Ever since Wednesday morning, when Robin van Persie met with the club to discuss his future with us, speculation into what went on at that meeting has gone into overdrive, and many people who are far more informed than I, have given their views on what will happen next. I have no idea what RvP is thinking right now, but by going through the issues at hand here, I hope to show you that it’s not as clear cut a situation as it appears.
Robin van Persie is nearly 29 years old and next year will be the last year of his contract. He’s just completed a season that established him as the one of the premier strikers in world football and his market value will never be higher than it is now. The next contract he signs will probably be his last chance to sign a “big-money” deal. (I hate that phrase in football, as any contract in the Premier League is big money in the real world. But you know what I mean.) So it makes sense to evaluate all options available to you before making a decision, right?
The word “loyalty” gets thrown around like a dog’s bone when it’s used in a footballing context, and it’s no different here. Arsenal fans are constantly claiming that van Persie should show “loyalty” to the club that helped develop him into the player he is. Really? It’s too easy to just say that because we pay a player a ton of money that he should be thankful for it, but football is a profession just like any other, and when someone who is good at their job is coming up to the end of their contact with a company, surely it’s prudent of them to make sure that they get rewarded for their output, whether it’s at their current workplace or somewhere else, right?
We say we want our players to show “loyalty” but in reality it’s only the good players that we want to stay. Imagine if Almunia or Squillaci asked the club to show “loyalty” to them and give them a new deal? We’d be foaming from the mouth at the supposed “arrogance” from them in expecting us to reward them for nothing, yet we expect van Persie to show us loyalty in the same position. We’re more than happy to see the club kick Chamakh and Park to the curb, but when a player chooses to leave on his own accord, he’s a “traitor”.
- Cesc Fabregas – Our captain decides that after eight years away, he wants to go back home to play for his home-town club that he had played for until he was 16, and to play for his idol, Pep Guardiola. Arsenal talk him out of it once before but can’t do it a second time. And because the only club he could ever contemplate leaving Arsenal for is Barca, there’s no bidding war for him, which limits his market value. All of that is reasonable, but because it affects Arsenal negatively, we label him a traitor.
- Lukas Podolski – Just finished a season at his home-town club as top scorer, but they still ended up getting relegated. If he showed the same sort of “loyalty” that we expect of our players, then he should stay at FC Koln and help them get back into the top flight, right? Buffon, Del Piero and Nedved stayed at Juventus when they got demoted from Serie A, but because Podolski is coming HERE, then we don’t care about “loyalty”, we’re just glad that he left to come play for us.
See what I mean? “Loyalty” is a misnomer and shouldn’t be given as a reason for a player to stay, as we expect the exact opposite behaviour when we want a player to come play for us. So I’m not expecting any acts of “loyalty” from van Persie, and you shouldn’t either. All we can do is go through the variables of the situation rationally and draw a conclusion. So let’s do that…..
- Money – No matter what way the numbers get presented, the fact of the matter is this; he could get a lot more money elsewhere. We could probably go as far as 4 years/£150,000 a week with a £5m signing on bonus. Not exactly chicken feed, but Man City could easily add another £100,000 a week to that. In the real world, the difference between £150k a week and £250k a week seem negligible, but this could be van Persie’s last big payday for the rest of his life. If he wants to provide the same quality of life that his family has now for a long period of time, then he need to fully maximise his earnings now, whilst the opportunity to do so is there. So if you were him, wouldn’t it make sense to send your agent out to other clubs and get an idea of what you could earn elsewhere, so that if you decide to stay at Arsenal, at least you know you’re being paid like your market value suggests you should be?
- Ambition – Again, the advantage is in van Persie’s corner. The list of clubs that would want to sign van Persie isn’t a group of clubs that aren’t competing, it’s the cream of Europe that wants his services. It’s the Barca’s, the Madrid’s, the Juve’s and, yes, the Man City’s that want him. So no matter where he plays next year, he’s going to be competing for trophies.
- Ego – This is where Arsenal have their biggest hold over van Persie. We’ve seen this season that Robin loves being captain. Dutch players tend to be more confident than others, almost to the point that it comes across as arrogance. Dennis’ greatest asset wasn’t his unbelievable technique, it was his supreme confidence in it. He knew he was better than you, and he had no qualms in showing you how. Robin is of the same ilk (Remember his little tiff with fellow Dutchman Tim Krul at the Emirates this year? All game long, Krul was letting Robin know that he was losing. When Arsenal took the lead in injury time, Robin was only too glad to inform Krul of what the scoreboard said.) and he enjoys being “The Man”. If he leaves Arsenal, he leaves being “The Man” behind him too. He’ll be just another face at Man City or Juve and he’d be Messi’s Plan B at Barca or Ronaldo and Jose’s sideshow at Madrid.
So what do I think will happen? I think he’ll stay. I think reason no.3 is far more important to van Persie than either 1 or 2 is, but we’ll need to address both of them to totally convince him. The most important thing is that if van Persie decides to leave, then we act quickly on it. Our mistake last year wasn’t in selling Cesc, it was waiting two months to replace him adequetly. That can’t happen again. If van Persie wants out, then we should sell him as soon as possible and bring in a replacement of sufficient quality so that his output isn’t missed. We’ve already got Podolski, are we worse off with Podolski and Falcao than we were this year with van Persie and Chamakh/Park? Hardly.
So until we hear for certain on whether van Persie is staying or not, let’s just plan for his departure anyway and hope that we don’t have to implement that same plan. Arsenal is bigger than any player, so whoever is the world-class centre-forward playing for us is irrelevant, just as long as we have one. That’s far more important than anybody’s “loyalty”.