Let's be honest, deep down we all feared that Robin van Persie wouldn't sign a new contract. As Arsenal fans, we've seen these situations all too many times in the last few seasons. If Robin had decided to go quietly, we'd have accepted it and understood his desire to leave. He'd have gone with the respect of the fans for giving everything for Arsenal, and would have been remembered as a great player for the club. Yes, it would have been massively disappointing for fans, but we'd have lived with it.
Then there was this. Robin van Persie's statement on his official website was damning of the club, and horribly misjudged. I'll be surprised if van Persie wrote it himself, because I'm struggling to believe that he would be so blunt about the club when financially we don't have to sell him, when he's still club captain and when the statement wasn't expected by the club.
Most Arsenal fans have been through the mire enough times in the last few summers to not take van Persie's side of the story and not have sympathy for him. I can understand some fans siding with him about the different directions of the club, but ultimately Arsene Wenger is never going to spend the same amount of money as clubs like Manchester City. He never has done, never will do, and wouldn't want to compromise Arsenal's financial position. Wenger's stand point on this shouldn't have been news to Robin van Persie. He's been at the club eight years, and were it not for Wenger's policy, Robin wouldn't have been given the chances he had as a youngster, wouldn't have been backed despite his injury problems, and wouldn't have become the striker he is today.
I fear Robin van Persie has been badly advised both in what to do with his footballing future, and in making this statement. Being cynical, I couldn’t help but read it as there being a financial reasoning behind it. That has then been emphasised today by Alisher Usmanov’s letter to the board that emerged, with him questioning the direction of the club and why we keep losing our best players. The whole saga seems like a power struggle, and it’s being played out in an ugly public way. Usmanov said he doesn’t want to create conflicts in the club, he’s done just that with the letter. Robin van Persie said he has huge respect for Arsene Wenger and the club, however he’s disrespected them by making his position at the club untenable and by criticising them in the statement without notifying the club that such a statement was forthcoming.
In the world of modern football, despite what Robin mentioned in the statement, there seems to be a larger financial motivation to everything players do. Look at the van Persie case. If he stays at Arsenal, he might be bluffing to get an improved contract offer as it’ll realistically be the last big one of his career. If he goes, he’ll earn more than he did at Arsenal. It’s a very cynical view as to why he released the statement, but I can’t get away from the image of his agent getting some pound signs in his eyes and persuading him that he can do better. Trying to hide that behind the club’s strategy and wanting to bring the club back to glory days, doesn’t wash well with supporters. If his goal really was to bring the club back to glory days, he’d stay around and help do that.
The part of the statement that really annoyed me was where he said he personally had a great season. It’s undoubtedly true that he personally had a great season, but it seems to me to show a complete disregard for the rest of the squad that he was a part of. It’s probably cynical of me again, but Robin is effectively saying that we need to spend more on top class players because he doesn’t think the current players are good enough. Without Walcott or Song’s assists, Robin wouldn’t have scored some of the goals he did. We know last summer’s transfer activity wasn’t ideal, but we finished higher in the league and had more points. It was only a small improvement, but it was an improvement from an unlikely position. We’ve made some good early statements in the transfer market this summer with Podolski and Giroud arriving. Personally I believe you can show ambition as a club without spending money, but it seems that’s not good enough for some players.
The biggest shame in all of this, is that we didn’t think Robin van Persie was that type of player. Personally, I thought more of him. Are things really so bad at the club that he had to effectively publicly demand his sale? I highly doubt it. Robin van Persie could have gone on to be an Arsenal legend if he’d stayed and gone on to achieve his self-written goal of taking the club back to the glory days. Instead he’ll just be another good player that left when the going got tough, or when a bigger pay packet was available. We can’t argue that because of the money City spend, there is annoyingly a bigger chance of them winning trophies, but it isn’t the be all and end all. He only has to look at himself to know Arsenal can develop lesser known players into world class ones.
I might be wrong in my assessment of the statement, however apart from trying to force a move now, I can’t see why he did it. Maybe Robin was trying to get fans on his side by hoping they’d agree with him that we should be going in a different direction. However fans are strongly embedded in the ‘Arsenal Way’. Arsene Wenger has sold players with a poor attitude before, and he’ll do so again, however good they are or important they are to the team.
So where does it leave Arsenal as a club and van Persie as a player at the club? The Arsenal statement released in response last night was understandable, and I think there’ll be an angry internal reaction to the van Persie statement. However finite what van Persie said might seem, I fear this saga could run and run during the summer. Understandably, Arsenal shouldn’t want to sell him as there is still time on his contract and as he’s a world class striker that we’ve built ourselves. However how can he walk back in the dressing room when he returns for pre-season after effectively saying the team aren’t good enough? How can he captain the team when he’s public expressed disagreement with many aspects of the club? The way it’s ending is ugly, but I think it’s best for him to be sold quickly so as we can move on. Giroud and Podolski are a start, but we’ll need to reinvest the money we get in another striker, and to improve other areas of the squad. We’ve also got to persuade other players not to follow Robin out the door.
However we shouldn’t just give in to Robin’s wishes so easily. We need to get the right deal for Arsenal Football Club, not for Robin van Persie. He’s still under contract, and if he has to play for us again, he could have to make an embarrassing U-turn. Plus if he goes, we know that it’s still unlikely to get a full season out of him. We’ve got one out of him in eight years. We’ve been loyal to him, but unfortunately that isn’t being replicated when there are other carrots being dangled in front of him, be those financial ones, or ones from agents, or from other clubs.
I’ll finish with two quotes that Robin van Persie would do well to remember. On signing his current contract, Robin said “My heart is with Arsenal and I just can’t picture myself in a different shirt. I just can’t see it now because I love this club so much. If you look at the last five years, look at the steps I have made every season, if you look at the support the boss and the whole club gave me, the fans gave me, my team-mates gave me – this is the right decision”.
Football heroes come and go, and can be replaced. Legends are those that are remembered forever. Robin could have been one of those if he followed what he said when signing that contract.
A certain legend, who returned gloriously last season, once said “If you play hard and respect the shirt, they remember that.” Thierry did that, and will be remembered. Robin has disrespected the club and manager, and will be forgotten.