So, as you’re all no doubt aware at this stage, Robin van Persie released a statement yesterday in which he revealed, after thinking ‘long and hard’, that he would not be extending his Arsenal contract.
And if it were just that, then I don’t think anybody would be too surprised or upset this morning. Realistically, if Robin had any desire to extend his Arsenal deal it would have been done by now. It could have been done at the end of the season, it could have been done at any time during last season, and the delay we got at the end of the campaign meant his decision should be no shock to anyone.
What it hugely disappointing, however, is the manner in which the statement was released and the overall tone of it. As I said yesterday, emotional attachment to footballers generally leaves you nursing a broken heart, but like many I had thought better of Robin and expected better from him. The tone was confrontational, antagonistic and was deliberately designed to make his position at the club untenable. That Arsenal had no idea whatsoever that such a statement was planned tells you that this was carefully planned to cause maximum damage.
I have to say I think Robin and his agent have badly misjudged the situation and are nowhere near as clever as they think they are. If they thought they could trade on the goodwill fans have towards van Persie after his remarkable and thoroughly enjoyable goalscoring spree, they were wrong. Arsenal fans have been through this too many times in recent years to be fooled by that kind of nonsense, and while the club do have to take a look at how his contract reached this stage, the attempts to pin all the blame on Arsenal backfired, in my opinion.
The statement is littered with, and I choose my words carefully here, bollocks. For example, when he talks about the meeting he had at the end of the season with Ivan Gazidis and Arsene Wenger:
Out of my huge respect for Mr. Wenger, the players and the fans I don’t want to go into any details, but unfortunately in this meeting it has again become clear to me that we in many aspects disagree on the way Arsenal FC should move forward.
Perhaps if Robin were the manager this might be appropriate but he’s a player, it’s not. It doesn’t matter if he’s captain. This particular section of the statement is quite pointed. If you disagree in ‘many aspects’ with the manager about the club of which you are captain then it makes it very difficult to continue at that club. The thinly veiled criticism of the manager might well be something certain fans agree with, and we’ve all had our issues with Arsene, but it was a low blow coming from a player who has received nothing but 100% backing from the boss in all the time he’s been here, through some very difficult times.
My goal has been to win trophies with the team and to bring the club back to its glory days.
So the way to fulfill that goal is to cause ructions and try and make the club sell you? Nice one.
I have always given my all (and more) on and off the pitch.
Well, he’s certainly kept the medical staff busy. How much consideration did he give to how the club was going to move forward when he returned from international duty injured on more than one occasion? Or all those times he was crocked while playing for us? How is that after one full season in the eight years since we bought him he feels it appropriate to talk about giving his all. I’m not doubting his commitment when he plays, not by a long shot, but if he were an ever-present he might have a point. As a player whose absences have probably contributed to our lack of silverware, he doesn’t.
There are untruths in there too. He said:
As soon as Mr. Gazidis is back from his 2-week holiday in America further meetings will follow and I will update you if and when there are more developments.
This prompted Arsenal’s Director of Communications to flatly deny the claim on Twitter, but that this was in the statement at all is quite pointed indeed. It suggests that Gazidis is more concerned with his holiday than the future of the captain and I suspect there was a great deal of mischief making in the timing of this announcement.
The club responded with a statement of their own, saying:
We have to respect Robin’s decision not to renew his contract. Robin has one year to run on his current contract and we are confident that he will fulfill his commitments to the Club.
We are planning with ambition and confidence for next season with Arsenal’s best interests in mind.
It was pretty calm and measured when I’m sure behind the scenes there was anger and frustration at van Persie’s little play. And there no doubt the club have got to take an inward look and assess why it was a player like Robin was allowed to run his contract down to this stage. The shambles that was last summer had a real impact, no doubt about it. I couldn’t blame him for not signing back then, we were in a real mess, it looked like a club that lacked organisation and focus, and we’re still feeling the effects of it in this situation.
On the face of it, it’s not been a good 12 months for Gazidis or Stan Kroenke since he took over. Losing the captain, and one of the best players in the world last summer (as well as some French bloke nobody really likes), and now faced with the departure of the captain and best player again 12 months later isn’t exactly encouraging.
Yet it’s not as black and white as it seems. Arsenal are faced with a problem time and time again that most other clubs don’t have to put up with: the money at Manchester City and their underhand, illegal tapping up. You don’t have to examine the situation too much to realise that there’s a huge offer on the table from them and this is what has sparked things off right now. And every summer it’s the same, they come along, cherry pick the players they want and use the greed of players and agents to ensure the moves happen.
Perhaps this time around we’re seeing a more proactive Arsenal though. We’ve signed two quality international forwards in Podolski and Giroud and even if van Persie leaves (and for me it’s a case of when, not if) at least we’ve done some of the business we need to do good and early. I doubt either of them will score 30+ goals a season – what van Persie has done in the last 18 months has been incredible – but perhaps the aim is to spread the load, make us less reliant on one player and more of a collective again.
What’s sad, however, is how Robin has done this. The statement looks like it was drafted by legal people with a few, quite patronising ‘you guys’ thrown in there to add some personality. It has, for all intents and purposes, made it impossible for him to continue at the club. He could easily have decided not to renew but left the option open whereby he could play out his final 12 months then go on a Bosman next summer. Who would have begrudged him that?
Instead he’s created a situation where he’s criticised the manager, the club, and done so while talking out of the other side of his mouth about ‘respect’ and ‘love’. Give me a break. My guess is that Robin wants to go to Man City – and while the stuff you hear about winning things and desire for trophies is credible, don’t underestimate for one second the influence a quarter of a million a week has had. He and his agent are trying to engineer that move now. Putting Arsenal in a position where they have to sell him simply makes that move more likely.
We thought we had a captain who understood, a captain who felt what we felt, a captain who was in touch with the fans and what we thought. I’ve said all along my glass was on the half-empty side when it came to Robin’s future but it’s still hugely disappointing to see him behave in this way. The lack of respect for the manager, the club and the fans is what stings, not his desire to seek pastures new (even if the pastures he seeks are so hard to take).
So what do we do? Sell him. Simple as that. It’s done, it’s over, Robin has made that clear with his statement. He won’t flat out say he wants to to leave but he’s made it impossible for him to stay without a massive climbdown. With that in mind, let’s put Robin on the market and choose the deal which best suits Arsenal. Not Robin van Persie. He’s no longer important and we have no obligation to consider him or his desires in any decision we make.
I guess the writing was on the wall he spoke towards the end of the season:
If you ask the likes of Robert Pires how he feels, what he feels like he will say ‘I feel like a Gunner’ – and whatever happens with me I will always be a Gunner.
Sorry, Robin, after what you’ve just done and how you’ve done it, you won’t be a Gunner in my eyes. Just another talented player who came and then left as the club went on.
And we will go on.