You know, in my lunchbreak on Wednesday I actually penned my entire column for this week. It was a pleasant, if somewhat sprawling review of Euro 2012 and its possible implications for the club. Then when I arrived home from work on Wednesday evening, it was very quickly obvious I’d have to rip it up and toss it in the digital bin! (It is recorded for posterity, here on the off chance you’re remotely interested).
Obviously, now there is only one topic of discussion on the agenda. In divorce, one has to consider the three most affected sides of the fallout. The husband, the wife and the children. In this case, it’s important to look at the van Persie party’s statement from the point of view of its affected triumvirate. Himself, the club and of course, the supporters. We’re the ones that sit weepy eyed in our bedrooms as the sound of mummy and daddy’s raised voices echo up the staircase. There, there Gooners, it’s not your fault.
Football is an emotional game and players have a way of conducting our heartstrings. It’s not surprising or even incorrect to see disappointment and anger from the fans. We shouldn’t be overly surprised about van Persie’s decision either. Personally, I never held out much hope of him signing, but I did maintain the belief that we could keep him for the last year of his deal. Clearly that’s an impossibility now. The decision not to renew his contract isn’t what’s caused the disillusionment; it’s the rather pithy statement which, to all intents and purposes, amounts to a transfer request that grates.
It’s hard to swallow because most of us, myself included, felt Robin was different. Whilst I’m sure we’re not all naïve enough to believe that he was an Arsenal fan in the true sense of the word, there was a sense that he got what it was to be an Arsenal player. I think we all hoped that, at the very least, he’d leave with our good wishes. But we’re Arsenal fans; we’ve been round this block many times before, right?
The Kubler-Ross model would have it that there are five stages of grief. Personally, I’m the sort that moves to Stage 5 – Acceptance, pretty damn quickly when it comes to footballers. This is borne partly of my relationship with football and partly because of my relationship with life. Every player needs replacing eventually. Even if they stay until they retire, at some point their limbs give out and we all have to move on. It’s the club we are married to; the players, the managers, the board and everything else are merely organs that live off of it temporarily. They all go in the end. Except Ken Friar. He’ll still be there when the club gets taken over by a consortium of little green dudes from Venus.
I’m sure many of you will relate when I say I’ve said goodbye in life to people worth more of my emotional investment than footballers. It’s worth keeping that perspective. It’s not apathy or torpor that cocoons me from feeling betrayed or upset. I just ask myself a simple question. Will I still be there next season? Will my friends and family? The answer is a resounding yes. It depends where you extract your joy from a football club I suppose and I accept that that in itself isn’t good reason to just say que sera, sera to every problem the club faces. But that is my bottom line, it’s why I’m in this thing and the malleable affections of a player cannot touch that. It doesn’t make it right, but it makes it ok.
From the player’s perspective, Robin has burned his bridges with the supporters and the club. I’m not convinced he’ll care too much about that. He’s not after popularity here. The message is clear. He wants to leave. This statement, with its below the belt blow at the CEO in its final sentence, its position of out and out mutiny at the club, is designed to make his position at the club untenable. For all of our talk about Robin’s diminishing status in our eyes, this statement will achieve what he and his advisors want it to.
It’ll push through a transfer, whilst safeguarding his signing on fee at his next club. A transfer request that doesn’t preclude him from the financial rewards that an actual transfer request would revoke. In that respect, it’s a cunning piece of legalese. The noises coming from the club suggest that they were well and truly prepared to hold van Persie to the duration of his contract. We can see from his announcement that he definitely doesn’t want that, hence the quite aggressive play from his advisors.
It gets murky when you start to analyse the timing of the announcement. The last sentence is a rather transparent dig at the CEO for being “on holiday” as he puts it. Firstly, releasing the statement whilst Gazidis is on the other side of the Atlantic is deliberately orchestrated and, if you ask me, pretty fucking cowardly. It’s clearly a subtle attempt to turn the fans against the club. Anyone that thinks the CEO of a football club and a company the size of Arsenal is on a sun lounger with his phone turned off isn’t dealing in reality.
It strikes me as a petty dig too. The club have flatly denied that he is sunning himself. I have it on good authority he planned to fly back via Malaysia for work purposes. So the swipe at his “holiday” is a rather low one. Many oranje fans might care to point out that the first thing van Persie did after Holland limped out of the Euros was to fuck off to the beach. Not that he shouldn’t have done, you understand, but it’s a bit hypocritical to then deliberately bring Gazidis’ trip to everyone’s attention in that way.
On the part of the club, what we do now know for sure is that Podolski and Giroud were enlisted as replacements. I don’t think it’s a fantastic leap of logic to suggest van Persie made his intentions clear to Gazidis and Wenger at their meeting in May. My interpretation is that they would have asked Robin to keep his counsel whilst they went about buying his replacements, so as not to be held over a barrel in the market.
It’s probably therefore, not a major coincidence that van Persie broke ranks just hours after Lukas Podolski officially completed his move. Robin clearly felt he had held up his end of the bargain. Given the unsolicited manner of the announcement, made without the club’s knowledge, I’d imagine Arsenal would beg to differ and would have appreciated his silence a little longer. That’s why the whole thing has become such a saga. This was an act of war from the van Persie party and everybody knows it.
So what now? Well, clearly he has to go. For all the talk of holding him to his deal, whether because you think he’s still a good player that can offer us a good season, or because you want to see him rot in the reserves, it’s not just realistic. You can’t have an unhappy player that has made it clear he’s willing to be antagonistic. He has to go and, ideally, as quickly as possible. The last remaining vestige of hope is that he goes overseas. It would be a huge blow to the club’s pride and it’s standing if he joins the exodus to Eastlands. I’d much rather we were low balled on the transfer fee and put him on a plane quickly so we can put this behind us.
I very much doubt that will happen. Robin’s drawn his line in the sand, the gloves are off and he’s shown the club he’s willing to play dirty. For their part, Arsenal simply cannot allow him to move to Manchester City, for that would be the final admission that we can’t make that last jump to super club status, a leap we’ve been trying in vain to make for the last six years or so. What could have been a straightforward exit has become a battle of wills. Those battles tend to be long and bloody. Ultimately, whilst mummy and daddy fight, it is us, the children, who will cradle ourselves in our rooms, our hands cupping our ears. LD.
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