Robin van Persie: Stick Or Twist?
Winning the PFA Player of the Year Award was widely expected; when the media report other candidates such as Wayne Rooney noting that Robin van Persie will – not might – win, it is as much of a foregone conclusion as you get. Rooney would have noted that from dressing room gossip about whom players voted for. To be honest, I cannot think of anyone who would have seriously rivalled van Persie, perhaps Joe Hart but that is it. The rest were populist nominees, players whom the back pages have raved about but their inconsistencies over the course of the season would have rendered the award irrelevant had they won.
van Persie thoroughly deserves the recognition for his form since returning from injury in 2011; he ought to have been closer to winning the global award last year than he was. With the Football Writers Association recognising their equivalent in the near future and anything less than a Dutch double will mean that the media talk double Dutch. That cannot be taken for granted with Twitter recently granted the wisdom of one of their illustrious number opining that the misconception of a failure to shake hands is a cardinal sin for which he should not be forgiven. The Player of the Season is, we were told, an ambassadorial role, seemingly unswayed by the player’s form in a season. That scribe believed the best ambassador for English football was Wayne Rooney.
van Persie follows in venerated footsteps; previous Arsenal winners were Liam Brady, Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp. Curiously Brady was never honoured by the Sportswriters although they were more recognising of the achievements of Joe Mercer, Frank McLintock and Robert Pires. It seems strange that despite his lauded captaincy of the club, Tony Adams never received the same public accolades from peers or professional observers.
An undercurrent of recent weeks has been the current captain’s contract situation. As soon as van Persie put these on ice, it was inevitable that they would be a recurring theme throughout the season, a malevolent influence to be pushed to the forefront when negativity required emphasis. His talismanic status in the squad does not appear to have been diminished unlike his predecessor, an object lesson in professionalism with his effort and output unaffected by his future. Not that he has much to worry about for there will be no shortage of suitors should he decide to leave.
The presumption is that the Dutchman wants to wait and see who Arsenal sign to strengthen the squad. Arsenal regularly cull numbers during the summer although this tends to be with the fringe players. This time around a large number of those who seem set to leave are former first team regulars as well as those upon whom high hopes and false expectations were placed. In the parlance of the bar-room manager, they are the ‘deadwood’ of the squad.
According to Henry Winter, van Persie “holds all the aces” in negotiations. It is hard to argue with Winter’s assertion that van Persie’s talent should have won more honours; had he been fit for longer periods in seasons, he might well have done. 2007-08 is the one season when he was truly missed, 7 goals in 15 Premier League matches gave hints of his capabilities; injuries dictated it would be several seasons before these were realised over a sustained period.
That van Persie is a key player is undisputed but the suggestion in other quarters that money is the root of the issue is wide of the mark. With maybe five years left in his playing career, van Persie will be keen to sign for a club where there is a reasonable chance of success. Arsenal can deliver that, the manager must convince him that this will be the case with his actions (signings) this summer. Arsène has set a window of four days in May to resolve the matter; that puts pressure on not just the negotiators but also himself as he will need to prove the incoming talents to his favoured lieutenant if this is the key. The club know – or have a good idea – of the financial structure of any deal. Surely?
Yet what if the deal cannot be brokered? Or should Arsenal take the money and run in any case? van Persie is 29 years old, an offer of £30m or more for a player of his age should surely be given hard consideration. If it goes to £40m, does it become a ‘no-brainer’? This idea might be enough to make some hyperventilate but it is not so far-fetched. The club is bigger than any player and in theory, a large transfer warchest would allow significant reinvestment, a restructuring of the wage structure toward meritocracy rather its’ current egalitarian phasing.
With a large turnover of fringe players likely, £30m or more might purchase three players of quality, two at least. Arsenal have moved away from reliance on one player to some extent, the summer expunging that when Fabregas left. Now it is more of a team structure in the squad, equal ability. With tweaking, few can argue that a significant foundation exists. Improve on that, in quality and mental approach, and there is a group of players that can challenge for honours.
The goals of van Persie have encouraged this challenge and that hurdle is the biggest obstacle to overcome. Yet there is no guarantee that the Dutchman will continue in this form either. We take such matters for granted, often at our peril. At times this season, goals have been hard to come by when the captain is not scoring. It is a wider issue that needs to be addressed in the transfer market and training pitches.
If the club keep Robin van Persie, that is true also with one less headache for the manager to contemplate. Yet were he to leave, it need not be the end of the world; it would be a seismic shift in the current era but football is nothing but fluid. Yesterday’s hero is tomorrow’s forgotten man.