So early yesterday evening both Arsenal and Manchester United confirmed on their official websites that they have agreed a deal for Robin Van Persie in the region of £24m subject to a medical. It came as no real surprise. Football fans knew a move was inevitable when the striker stated in July that he would not renew his contract with the club. Man United was among three clubs that were actively seeking his services.
I made no previous comments at the risk of sounding subjective. Most people who know me know I am a huge fan of football, and of Arsenal to be precise, supporting the club since 2001. But now that this deal has come to light, I feel very much obligated to air my own views, however insignificant they may be.
For me, the entire situation can be looked at in two ways. Firstly, I am disappointed in Robin Van Persie. I believe he has to an extent betrayed Arsenal, ignored the fact that the club stood by him through not just the other six injury-laden seasons, but through one of the toughest times in his life when he had been accused, and eventually cleared, of sexually assaulting a Dutch beauty queen in 2005, a scandal that would have effectively destroyed his contract at any other club. Each season Van Persie would go off on international duty and return in pieces every time, but Arsene Wenger dispatched the medical team without blinking and continued to voice his belief in the Dutchman and his talent. Van Persie may be leaving with the aim of winning trophies but he seems to have forgotten, or maybe just ignored the fact that he was a part of each of the squads that failed to deliver any silverware for the club in the past seven seasons. He’s forgotten that the 2011-2012 season was his very first injury-free season in an Arsenal shirt. Despite all of this, Robin took to his website to virtually lambast the manager, the Board of Directors (particularly Ivan Gazidis) and the direction in which the club is going (I didn’t know that was part of the captain’s job description :-|). Whether the statement was made in the heat of the moment or not following a torrid Euro 2012 campaign, I will never know, nor should I really care, but it has led to his imminent departure, leaving 132 goals behind at the Emirates.
Secondly, and more importantly, I am disappointed in Arsenal Football Club. They have been without a trophy for the past seven years and have allowed themselves to drop down the title challenge pecking order with the arrivals, seemingly from nowhere, of moneybags Chelsea and current champions Man City. But they still let their star players leave without adequate replacements. Last season it took an 8-2 massacre (a score-line that will haunt me for the rest of my life) by this same Man United for the Board to finally delve into the transfer market. As if already aware of Van Persie’s desire to leave, they went shopping earlier this time and grabbed two strikers in Ligue 1’s Olivier Giroud and the experienced Lukas Podolski, as well as Santi Carzola. I would have personally preferred if we’d bought Lionel Messi, Iker Casillas and Cristiano Ronaldo, but you can’t always get what you want. Either way, we’ll see how they work out as the season begins in two days’ time.
My twitter timeline last night following the news was on fire; Arsenal fans lamenting and ranting, United fans making fun of the Arsenal fans lamenting and ranting. I watched it all partly in amusement, partly disillusioned, wondering when Arsenal Football Club became the butt of the jokes, the punchlines; wondering why this once-great club has found it so necessary to sell their immediate best players to survive. Yes, the recession that has plagued the global economy for the past four years has also affected the football industry, but you don’t see the likes of Man United (not since Cristiano at least), Chelsea or even Barcelona letting go of their best players at any price (Sir Alex groveled at Wayne Rooney’s feet a couple of years ago to positive results). Arsenal has been at it every year since 2005, which was, ironically, the last time they won anything. And not just selling to anyone, but to clubs that are direct obstacles to any chance of winning a trophy, clubs that are already stronger financially and personnel-wise than Arsenal; clubs that have since stopped regarding Arsenal Football Club as a rival. I cannot stress it enough that the profits made by selling these players mean very little to the fans. Finishing in the top four is not in any way silverware or equivalent to silverware. It never has been and it never will be. Even after qualifying for the Champions League they get thrown out in the last 16 or quarter-final stage. Of what use is that? This new approach by the Arsenal Board is unacceptable and maybe even dangerous, and why they have failed to realize that is beyond me.
I think fans complaining about Robin ruining his Arsenal legacy are being a little dramatic to be honest. To most football players these days, what they do is nothing more than a 9 to 5 job, a means of taking care of themselves and securing their families’ futures. Robin’s family is young and he himself is on the very wrong side of 20. Are you telling me you wouldn’t jump at the chance to switch to a higher salary, better benefits and higher recognition at that age? I’m not ashamed to admit that I would, and you would too. Yes you would. Denying it is futile. At the same time, the manner in which he decided to leave the club; the statement, the patronizing manner in which he addressed the fans as “you guys” in said statement; the club he ultimately decided to join (it’s been rumored that his preferred choice was Juventus, but does that matter anymore?) will definitely leave a sour taste in the fans’ mouths. Understandably, there will be bitterness, hatred and vilification for a long time from the Arsenal fans. No doubt they will be on Van Persie’s back at Old Trafford on November 3rd and at the Emirates on April 27th 2013. But let’s face it, guys: in today’s football, loyalty is just a tedious, cock-blocking seven-letter word. The mercenary way is the way forward.
Whoever wants to leave the club can go (yes, this is a sub at Alex Song). When it comes down to it, no club should let itself be dictated by one single player, no matter how talented or important they are to the squad. But as a big fan of this club I am leaving the ball in Arsenal’s court, urging the team and the manager to finally prove all these departing players wrong. They have no choice but to hit the ground running this season, and doing all they can to maintain that momentum and see it through to the end of the season. Personally, the “The last time Arsenal won a trophy” jibes are doing my head in. And yeah, keep the armband away from Thomas Vermaelen. I’m beginning to believe that the captaincy is jinxed.
The only positive note I’ve taken from this year’s annual Arsenal summer transfer saga is that it at least ended early this time. A whopping two weeks ahead too. Thank God.