So, it has begun already. The season is barely finished and the summer transfer madness has kicked in. I say madness because there’s a lot of talk, a lot of hype, a lot of speculation and frankly, it should barely register on our Give-a-fuck-ometers because it’s nothing anyone who has even a passing interest in football couldn’t have predicted.
Obviously it involves Robin van Persie and there are two main stories this morning. In the first, the BBC report that the captain will have a meeting with Arsene Wenger and Ivan Gazidis at the manager’s house on Wednesday morning. The second is in the Mirror who say that Manchester City would like to sign him.
Well blow me down. All season long Robin, and the club, have said that they will discuss his future at the end of the season. The season has ended, it’s time for discussion. It’s good to hear that the meeting is scheduled but this is something we all knew was going to happen. I suspect Robin is more than aware of what’s on offer from us, as he will be as to what’s on offer elsewhere, so the meeting will be about more than money and contract length.
As for the City story, well the only way I’d be surprised is if they weren’t interested. It wouldn’t be a summer without them trying to sign one what they think is one of our best players. The difference this time, of course, is that van Persie is our best player. He’s not a troublesome egomaniac, a rapidly slowing down centre half or a greedy bottler who would have moved to FC Mars if the money had been good enough.
There’s so much misinformation out there that the fear we have of not keeping him adds credibility to it. So van Persie’s agent met Brian Marwood three months ago. And? Of course the risible goal.com stick a headline on it to make it sound covert when it was anything but and the agent’s quotes confirm that. But we can’t let truth or facts get in the way of a good story, eh?
For me, it’s very simple. I think van Persie will stay if he feels his ambitions can be fulfilled at Arsenal. We cannot compete with what Man City (or others) can offer financially, but I don’t think Robin’s decision will be based on that. It might well be a factor but not the main part of it. That’s not to say he doesn’t deserve a bumper new contract, he does, and it ought to be head and shoulders above what anyone else is earning, for all kinds of reasons.
But it’s up to the manager and Ivan Gazidis to assure the captain that he can win things with Arsenal. They cannot do that with words and promises alone, they have got to improve the squad. It sounds simplistic, but some of the players who haven’t contributed need to go and some more productive ones need to come in. And not just in order to keep Robin, you cannot be held over a barrel by one player no matter how good he is, but for the good of the club as a whole. Yes, we have to respect the market and the situation many clubs find themselves in, but we also have go about fixing the problems we’ve created for ourselves.
If van Persie signs a new deal I think it would be a hugely encouraging sign because it would suggest that the improvements necessary for us to challenge for the title will be made. It goes beyond keeping him, it means that we’d become a better team, because we’d have better players. If he goes then it’d be another case of Arsenal seemingly lacking ambition and lacking the ability to hold onto its big name players, an all too familiar problem over the last few years.
Of course there’s another option, and that’s Robin staying, announcing that, but not signing a new deal which leaves him free to leave on a Bosman next summer – without ruling out the possibility of signing a new contract if he chooses too also. But while many are leaning towards that as the most likely option, I don’t feel that’s in the best interests of Arsenal as a club. We need some kind of closure, we cannot have another situation where a transfer saga drags on all summer and the speculation about his future continues throughout the following season. I can just imagine the ‘He’s got his eyes on a move, not committed anymore’ stories and discussions if he went through a bad patch.
One way or the other we’ll get something definitive soon enough, I’m sure of that. For everyone’s sake we can’t let it drag on. We can only hope that the lessons we needed to learn from last summer have been taken on board and that we do what needs to be done as quickly and efficiently as possible. It’s not just about making Robin van Persie stay because he’s Robin van Persie, it’s about making him stay because he’s confident and assured that the team he’ll captain next season can challenge for the title. It’s a not quite vicious circle, it could be a very friendly circle if we get it right, so it’s over now to the boss and the chief executive to do what’s necessary.
If the early signing of Lukas Podolski is an encouraging sign, we have to remember we tend to do this every season. An early transfer is followed by a period where we don’t seem to do much business at all (Chamakh in May, Nasri in late June, I think, Gervinho early enough last summer), so while I am optimistic we’ve changed our spots slightly, the proof will be in how efficient the rest of our dealings are.
And speaking of Podolski, we’ve got our first sight of him in an Arsenal shirt and he says both Arsene Wenger and Per Mertesacker played a part in his decision to join us, and also says:
I’m now looking forward to the challenge at my new club and cannot wait to start after Euro 2012.
At which point we should know how central, literally, his role at the club will be next season. In the meantime we’ll await a van Persie update which tells us something we don’t already know because anything else is pointless.