For a player who scored against 17 out of a possible 19 clubs (including a double over Man United, a season defining goal against Tottenham and a John Terry embarrassing hat-trick against Chelsea), Arsenal fans were very quick to burn all the goodwill that Robin van Persie had built up with all the petrol they could find. For an intelligent man, Robin had made the ultimate judas move.
Juventus would have been a ‘safe’ option but that was a non-starter because of the transfer money and the mess that Antonio Conte found himself in. Man City couldn’t have possibly bought him when they already had Roque Santacruz, Emmanuel Adebayor, Edin Dzeko, Mario Balotelli, Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero. They could have most definitely afforded van Persie’s wages and the transfer money like Arsenal could afford a youth player, but it would have been a bit like Woody Allen walking into a Lionel Ritchie set. When van Persie set about framing, semantising, drafting and vetting that statement, he could have possibly had wet dreams about running onto a Xavi Hernandez pass or a Mesut Ozil dink but that never came to fruition and the Dutchman was left with one possible destination: Manchester United.
For a player whose statement had made his position untenable at Arsenal but yet wanted to get the fans on his side, Manchester United would have been the last club that van Persie would have picked from Europe’s elite. Yes, Arsenal and United don’t dine in the same table anymore. Yes, the gulf in quality between the two clubs has broadened since the halcyon days of Royston Keane and Patrick Vieira. Yes, Manchester United can win victories, or at least retain the ability to win trophies while Arsenal, at best, can only manage to titillate, drop the kimono, before somebody bangs the door and disrupts the scene (read: Barcelona, Manchester City, bad defending or all of the three). But one does not simply walk into Manchester United.
What does this mean for his legacy? I think this is where Arsenal fans need to take a backseat and introspect for a bit before burning his jersey (anyway jerseys shouldn’t be burnt, they are way too costly. If you are so insistent, do a cellophane tape job and cover the name). Just because he has moved to United, he doesn’t become an ordinary player who had one extraordinary season. No player just has ‘one extraordinary’ season and still manages to find himself as the eighth all-time leading scorer of the club. If not for anything else, he has scored the goals that have allowed Arsenal to recruit the likes of Oliver Giroud, Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla over and above the new contract deals for Laurent Koscielny and Theo Walcott. Yup, he indeed has left Arsenal. To United. Arsenal will have to stop hating and move on.
This is different
Among all the other high profile exits over the last few years, van Persie’s sticks out like a sore thumb. Ashley Cole and Samir Nasri, have already won more at Chelsea and Manchester City, in the last year than what Arsenal have managed in the last half-a-dozen years but they can easily be bracketed as mercenaries for self satisfaction purposes, besmirch their families a bit and go on. Cesc Fabregas? He obviously loved his home and it was just a matter of his time before his Arsenal policy matured signaling that the time had come for him to return. Patrick Vieira ? Ageing, possibly blocking the development of, errrr, Fabregas and had arguably lost his peak conditioning. Thierry Henry? By all accounts was becoming a disruption to all the younger players in the club, had lost a bucket of pace and started to have a recurring nerve problem. Gael Clichy? He was never really the same player after his kerfuffle at Birmingham. Alex Hleb? Shot like a gun which had lost its revolver pin and anyway, look, he didn’t really achieve much after he left Arsenal. Emmanuel Adebayor? Emmanuel Adebayor. Kolo Toure? A largely peripheral figure these days and he did give us good money when City bought him.
But van Persie?
Can he be called a mercenary? He has gone to the second most decorated club in England and arguably the world’s most famous club.
Not in peak conditioning? A player who broke Thierry Henry’s record of goals in a calendar year and came within a whisker of Alan Shearer’s calendar record six months back cannot be called that. Chuck that…. He is the reigning double footballer of the year award winner.
Injury prone? Yes and no. In the sense he is likely to twang his ankle or hammy in a match than not likely to twang his ankle or hammy. But when he is fit, he gets you goals. And he has not been injured in the last 18 months and is a delight to watch. He has got the injuries off his back and if he is anything like how he was at Arsenal, expect Wayne Rooney and van Persie to notch up 50 goals between them at least for the next two seasons (these two are so good that if they don’t get the delivery, they drop deep and look to deliver. If one of the two doesn’t receive, one could easily deliver to the other… Saturday after Saturday).
This is as clear an indication by a front line Arsenal player that he has to move clubs to start winning something. Fans can throw the loyalty word as much as they like at van Persie. It is very true that Wenger bought the now serene van Persie as a hothead 21-year-old who couldn’t separate his ego from his left foot. It is very true that Wenger remained patient throughout all of van Persie’s tribulations with injuries. But for van Persie, time was running out and he saw himself as a man capable of winning trophies, and seems to have had enough. Nothing wrong in that. He could have probably left in better circumstances. But that’s the difference between a mere mortal like van Persie and an absolute legend like Dennis Bergkamp.