Robin Van Persie released a statement on Wednesday signalling his intention to end his eight-year playing association with Arsenal. “I’ve thought long and hard about it, but I have decided not to extend my contract.” He later went on to say, “I love the club and the fans.” Its comparable to saying “I love my wife, but I fancy a bit of something else”. How can you love her then?
The actions of the PFA and Writers’ Footballer of the Year represent another fine example of the greed that consumes the beautiful game. I will admit that Van Persie may have affection for the club which nurtured him into the star he is today but he certainly does not love it. If he did, two things come to mind. Firstly – stay. Secondly, why is he seemingly happy to let his contract run down allowing him to move for a minimal fee? If he loved Arsenal he should, at least, have signed a new contract last season which would still allow him to ask for a transfer and would result in his ‘beloved’ Arsenal pocketing a substantial amount of cash.
That said look at the Luka Modric saga last summer, three miles across North London. The little Croatian spat the dummy, threw the toys out of the pram and Daniel Levy, like a strict father, told him to honour his contract (at least for another year). Modric was powerless and begrudgingly obeyed. Maybe Van Persie is afraid of the same treatment from his superiors, and that is an important word here – superiors. The football world has been revolutionised thanks to the landmark case of Jean-Marc Bosman. The Bosman ruling granted players to become free agents at the end of their contracts. This allowed them to happily let their contracts run to expiry. Once they became free agents lucrative contracts followed, mainly due to no or minimal transfer fees. The result of this is that players now, or more to the point their agents, have far too much power in football. Van Persie questioned Arsenal ambitions after meeting with manager Arsene Wenger and Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis, “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.”
Other than Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger is the most successful coach in the Premiership. Yes, they have been without silverware since 2005 but Arsenal have consistently played in the Champions League and over the course of the last 10-15 years have been the neutrals pick as the team to watch. He is hardly playing for a team languishing in mid-table.
Alisher Usamov, the Uzbek billionaire and second largest shareholder at Arsenal, wrote to the board attacking Arsenal’s fiscal policy. “As a top club we should, at the very least, match if not beat the offers that other clubs make to try and lure our very best players away and provide a more compelling vision for the future.” So my question is, will Van Persie will be a pauper at £130,000 per week (almost £7m per year)? There will be those who argue that in the workplace, you should aspire for the highest salary possible (given he can earn £250,000+ per week at Manchester City). Reality check here – football is NOT the same as a ‘regular’ job and it never will be. Top-end professional footballers have a God-given talent and are privileged individuals. They PLAY sport for living and are more than handsomely paid. Most of us would not earn £7m in our entire life-time if we accumulated our annual salaries for 40 years.
So then, is Usamov referring to the fact that Wenger does not get backed up in the transfer market? Surely Wenger does. If not he would have left by now, given he has had ample opportunities to do so. Arsenal have already spent money this summer having signed Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski for a reported combined fee of £22m. You can imagine morale in the dressing room after Van Persie has practically said, ‘I don’t rate these two.’
There is a flip side to the coin. Van Persie, at 29, is at the peak of his powers and has watched team-mate after team-mate leave Arsenal, with most of them achieving success elsewhere. Samir Nasri left the Emirates last summer and won a league title nine months later along with fellow ex-team mates / mercenaries Gael Clichy and Kolo Toure (who had won the FA Cup the previous season). Cesc Fabregas also left, joining boyhood club Barcelona. Envy is a sin Robin.
Whatever his reasoning, Arsenal fans now face the grim reality that the club’s captain will leave for the second, successive season. After scoring 96 league goals and providing 52 assists in 194 league games he will be sorely missed. With 30 league goals last season, it is fair to say Van Persie saved his best until last. Others would say he saved his best for the negotiating table.