• Manchester United manager says striker signing pivotal
• 'He's made as big an impact as Eric Cantona'
Manchester United were crowned champions for a 20th time at Old Trafford thanks to an inspirational display from their No20, Robin van Persie, who scored a first-half hat-trick to lead them to the title in a resounding 3-0 win over Aston Villa.
Van Persie's second strike, a 13th-minute volley, was hailed by Sir Alex Ferguson as "the goal of the century", with the manager stating the recruit from Arsenal on a £24m deal last summer has been pivotal to United's triumph. "He's been unbelievable. I think that he has to take a lot of the credit. I think his goals tell you that, his performance levels told you that. But I'm sure Robin would be saying what a great bunch of players he's had with him."
Van Persie has 24 Premier League goals in his debut season at the club. "When you identify a great player coming to the end of his contract, you go for him no matter who," said Ferguson of his decision to buy the Dutchman. "In terms of impact he has made as big an impact as any player I can imagine. [Eric] Cantona was an incredible impact player, I've had some great strikers, maybe 10 great strikers. We had an expectation of him. He was sensational last year, but Arsène [Wenger] said he was better than I'd think after I'd done the deal and he was right. He has never disappointed us. He has been unbelievable, his early form was fantastic. He had a dry spell, as most strikers do, but he has come back from that and he was unbelievable tonight."
Of the volley, Ferguson said: "It was goal of the century for me. It was marvellous – the technique with his head down, over the ball and just perfect timing. It was a magnificent strike. He scored exactly the same goal against Arsenal. He is in his mature years and winning the league tonight meant a lot to him."
Van Persie opened the scoring in the second minute before completing his hat-trick after 33 minutes. Yet the 29-year-old was more pleased to have won his first title. "It doesn't matter who scored, as long as we won the game," he said. "From the first minute, everyone played well and it was great to score so early and a great win for us. I am very happy but it is weird. I had to wait so long for my first title. It is a great feeling. It is a fantastic team and fantastic players. It is a championship for every single one of them. The staff, the managers, the physios. This is our 20th title, it is deserved. It [the second goal] was one of the best goals. I only had to time it right."
Ferguson's team have a 16-point lead over Manchester City, the dethroned champions, and can set a Premier League record total of 96 if they win their four remaining matches. He was dismissive of Roberto Mancini, the City manager, who has claimed that while United deserve the crown, his side have the greater quality.
"We are a far better team than Manchester City at beating other teams," Ferguson said, focusing on United's consistency. "I read his quote and he is right in one respect. The games between us there was nothing in it but in the other games it has been different. He doesn't recognise that we have been better in the other games. If you look at the derby games we've had, apart from that stupid game which cost us the title [the 6-1 last season], we have been close."
Some critics believe this is not a vintage United side but Ferguson said: "It must bear comparison. I'm trying to think of a player who has scored a goal like that [of Van Persie's]. Rafa [da Silva] will end up being compared to [Gary] Neville, [Phil] Jones, [Rio] Ferdinand and [Nemanja] Vidic are comparable to all the defenders we have had. I'm not saying they are better but great players are great players. Nostalgia does play tricks."
"I think we have a nucleus of players who are young enough and we expect them to improve. It's not asking too much of players to improve."
Ferguson believes that Jones has the potential to become the "greatest" United player. "I think Jones may be one of the best players we have ever signed. He has such a massive influence, instinct, reading of the game. He has a drive about him," he said.
Wayne Rooney, who was again played in midfield by Ferguson, said: "It's what we've worked all year for. We fully deserve it. We won this game in the first half and it is a fantastic night for us. When you lose the title, it is hard to take. It wasn't a nice feeling last time. We have all dug in deep and done fantastic to put ourselves in this position.
"You can never take anything for granted in football and thankfully it is now done. The manager has great desire and a winning mentality. We all buy into that and want to do well for the club. It's been a great season for me. We have won the league title, that is what you play for."