The bottom line is that I want to win trophies with Arsenal, not with anybody else. I know you can win trophies in many countries and in many ways, but I want to do that in our way and in an Arsenal shirt.
‘I’m sure I could win things at another team in another country, but would it feel like our trophy, my trophy? I’m not sure it would. Anything we win here will come from the heart and that’s what I want. It’s my dream and I see no point in speaking about other teams when I have these dreams. I think other people know that about me; I’m just hungry to win with Arsenal and that’s it – Robin van Persie, February 2011
I use the quote above not simply to highlight that footballers talk a load of old rubbish, but to show how much things have changed since van Persie made that statement on the eve of the Carling Cup final against Birmingham.
I don’t doubt he meant it back then. Perhaps it was idealistic, perhaps unrealistic, but in just over 12 months to go from that most worthy of stances to very publicly questioning the manager who stood by him through countless injuries and believed in his talent, the direction of the club he claimed to love, and to then leave for Manchester United, knowing exactly what it would do to his Arsenal legacy, suggests he’s done an about turn and his position has changed completely.
In the Guardian this morning Amy Lawrence touches on the meeting that van Persie and his advisers had with Arsene Wenger and Ivan Gazidis and says that a series of ‘outlandish’ demands from the captain let the club know that a new contract was unlikely to be signed. In a way, whether he knew it or not, he did us a favour. No football club should ever let itself be dictated to by any player, regardless of his talent or importance, and it meant Arsenal knew that a replacement would be required.
As it is we signed two forwards. An out and out central striker in Olivier Giroud and the more versatile Lukas Podolski. Since then we’ve added the outstanding Santi Cazorla to the team as well. Those who suggested the club’s business was being done to appease van Persie and that he had only released his statement to pressurise the Arsenal into improving the team couldn’t have been more wrong. We were ready to offer him a bumper package but such were the nature of his demands that it was never tabled. While you’d expect a manager to at least listen and be open to a player’s constructive suggestions about what the team might need, van Persie went far beyond that leaving Arsenal with no choice but to plan for his departure.
If the meeting wasn’t enough, he released his risible statement in July, trying to curry favour with fans who idolised him, who loved him for the goals he scored and for the fact he seemed to get what it was to be a Gooner. The backlash was almost immediate, nobody was fooled with his chummy ‘you guys’ guff, and the release, just one day later, of a statement by Usmanov always felt suspiciously timed to me. If he and his agent thought burning his bridges at Arsenal would bring about a raft of big money offers from Europe’s biggest clubs then they were disappointed. Only three teams reacted. Man City, who are interested in every player ever simply because they can be; Juventus, with whom it’s suggested van Persie had reached agreement on huge salary package but which left the Italians without enough money to tempt Arsenal to sell; and Manchester United, a team more in need of a midfield than an expensive striker.
When it came right down to it, and with the season just days away, United was the only option left. And as much as it’s disappointing to see him go there there really wasn’t any choice, not for him, nor for us. You can’t keep a player under circumstances like these, and the best we could do was make as much money as possible from the deal. Reports of a £24m fee (around £2m of which is in add-ons) represents excellent business. But I don’t think when van Persie and his people started this ball rolling they expected to end up at Manchester United. I can’t believe that after all the time he spent with this club that he really, genuinely wanted to go there.
They’ll pay him £200,000+ a week by all accounts, and to my mind that makes this move as much about money as if he’d gone to City. I know United have a far better pedigree than their neighbours and are a team that always challenges for the title, but let’s not be blind to the fact that the money is a big factor in this also. Which brings me back to van Persie’s quotes at the start of this blog. What has changed so fundamentally that his desire to win with Arsenal has seen him denigrate the club, the manager who has done so much for him, the fans who sang his name so proudly and sign for one of most bitter rivals, putting us through another protracted summer saga?
I’ve said it before that the perspectives of footballer and fans are very different. Ultimately it’s just a job to them, for us it’s a lifetime commitment, but in February 2011 Arsenal fans and van Persie were singing from the same hymn sheet. He understood, he knew what we felt, he wanted to do things the Arsenal way, yet in just over 12 months his mind has been changed completely and he’s willing to flush all those great moments down the toilet. Anyone who’s heard him speak throughout his career will know he’s an intelligent guy and at the end of the day is responsible for his own actions, but it’s hard not to think he’s been badly advised.
When people are chipping away at you, in your ear about how you’re not being treated right, not being paid enough, not being looked after, then it must have an affect. Perhaps he’s got an issue with the manager, perhaps he truly wants to win things more than he wants to win things at Arsenal, perhaps he’s disillusioned with the fact Arsenal find it difficult to hang onto their best players, and certainly we can all understand the latter. It’s an issue that the club have to look at. If the circumstances of Cesc’s departure were somewhat unique and not based on financial improvement, too many others have been and our inability to compete in terms of wages has cost us players that the manager, at least, did not want to lose but had no choice but to let go.
Yet this summer we’ve been proactive. We’ve known van Persie was going to go so we went out and bought Podolski and Giroud to replace him and Cazorla to help supply their ammunition. Even if the sale of van Persie so close to the start of the season is not ideal, we’re not in the same kind of mess we were last summer. I don’t think there was ever much expectation he was going to stay, his statement made that clear and as other players have shown if you want to sign a new deal it can be done and dusted without all this drama.
Are the accustations that we’re a selling club accurate? Yes, to a certain extent, but this summer we’re also a buying club and I expect further arrivals, especially as we’re likely to see another high profile departure with Alex Song set for a move to Barcelona. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that if Song goes it means that Darren Dein no longer has any clients left at the club. The bottom line, for me anyway, is that if a player does not want to be at the club then we should get rid of them and the key then is to make sure we do as well from the deals as possible.
I have to say, I do hate the revisionism that follows any player leaving, with none of his qualities highlighted and only the negatives dwelt upon, but £24m for a 29 year old with an injury record like van Persie’s is a good deal for Arsenal. It’s important that the money doesn’t just sit in the bank though, there is further room to improve the squad this summer and I hope that’s exactly what we do. The same goes for whatever money we get for Song, and while I understand people will bemoan the loss of two individuals who were very important for us last season, it doesn’t mean we can’t become a better team this season.
Robin van Persie could, and should, have been an Arsenal legend. He scored 132 goals for the club and, over the next few seasons could have added dozens more. Even if he’d left the club and gone abroad, like others have, he’d have been welcomed back and the memories his provided would have cherished. Instead, he has tarnished his eight seasons at the club by going to Manchester United. There will be bitterness, anger, recrimination, hatred, and much more from Arsenal fans, and as much as I am disappointed in him for the way he’s behaved and his decision to join a club he knew would taint everything he did in an Arsenal shirt, my overall feeling this morning is that it’s a shame he’s done it and it’s a shame he’s done it in that way.
I think he’s been poorly advised and used by people whose overriding interest in him is financial and political. People will say he has a short career and he’s entitled to cash in. I’ve got no real issue with that and clearly the extra £70,000 a week on offer is enough for him not to care about the years he spent at Arsenal. Whether he ends up regretting the move itself remains to be seen but I think he’s a bright enough guy that one day he’ll look back and realise the way he made it happen was far from ideal.
On Match of the Day, just after we’d beaten West Brom 3-2 to secure Champions League football, van Persie was asked about his future. He spouted the usual platitudes and then said, “Whatever happens I’ll always be a Gunner.”
Sorry Robin, you’re not a Gunner. You don’t do what you did and sign for Man United and remain one of us. The Gunners are the guys who will play for us this season, and that’s where our focus has got to be. I won’t wish you well, I won’t say thanks for everything, you’re just a guy who played for us, scored some great goals, and then chucked it all back in our faces.
I guess we’ll see you on November 3rd. If you’re fit.