shock to everyone - under Louis van Gaal, they finished third at last summer’s World Cup, narrowly missing out on the final itself.

It was a remarkable achievement, especially considering it was hardly a vintage Holland side, yet here they are, less than two years later, out of the European Championships before they've even begun.

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It’s unacceptable for a nation of their pedigree, and manager Danny Blind could soon follow his predecessor Guus Hiddink out of the exit door. It’s clear there are a lot of problems that need sorting out, not least the aging contingent of players.

One player who falls into that category is former Arsenal and Manchester United striker Robin van Persie, who has come to embody the Netherlands' decline since the World Cup.

WORLD CUP HERO

Van Persie finished the World Cup with four goals to his name and joint third highest goalscorer with Barcelona pair Neymar and Lionel Messi. His exceptional, well-improvised header against the Spanish quickly became a symbol of the tournament in Brazil and was nominated for the 2014 FIFA Puskas Award for best goal of the year.

Images of the Dutchman running to celebrate with Louis van Gaal on the touchline evoked belief amongst United fans that they would once again see the very best of Van Persie. After all, the striker went into the World Cup on the back of a poor campaign at club level, failing to repeat the heroics of his debut campaign.

The celebration said it all - a sprint to the touchline and a high five with his manager, this was a forward enjoying his football.

You’d be forgiven for thinking you were watching a different man earlier this month when images emerged of a glum-looking Van Persie refusing to celebrate a goal for his new side Fenerbahce whilst sat on the bench.

It’s remarkable how the jubilant forward of Brazil 2014 has become such a forlorn figure in such a short period of time.

RAPID DECLINE

So where did it all go wrong for the striker? Well, whilst the World Cup may have temporarily concealed it, the Dutchman was heading downhill long before that tournament - he never truly recovered from Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure.

He scored 26 goals in the Scotsman’s final season, firing United to the title, but under David Moyes the injuries that plagued his time at Arsenal returned and he suffered a dramatic loss of form.

Of course, United’s new manager, Van Gaal, was supposed to have the answers to the Red Devils’ problems with their star striker. It was natural for fans to assume that because Van Persie was performing for Van Gaal at international level, then he would do the same at club level, but that was not the case.

The decline continued and by the end of the season it was apparent that the forward would be on his way out of Old Trafford, leaving many to ponder whether Arsenal got the better deal back in 2012.

A move to Turkish side Fenerbahce promised a fresh start for Van Persie this summer, away from the glare of the British media. Like so much else in his career over the last two years, though, it has not gone according to plan.

The 32-year-old is already reported to be unhappy in his new surroundings and has found game time more limited than he would have expected. Two and a half years ago, Van Persie was emphatically volleying home against Aston Villa to wrap up United’s 20th league title; now, he finds himself warming a Turkish bench.

It is not the end many would've anticipated for one of the greatest strikers of the modern era and certainly, it would've been unthinkable to the Old Trafford crowd watching Van Persie that night against Villa that the Dutchman would be where he is today.

END OF AN ERA

The question is, then, what now for Van Persie? At 32, he will feel that he can at least manage another two years at the top, but his international career appears to be all but over.

And though he has refused to retire from international duty, he could face exile if there’s another change of manager. Van Persie was left on the bench for his country's must-win qualifier against the Czech Republic, which just about sums up his demise - he’s gone from hero to has-been in an incredibly short amount of time.

Ronald Koeman is seen as a potential replacement for Danny Blind should the Dutch FA decide to cut their losses, something which looks increasingly likely.

It’s difficult to see, though, how Van Persie would fit into a side that needs to be moving on and building for the future, rather than dwelling on the past. He is not alone, as a number of senior players will face the chop in the aftermath of this disastrous qualifying campaign.

Van Persie has been surprisingly linked to Barcelona in the last few days, but such a move would surely only represent one last pay packet for the striker. The fact is that whatever the Dutchman does next, his best years are well and truly behind him.

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