Robin van Persie has dropped the bombshell that he will not extend his contract with Arsenal this season. Whether he’ll serve out his contract or be sold for extra cash, only time will tell. By SIPHO HLONGWANE and ANT SIMS.
Being an Arsenal supporter can be tough, thankless, gut-wrenching. With a whole lot of jubilation often comes tremendous despair and frustration. Right now, Arsenal supporters are preparing themselves to go through the five stages of grief yet again, after Robin van Persie announced on Wednesday that he would not be renewing his contract because he doesn’t agree with the club’s ambition.
In turn, Arsenal have responded saying they will respect his decision and have full belief that van Persie will see out his contract, which has 12 months left on it. However, Arsene Wenger is a wily fox – he bends the football rules to fit into a tough economic climate, and if any of his previous dealings are to go by, Van Persie will be gone before Arsenal fans can say: “Cesc, Nasri and Clichy, most of them left for Manchester City”.
Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski have been drafted into the team, something which was trumpeted as preparing for life after RVP long before the striker made his wishes public. Italian champions Juventus, meanwhile, have made their interest in the player clear and Manchester City are, reportedly, willing to lure him in with more than £200,000-per-week wages.
Yet, despite what most Arsenal fans will say, money had nothing to do with Van Persie's decision, or so he said.
Negotiations between the club and its captain were far from done, when he decided to break ranks and made a statement on his personal website.
"This was a meeting about the club's future strategy and their policy. Financial terms or a contract have not been discussed, since that is not my priority at all,” he wrote. "I personally have had a great season, but my goal has been to win trophies with the team and to bring the club back to its glory days.
"Out of my huge respect for Mr. Wenger, the players and the fans, I don't want to go into any details, but 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," Van Persie wrote.
Van Persie might be right about his quip regarding ambition, of course. Arsenal haven’t won a trophy in six years. Their movements in the transfer market have been somewhat questionable and they have far too often stumbled at the last hurdle and dropped points during crucial stages of the Premier League season. It’s been a tough few years being an Arsenal fan, but it hasn’t exactly been all moonshine and roses for Van Persie either.
The striker arrived at Arsenal in 2004 on a four-year deal from Feyenoord. That wily old Wenger managed to get him for just over his original asking price. It was an unremarkable season, cut short by injury. He managed just 41 appearances in all competitions and just ten goals. The next season was somewhat better – he earned Player of the Month in November 2005 after eight goals in eight starts, and was given a five-year contract extension which would keep him at the club until January 2011. Just two days after that, though, injury struck again after he broke his toe. He persisted, though, and played the next games with a hole cut into his shoe to help the pain, and was eventually rested for a match against West Ham.
Injury continued to mar him, but Arsenal persisted with him, despite the risk of being without their main striker. During the 2009-10 season, with Emmanual Adebayor having left for Manchester City, RVP was now the man striker and he signed a new deal with the club saying: "My heart is with Arsenal and I just can't picture myself in a different shirt."
But if Wenger’s economics tactics have anything to do with it, he might very well find himself in a different shirt very soon. It’s highly unlikely that the crafty miser that is Wenger will allow a player of van Persie’s revenue-generating potential go for free when his 12 month contract runs out. The question is: where will Van Persie go? It isn't just City and Juventus who have been sniffing around. FC Barcelona and Real Madrid have reportedly been put on alert as well. There are talks of clubs dangling up to £25 million to tempt Arsenal – and not have to sit with a reluctant player who will probably be on the receiving end of severe uphill from the fans and the more fanatical players like Bacary Sagna and Thomas Vermaelen.
Of course, van Persie’s announcement came somewhat out of the blue. Most thought he was still on holiday, trying to forget the Dutch’s failed campaign at the Euros. Many will feel that he has betrayed the club’s trust and their loyalty. Sure, sometimes employees leave organisations they have been with for a long time. They leave for many different reasons: more money, better working conditions, perhaps to live at the beach. But if the employee decides to leave after he or she has had the support of the organisation, despite being in and out of hospital constantly and sometimes under-performing, all while still banking a healthy cheque at the end of each month, a few eyebrows will be raised and a little bit of mudslinging might ensue.
It’s a bitter pill to swallow for the Arsenal faithful. A similar thing happened 11 months ago when the former Arsenal captain, Francesc Fabregas, left for Barcelona after the club managed to convince him to stay for a year longer than he really wanted to. Van Persie is just another in a succession of Arsenal players who came to the club at a young age and then left for greener pastures just as they hit their best form. And it’s that inability to hold on to quality players, not the empty trophy cabinet, that has been Arsenal's greatest tragedy for so long. DM
Photo: Robin van Persie (REUTERS)