Robin van Persie’s announcement that he will not be signing a new deal at Arsenal has opened the door to what is sure to be the summer’s biggest and most complex transfer saga.
Whilst few will have been surprised by the actual decision, the manner in which it was leaked, and the wording of his statement, which he released on his official website, has left a bitter taste in the mouth. Van Persie’s declaration equivocates somewhat, probably in an attempt to desensitize the inevitable blow, but the fans have been left apoplectic in disappointment and, frankly, disgust. The most telling utterance being: “it has again become clear to me that we in many aspects disagree on the way Arsenal FC should move forward.”
This can of course be interpreted in a number of different ways. I’m sure he wants the club to show ambition, which is perfectly reasonable, but if the signings of proven goal scorers like Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud are not examples of showing ambition, then I don’t know what is – not without the backing a billionaire owner at least. Perhaps he thinks that signing two strikers makes little sense when there are clear defensive issues? Or, if we’re being particularly cynical, perhaps this is subtext for van Persie’s desire for more money, which Arsenal can’t, or aren’t prepared to provide.
Either way, this classless statement appears to have burnt any bridges between him and the club: van Persie’s position as captain, or anything else at Arsenal, is, for all intents and purposes, untenable. Therefore, the possibility of him seeing out the final year of his contract does no longer realistically exist. Ironically, if I were manager of the club, and had been given responsibility to choose the player’s fate, this would have been the best option. Arsenal would still get one more season from van Persie before he can jet off for free and try and achieve his aim of winning honours, and at the same time, ease the likes of Podolski and Giroud in gently, who will probably need at least six months to adapt to the rigours of the English game.
But with this public announcement, van Persie has submitted, in everything but name, a transfer request and Arsenal are left a little marooned in terms of their bargaining power this summer. Another interesting development was the player outlining that he will have a meeting with CEO Ivan Gazidis “as soon as he is back from his two-week holiday in America.” Communications Director Mark Gonnella took to Twitter to deny that Gazidis is on holiday, which complicates the issue further, with the possibility of things becoming very ugly over the coming days and weeks. Whilst the club themselves released a statement that said “we are confident that he will fulfill his commitments to the Club,” van Persie’s heart clearly no longer belongs to Arsenal and a transfer seems inevitable.
After being ‘gagged’ by the club during Euro 2012 in order to avoid speculation, van Persie has now been given the freedom to speak, and the timing of it suggests that Arsenal asked the player to keep quiet so that replacements can be brought in; suggesting that his mind was made up a long time ago, and that Podolski and Giroud were bought for that purpose: to replace, rather than play alongside the talismanic Dutchman.
I understand the reason for moving; at 28, this is his last real chance to earn a truckload of money, have a realistic chance of winning trophies and the opportunity to generate an apotheosis of his frustrating career, but it’s hard not to feel for the fans, and Arsène Wenger in particular, who has dedicated so much time and effort into making van Persie, and the likes of Samir Nasri, Cesc Fàbregas and Emmanuel Adebayor into the players they are today, only to see them betray him every summer.
His likely destination is of course Manchester City but following this development, Arsenal cannot command a significant fee for their star player. With this being the case, I personally would rather keep van Persie in the reserves than sell him to a perennially-improving rival; and would lose a lot of respect for the club if they caved in and sold another important player to City. Few would begrudge him a move abroad, and a switch to Juventus has been mooted, but it’s hard to deny the irrevocability that his head will have been turned by those at the Etihad.
What’s interesting is how similar this statement is to Wayne Rooney’s that was released 18 months ago. That situation culminated in Rooney being handed an improved deal which he signed. Whilst Manchester United undoubtedly benefitted, it epitomised a sad day for football when player power went into overdrive. Arsenal don’t have the money, or the lack of class to bend over backwards to accommodate van Persie’s demands, but thereby this perhaps confirms that the Gunners are a selling club; a stepping stone for players to hone their skills before moving on to bigger and better things, and this is terribly saddening.
There’s not a lot Arsenal can do to change this fact; they simply don’t have the financial backing to compete with their rivals in the transfer market, and instead have to develop their own, only to see them snatched away from them a few years later. It’s a horribly repetitive circle and Arsenal are back to square one again this summer; needing to re-jig and reinvent themselves somewhat as they did following the departure of Fàbregas last campaign.
The key difference, and silver lining, this time round however, is that deals are being done early, not in late August and therefore there is no cloud hanging over the club for the duration of the summer. The new signings are allowed a pre-season to start bedding in; rather than the frantic Deadline Day rush we witnessed last campaign, which did nobody any favours.
As for van Persie himself, he has to realise just what he is giving up. Arsenal are still a top club, competing in the Champions League with plenty of promising young players developing and improving all the time. He is adored as the main man, where 60,000 fans sing his name and salivate at his every touch. He won’t be so appreciated elsewhere. He may not even play every week. It all remains up in the air, and there will be plenty of twists and turns to come, but what this saga has surely proved above all, is that loyalty in football is nothing more than superficial.
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