Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance. These are the five stages of loss as outlined in the Kubler-Ross model. We will be tourists in these destinations over the next few days. Some of us will take the express train to acceptance via depression. Others will soak up the sights of denial for a little while longer. Most will probably pitch a tent and have a good old William Gallas style sit in in anger town. Use factor 25 if you plan to extend your stay there, can get pretty hot from what I hear.
As for me? Well I believe I have explained before that I’m usually a bullet train to acceptance kind of guy. But as I write, less than 24 hours after the deal with the Red Devil was confirmed, I find my journey slower than usual. I think there must be engineering works and I’m awaiting a replacement bus service via depression. This one stings and no doubt. Not because he has gone. But because of where he has gone. And if it hurts you and I (and it does, let us be honest, we owe ourselves that much) then you can probably imagine how much it hurt Arsene Wenger.
Adebayor and Anelka had become cancerous for team morale. The former had stopped producing in any case. Petit turned into a massive pansy who wouldn’t have a knee operation and could barely run. Overmars’ injuries were catching up with him. Vieira was not as bombastic in the engine room as he once was and Henry was riddled with sciatica. Fabregas wanted to go back home. Cole and Nasri? Well, we convinced ourselves that they were just mercenaries lured to their new employers by the filthy lucre.
In all of the above scenarios there has been some kind of rhyme or reason to cushion the blow. Many of those sales have worked out well and this one may well do too in the fullness of time. But van Persie didn’t go for the nouveau oil money. He’s at his physical peak. I’m sure he will be well remunerated at United, but if we’re honest, he went there because he feels he has a better chance of success. If you’re brutally honest and jab your finger in the wound a little, you’ll see the logic.
Manchester United lost the league on goal difference alone last season. They’ve added the Golden Boot winner and have Nemanja Vidic fit again. (Vidic is going to be like a new … oh balls, I can’t do it). A drastic improvement at both ends of the field. Rooney playing in behind van Persie, with Kagawa creating an attacking impetus from midfield and Valencia getting to the by line and hitting low crosses at them all day. It’s rather formidable if you ask me.
The comforting gazebo of denial is leading to some widespread revisionism too. The line that van Persie has only really enjoyed one good season at Arsenal makes his status as Arsenal’s 8th highest goalscorer of all time look rather incongruous. I also happen to think the “injury prone” line is a hand that is overplayed. Of course van Persie has spent a good chunk of time in the treatment room, but it’s the manner of the afflictions that’s the key. They’ve almost exclusively been impact injuries. Kicks to the ankle or twists of the knee.
I don’t often recall watching van Persie crumple onto the turf only to subsequently think, “Really? Three months for that?” The problems haven’t been confined to one area either. Players such as Abou Diaby and Michael Owen are injury prone because their muscles surrender under little duress. Van Persie isn’t hobbling off every three games with a tight calf muscle. There’s an argument that he adopted an awkward body shape when protecting the ball which made him more susceptible to kicks and twists, but I well imagine the last eighteen months suggests that has been identified and rectified if indeed it was ever an issue. The bottom line is, if Robin van Persie had signed a four year contract in May, the amount of Arsenal fans questioning the contract on the basis of his injury record would be conspicuously lower.
There’s just no denying that the transfer is a kick in the balls for us as fans (and van Persie, with his heavily bathetic “hey, you guys” statement, can hardly be mystified by the hurt the supporters will feel) and a slap in the face of the club. On the face of it, it’s a confirmation of our place in the pecking order and we can’t hide behind the mercenary tag or point to oil rich billionaires this time. The club’s response is all important.
Juicing Ferguson for £24m is only the good business it is being trumpeted as if we use it to make ourselves stronger. There’s an old saying about there being little point in being the richest man in the grave yard and that old adage applies here. The only way to come out is to come out fighting. Invest the money and invest it well and win football games. We’ve been slapped in the face here and we all know it. The only riposte is to come up swinging.
For the supporters, we’re at a crossroads now with regards our relationship with the game and with the club. As it stands, we probably have more bilious songs about ex players than we have anthems for our own. It feels like pretty much every other fixture next season will see somebody booed heartily. Do we become desensitised and accept this sort of move as part of the modern game? Or do we carry on booing, hissing and hating? Viewed through the prism of modern context, Nicolas Anelka’s move to Real Madrid looks par the course.
Before people are minded to chime in and pine for a non existent age of never ending player loyalty, when you could go out and leave your doors open without fear of Joey Barton ransacking your living room, players have never felt the same about our clubs as us. Nor should they be expected to. Even Charlie George had agreed a move to Tottenham until Derby came along with better terms. The opportunities are simply greater for players and perhaps some of us can use the van Persie sale as a kind of cleansing agent.
Purge ourselves of the bile, detach ourselves from the personalities, or our perceptions of the personalities and focus on the club. That’s what we’re supporting in essence and in that pursuit, we find the players as expendable as they find us. If van Persie had ruptured his cruciate ligaments last September and missed the whole season, we’d have spent the summer urging the club to sell him.
It looks as though van Persie may be holding the door open for Alex Song on his way out too. I’ve said before that I can take or leave him, though I think Anam appraised his role and how it has been perceived very well. Interestingly, Jonathan Wilson penned a piece on Brazil this week offering that their key weakness has been the rigidity imposed on their midfielders, which I think ties up with Anam’s article neatly. Song has added some valuable strings to his bow. It’s not realistic to expect him to do nothing but destroy in the centre circle and it’s unfair to expect him to cover the entire defensive third on his own. The ball can switch from right to left to centre very quickly and it’s unrealistic to expect one man to cover all of that ground without back up. Don’t get me wrong, it should be his principle job, but not one that he bears responsibility for alone.
However, I wrote a while ago of my concern that Song was getting ideas above his station. The noises I’m hearing suggest that those fears may be well founded. It sounds as though the tribulations of the last few summers have led to Wenger’s patience expiring with those whose commitment is less than total. That’s certainly a conga line I can get behind.
Yet behind the scenes, the club needs to examine why its big players don’t want to extend their deals. We’ve been active in the market since the last days of August 2011. But our starting line up is unrecognisable compared to two years ago; it’s been a perpetual state of flux. We are left relying on a fair few new additions hitting the ground running very quickly this season. Nevertheless, come Saturday afternoon, when it all starts again, let’s buckle ourselves in and enjoy the ride. I can’t wait. LD.
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