The news that Robin van Persie has rejected a new contract at Arsenal has everyone up in arms. And, as always, there are thousands of opinions floating around in cyberspace and beyond.
Obviously, there are two trains of thought here. Good riddance RVP, we’re fine without you, and on the other side of the argument, Arsenal are doomed. The truth may, as always, lie somewhere in the middle.
It seems that the message the Flying Dutchman sent was a little cryptic. With more talks planned, perhaps it’s another tactic designed to see what the future holds and buy some time. Not too many employees can go in to their bosses’ office and say that they disagree with the direction of the company. After all, a footballer’s career is finite, the club, one hopes is not. Therefore the direction the club decides to take is, rightly or wrongly, paramount.
The club has, one would have thought, already stated its intention by purchasing two high quality forwards. However, forwards are easier to purchase. It’s quality midfielders and defenders that most clubs lack. With many anticipated departures from the Emirates, there may be even more money to spend on other players in different positions. Time will tell. Has RVP been told that the spending is over? If so, why didn’t he say so? The response from both Wenger and the Board will be interesting, as now they are, in a way, forced into explaining their intentions more fully. But van Persie’s statement was, at best, incomplete and vague.
The management response will determine if RVP is being selfish or not, but regardless, you’d have to think that no one player is bigger than the club, and ambition is what you make it. There is no guarantee of success at any club, but happiness in the football world seems to only equate to money and trophies. How does Michael Owen feel about his “success” at Manchester United, given that he spent much of it on the bench? And while Nasri may have swapped Arsenal for trophies and money, arguably his own contribution to the league-winning team was far less in blue than it was in red and white. So RVP may move, and play poorly, but win trophies.
It seems that van Persie has played the “I love Arsenal forever” card, although it seems relatively hollow, and doesn’t seem to have generated a massive pro-RVP response. If you love your job and your employer, don’t you stay? And not take indirect swipes at them? It smacks of “I’m leaving but please love me anyway.”
So the question here is: RVP – selfish git or smart man deserting sinking ship? Clearly Arsenal is not sinking. Sure, third isn’t good enough for some fans, and they do lag behind the big two, or three, in terms of spending power. But sinking? Hardly. The arrival of Podolski and Giroud are not really signs of disaster or a lack of ambition.
Which leads to the next question: RVP – over-rated?
Surprisingly, the answer is possibly yes. He’s been plagued with injuries and followed it with a phenomenal season. Would 2012-13 bring the same success? Not necessarily. With a more balanced strike power and younger players in the wings, RVP may no longer be guaranteed the same amount of playing time, which may not be sitting well. His goal tally would almost certainly go down next year. Another injury is always possible and at the end of his contract he’ll be 30, although that’s not necessarily the end of the line.
But he’s certainly not indispensable and only time would tell if he’s the kind of striker that can bang in goals year-in, year-out for the best part of a decade, in an Alan Shearer vein.
Which brings us to life after RVP. It makes sense that life without him begins now, which hopefully means a decent transfer fee, which hopefully is re-invested into the squad, at least in part. What many pundits and fans forget is that the maths isn’t simply how much is spent on player transfers and how much comes in from transfers. There’s also the little factor of wages. So, selling van Persie for $20 million also generates savings on his wages. If $12-15 million is re-invested in a player of Yann M’Vila’s quality, there is also a potential savings on wages, which further helps the club’s books. And I’d argue RVP for M’Vila would be a brilliant deal, financially and in football terms, if Giroud and Podolski can combine with others to create a more balanced attack and goal tally. No longer will it be true that if RVP has a bad day, Arsenal don’t win.
It’s hard to see how the number of strikers Arsenal has is viable, and some have to go. If van Persie is one of them, then so be it. He may reach the same heights as last season, which is always a risk but one worth taking if the overall squad is strengthened in the places it needs to be. But, in reality, it’s hard to see RVP matching last season’s haul.
That van Persie leaves also means other players will take a wait-and-see approach, but if more quality comes in, then it’s hard to argue losing RVP is a step backwards.
But it’s a big ‘if.’ If more quality players arrive, which they may as Champions League football is waiting, then the direction may not be as negative as RVP alludes to. If, however, no one else is added, then RVP was right, there is no ambition to improve. Again, time will tell.
I would have been delighted had van Persie chosen to stay and commit to a club he allegedly loves. But I’m not devastated at him leaving. With one caveat: As long as his departure signals a lot of transfer activity – the departures of Vela, Bendtner and others – and the influx of at least one quality midfielder, one defender and one goalkeeper. There are great players out there at a relatively low price. One only has to look at Newcastle last season to realize there are great players that don’t command Chelsea/Manchester City style transfer fees.
On first glance, RVP’s statement was the end of the book. Read between the lines, and it’s really simply the end of a chapter. More twists and turns to come? Who said the off-season was boring…