From Hero to Villain. Arsenal Talisman has broken fans hearts with his decision not to renew his contract
When the news broke on an uncomfortably humid afternoon in North London, that club captain Robin Van Persie had refused to sign a new contract with Arsenal, fans could be forgiven for getting a little hot under the collar.
It has been described as a major shock, but the more realistic fans among us will tell you that the warning signs were there. They stretch back as far as the great exodus of last summer which saw former captain Cesc Fabregas return to Barcelona and the infamous transfer of Samir Nasri to Manchester City, but the recent acquisitions of two left- footed strikers in Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud should have set the alarm bells ringing.
It undoubtedly used to be the case that those who decided to turn their back on the Gunners would live to regret their decision (just ask Hleb or Flamini), but in recent years the ‘curse’ seems to have been lifted. Fabregas has gone on to experience success with both Barcelona and Spain, while Nasri would be the first to tell us how happy he is with his switch to Manchester, having won the Premier league in his first season at the club.
In the wake of these major sales, Van Persie was handed the captains armband and the rest as they say, is history. He scored a remarkable 30 goals in 38 games, provided 9 assists and created an impressive 92 chances for his team mates as Arsenal clinched third place ahead of bitter rivals Spurs and secured a coveted champions league place for the 16th season in a row.
Arsenal struggled over the course of the year due to defensive frailties born out of a combination of both a lack of organisation and a string of injuries which crippled their back four.
Van Persie however, was a pivotal part of the clubs resurgence and the stat-men will argue that that without RVP last season, Arsenal would have finished well outside of the champions league spots (the strikers astonishing 39 goals and assists contributed a massive 27 points to Arsenals final tally). Van Persie earned the respect of his peers picking up the award for both the Players’ Football Association and Football Writers’ Association ‘Player of the Season’.
Arsenal fans have become increasingly frustrated at having to watch their best and most influential players leave the club on a seemingly annual basis; so perhaps we should not have been surprised to hear that the personal ambitions of the most prolific striker in the Premier League were not matched by the plans for the club held by chief executive Ivan Gazidis.
RVP is indeed an exceptional talent, and although some of his goals (vs. Spurs, Everton, Liverpool etc.) had Robin Van Persie… genius… perfection (among other superlatives) written all over them; followers of the club have become accustomed to such a high standard of football over the years.
Former striking legends such as Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and Ian Wright have all come and gone and the club has always found a way to continue and progress, prompting many Arsenal fans this evening to re- iterate that old cliché, that ‘no player is bigger than the club’.
One thing we would all do well to remember during these uncertain times is that in manager Arsene Wenger, we still have our biggest and brightest star. The genius behind the double winning sides of ’98 and ’02 as well as the invincible side of ’04 is becoming all too accustomed to having to rebuild his team and replace his ‘marquee’ players; so fans should rest easier in the knowledge that Wenger will find a way.
Looking to the future. Giroud in an Arsenal kit following his ‘dream move’ to North London
It’s also important to mention that unlike in previous transfer markets, where the manager has been accused of being ‘slow to react’; Wenger appears to have anticipated this ‘shock’ decision and already found his replacement. Olivier Giroud helped Montpellier to the league title last season and was joint top scorer in the division with 21 goals in 36 appearances.
Fans that would be inclined to remind me of both Giroud’s age and inexperience will do well to remember a young, skinny Van Persie who arrived from Feyenoord for under £3M and grew to become one of the finest strikers in the world under the management of Mr Wenger.
Just another Nasri?
So how can we be angry at a player who has brought us back, almost single-handedly, from the proverbial edge of oblivion? And more to the point, can we really treat Van Persie in the same vein as the likes of Adebayor and Nasri who left in order to bolster the size of their already packed pockets, when Van Persie is adamant that his decision was forced by his desire to simply bolster the size of his trophy collection?
Having been a fan of Robin Van Persie’s considerable talent since we first saw glimpses of his massive potential when he signed for the club in 2004, there was never any doubt that RVP was capable of reaching the incredible heights of last season, should he manage a run of games without injury. There is then at least some weight to the argument that he would have been a success whether he was at Arsenal or not.
However the fact remains that despite an injury-plagued career in North London, Arsene Wenger kept his faith in the Dutch striker and tailored a team to his needs in order to get the best out of him – loyalty which a large majority of aggrieved fans feel Van Persie should now return.
One incredible season, which for all we know may be as much as RVP is capable of giving, doesn’t seem to equate to the years of support which the fans showed Van Persie while he was laid out in the treatment room, nursing a never ending string of injuries and setbacks.
One thing is for sure, a move abroad will leave the fans devastated, of course, but Van Persie, like Henry and Fabregas, will retain legendary status and eventually be forgiven. A move north to Man City on the other hand, as has been strongly indicated by the press, and Van Persie will be stripped of his legacy and held in as low a regard by the Arsenal faithful as *Cashley Cole and *$amir Nasri before him.
Nasri with the Premier League Trophy following his infamous switch to City last summer
RVP had previously stated that he would not put pen to paper until he was certain that the respective people in charge were doing everything in their power to restore Arsenal to their previous glory and end the 7 year wait for a trophy.
The simple fact that it was a ‘disagreement’ over the way in which to move the club forward that led to a breakdown in communication between the club and player, has revealed the real issue at hand; a problem which will eventually eclipse the Van Persie saga and the realisation of a growing concern which has been in the back of every Gooners’ mind since the ‘Invincibles’ of 2004.
Robin admitted that talks between himself, Wenger and Gazidis broke down before financial terms or a contract could even be discussed; because of what appears to be a disparaging lack of ambition from the club, to restore Arsenal to their former glory.
Arsenal may have finished third last season but were a massive 19 points off the pace set by champions City, who are financially backed by billionaire Sheikh Mansour. Oil- rich City proved, just like Blackburn and Chelsea before them, that the Premier League crown does indeed have a price, and it seems that the problem alluded to by RVP in his statement, is that Arsenal are not prepared to spend the money required to compete with the financial ‘big boys’.
Arsenals’ refusal to break their arguably outdated wage structure is part of the reason why they boast massive profits at the end of each financial year in amongst clubs such as Chelsea and even Manchester United who regularly post huge losses.
It has become ingrained in the ‘Arsenal way’ of doing business; a philosophy which includes paying fair wages and spending well within their means in order to guarantee the long term future of the club; something the likes of Leeds, Portsmouth and now Rangers would have done well to observe.
Nevertheless, football has grown considerably over the last decade to become one of the most profitable investments in Sport and with the amount of money being poured into the European leagues, Arsenal are struggling to lure the best players in the game to North London when their wages could be doubled elsewhere.
Ultimately I get the impression that RVP did feel he owed it to the fans to restore Arsenal to the heights of 2004. He enjoyed a fantastic season, and it is fair to say that any striker who scores that many goals would expect a winners’ medal to go with it. I believe that RVP having recognised this, attempted to use his considerable status at the club, just as Rooney did last season to help force the board to act. However, unlike Rooney, RVP was met by a stern faced Gazidis who remains reluctant to loosen the purse strings – he was left with little alternative.
Van Persie still has one year left on his contract and Wenger’s initial reaction to the news, was that he should fulfil his commitment to the club, although given the current transfer policy; it seems unlikely that Gazidis and co. will allow Robin to leave for next to nothing next summer.
The club recently issued a statement declaring that they must respect Van Persie’s decision not to renew his contract but some of the major shareholders, such as Alisher Usmanov (who has now acquired around a 30% stake in the club), like the fans, feel as though the board could have done more to keep their captain this time, and that Arsenal have learnt nothing from the departures of previous ‘marquee’ players, as no new safe guards have been introduced to prevent it from happening again.
The real issue remains how Arsenal could have been allowed to fall to the point where Van Persie himself doesn’t feel his personal ambition can be met in an Arsenal shirt, and it is only a matter of time before the blame an anger currently being directed at the talismanic front man, shifts to where it truly rests; with the board.
In recent years Arsenal have played dazzling football and on numerous occasions found themselves in contention for league titles and cup triumphs. They have continued to fall short and many fans would agree that the squad always seems to look shy of one or two marquee signings in order to really threaten the likes of United, Chelsea and now City. Nevertheless when the transfer window rolls around each summer Arsenal fans open up their newspapers to find that their best players are ready to leave the club in search of more money and that their summer targets have opted to go elsewhere.
Simply put; football has changed; Arsenal refuses to.