Earlier today, Arsenal captain Robin van Persie, voted the Premier League's best player of last season, announced the news all Arsenal fans had been dreading: He was not going to renew his contract with the club.
First, a disclaimer: I, along with most Arsenal fans, still have lots of respect for van Persie. His love for the club is undeniable, and last season, he rescued the side from a top-club's version of relegation by carrying the team to a Champions League berth.
Provided van Persie maintains the dignity he has shown throughout his career at Arsenal, I suspect he will always be more of an Henry or Fabregas than a Nasri or Cole.
In other words, he will always be welcome at the Emirates, regardless of the crest on his chest.
After all, he has carried the club season after season, and for a while now, it has become clear that he is too good for the club. He has charitably given everything to a club that, by not winning a trophy, has abused his good nature.
Now, he is deservedly moving on to one of Europe's real contenders.
Well, not really. To understand the farce that lies in the above statement, let's look back at van Persie's career in London, season by season.
August 30, 2002: The date of Feynoord's UEFA Super Cup match against Real Madrid.
A 19-year old Robin van Persie, Dutch football's brightest young striker, was nowhere to be seen. He had been sent home by his manager on account of persistent bad behaviour.
This was just one randomly selected incident during van Persie's tumultuous time at Feynoord that led to him being classed as a footballing leper; Feynoord decided to cut their losses on the striker and put him in the shop window.
One year later? Still no takers.
Finally, Arsene Wenger offered the youngster a contract and, more importantly, a chance to revitalise a career, as he had done with Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry, Jens Lehmann and Patrick Vieira.
Feynoord were so keen to wash their hands of him that they accepted €2.5m—around a quarter of their original asking price.
Arsenal offered van Persie a second chance, even when other clubs in Europe had no faith in him.
Arsenal even stood by van Persie when, in one of his first league appearances for the club, he received a red card for two abhorrent acts during a match against Southampton—this, happening after he crashed his new sports car.
It reminds me of a player currently in the Premiership, I just can't remember his name.
To top it all off, his season—which would not be the last time—was cut short by injury.
Still, Arsenal stood by him.
Van Persie, 22, enjoyed a more stable second season at the club.
Still, question marks remained.
For starters—despite a few wonderful goals for the club—he only ended the season with five goals in 26 league matches.
Both these numbers tell their own stories.
26 matches begs the question about his fitness, as van Persie sustained injuries again. Meanwhile, a ratio of one in five did not appear to be up to Arsenal's standards, given how prolific the other strikers were.
Was van Persie capable of producing week in, week out? Or was he another Dean Ashton—a player who covered up his inefficiencies by scoring the occasional screamer?
While many critics mulled over these questions, Arsenal did not.
Arsenal stood by him.
This season marked a new era for Arsenal, and also for van Persie.
Playing in a new stadium, the dutchman quickly stepped out of Bergkamp's shadow and established himself as a bona-fide starter at Arsenal.
He scored 13 goals in the first half of the season—including what Wenger described as 'the goal of a lifetime' against Charlton Athletic.
In Arsenal's first Emirates match against Manchester United, the home side were trailing 1-0 in the 83rd minute when van Persie—a substitute due to, you guessed it, fitness concerns—slid in to score the equalising goal and set up a grand-stand finish that Arsenal came out of with a 2-1 victory.
This was it. Van Persie had finally arrived, and Arsenal had a superstar on their books to fill the gap that seemed to be coming with Thierry Henry's inevitable departure.
That's what we thought, anyway.
In that same match, he broke his metatarsal and was ruled out for the season by January.
Needless to say, Arsenal stood by him.
Predictably, this season also started with intense optimism surrounding van Persie.
A superb goal against Internazionale in pre-season, coupled with a goal in each of his first two matches, consolidated this optimism.
Unfortunately, an injury sustained in October ruled him out for several months and limited him to a few cameo appearances for the rest of the campaign.
He ended the season with just 15 appearances and seven goals and just one (penalty) goal in 2008.
Tellingly, this was his second highest goal tally at Arsenal in four years at the club.
By this point, Arsenal fans were more realistic about what to expect from van Persie, given his injury record.
Ironically, he spent the season relatively injury-free (by his standards), appearing in just under 75% of Arsenal's league matches, scoring 11 goals and leading the Premiership in assists.
Though question marks still remained over his goal ratio (he still hadn't managed to average 1 in 2 in his whole career), his contribution during the prolonged absences of Fabregas and Adebayor meant that, for the first time, he seemed to be really eating his wage.
Had Arsenal's unrivalled faith paid off?
With a fully fit Fabregas, Arshavin and Nasri backing him up, van Persie started the 2009-10 season on fire, earning the league's Player of the Month award for October.
Unfortunately in November, he sustained an injury that looked to keep him out for six weeks.
Nevertheless, the player insisted on experimental treatment for the injury, and as ever, Arsenal stood by him.
He ended up missing five months because of this and did not return until April—concluding the season with a mere 16 appearances. He did, however, finally manage to average more than 1 in 2 by scoring 9 goals.
By this point, many professional sports teams would have done away with a player who had only averaged a 57% appearance rate for the club, coupled with a 36% strike rate.
But Arsenal stood by him.
After a poor World Cup for van Persie, coupled with an injury-hit previous season, van Persie looked to roll the dice once more at finally delivering a world-class season at Arsenal.
Of course, he dutifully became injured again and had to wait until January to score his first league goal for Arsenal.
For the first time in years, Arsenal were real title contenders, and van Persie made sure he came along for the ride.
A stunning goal against Barcelona was just one of an amazing 18 for van Persie, who was only able make 25 appearances.
After losing Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri, Arsenal were in a diabolical state, and a mid-table finish looked optimistic.
Nonewithstanding, van Persie heroically continued where he left off.
Without going into too many details, van Persie was as close to a one-man-team as I have ever seen in football.
His outstanding record of 15 assists is almost never mentioned, on account of the astonishing 37 goals he scored—despite being backed up by a comparatively mediocre Arsenal side.
Us Arsenal fans will never, ever, forget this.
Thierry Henry's goals may have won us titles, but as many clubs (most recently Liverpool) have shown, Champions League qualification is just as important in the modern game.
Moreover, van Persie's titanic effort should go down as one of the best individual performances in an Arsenal season.
This time, he had stood by Arsenal.
As mentioned at the dawn of this article, Arsenal's prodigal son has decided to set.
He will not be returning to Arsenal after 2013—or possibly even before that.
This might seem fair to someone who has only watched the past season, since the player has seemingly outgrown his surroundings and seems to owe nothing to the club that he single-handedly carried last season.
I hope this article shows that Van Persie owes much more to Arsenal than Arsenal does to him.
He owes them for resurrecting a career that seemed dead before it was alive. He owes them for standing by him season after season, despite mediocre goal returns and horrendous injury records. He owes them for standing by him throughout his off-field indiscretions early in his career and never seeking compensation for the matches he missed.
He owes them everything.
Chelsea? Ask Arjen Robben and Adrien Mutu.
The list goes on, but the implication is that whatever trophies may be available at other clubs, the status and goodwill van Persie enjoys at Arsenal (who have already improved with their squad of last season) will not be replicated anywhere.
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