6 Reflections on Van Persie's Decision to Leave Arsenal
Reactions to Van Persie's announcement not to renew his contract at Arsenal appear to conclude that he will leave, but this shouldn't necessarily be assumed to be the case.
For example, he seems to allow for the possibility of other developments (whatever they may be) after a further meeting with Ivan Gazidis.
Thus, in spite of the emphatic tone of his statement, it doesn't constitute blanket departure from the club. I elaborate on this in one of the points in the following.
In this reflection, I make only two prescriptions— none of which purports to be the answer that solves the situation.
Accordingly, this isn't "______Arsenal should do now that Van Persie wants to leave" type of articles, which I must say do have their place. This, rather, is a reading of sort of the situation.
Van Persie Reveals His True Color
In the case of Robin van Persie and Arsenal, we see an example where action doesn't always speak louder than words, or so it appears.
If it did, it would have been very clear over the last one year or so that Van Persie had already made up his mind to leave Arsenal, having shunned all attempts to engage in contract talks.
Noteworthy in this situation is the fact that in this announcement, he scuppers the second attempt to engage in talks with the club manager, one said to be in the offing sometime this week. In fact, some thought it'd be Wednesday, the day he chose to make his announcement.
To say that Van Persie has been accommodating to attempts at finding common ground between him and club is to disregard the true outlines of the situation.
I must conclude that this isn't a situation arising from the single session he had with Arsene Wenger and Ivan Gazidis.
It flows from a decision made long ago, a decision that informed his antipathy to all attempts at holding contract talks and one that has made him scupper any further talks with the manager.
It Still Comes Down to Money
According to Van Persie, "financial terms or a contract [were] not...discussed" at his meeting with Wenger and Gazidis "since that is not my priority at all."
Accordingly, his only ambition, he claims, is to bring "the club back to its glory days. But unfortunately" he continues, “in this meeting it has again become clear to me that we in many aspects disagree on the way Arsenal should move forward."
It has widely been thought that the reason Van Persie held out on talks was to gauge the club's ambition, a notion the above sentiment seems to verify.
When it comes to stating what exactly constitutes ambition, it has commonly been supposed that this equals making notable signings. The problem at Arsenal hasn't been lack of signings, but the lack of these supposed notable signings, which in other words means world-class stars.
Apparently, then, Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud, in addition to last summer's acquisitions (Mikel Arteta, Gervinho, Per Mertesacker, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain), don't qualify.
At the very core of this particular part of Van Persie's statement is a huge indictment of not just the club's management, but of the entire squad.
On the one hand, Van Persie erects a bar that disqualifies everyone else but himself. This is the blunt aspect of the situation.
As a matter of fact, it has been a common saying over the last year that Arsenal now have just one world-class player: Robin van Persie.
Van Persie, thus, sees none in the squad (including the new acquisitions) as meeting his standard of "ambition."
This then admits the question as to what player would satisfy Van Persie. Which player out there would Arsenal have bought to signal the club's ambitious?
In my opinion, if indeed Van Persie had held out in order to gauge the club's ambition, I'd think that the purchase of Podolski and Giroud should be enough indication of that.
I wouldn't begrudge Van Persie if, after a second round of conversation, he insisted that these purchases aren't enough. After all, he is allowed to have an opinion.
To claim this reason and then go ahead to cling to it after Arsenal have made what I'd consider notable signings is, again, to reveal his true colors.
Simply, Van Persie has never intended to renew his contract with Arsenal. He has always wanted to move on no matter what.
To claim that this has nothing to do with money is to be disingenuous about it. I wonder if Van Persie would be saying this if the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea weren't there to offer him more money.
On the other hand, though, there's another aspect to this idea of money.
This isn't only about the more money to be had somewhere by the player, it comes down to what Arsenal can afford to spend. The question is: how much spending would satisfy Van Persie vis-à-vis what the club can actually afford?
In terms of the kind of players that meet his standard, how many of such are there that Arsenal can really afford?
Bryn Lennon/Getty Images
Those who live in a dream world think Arsenal can afford anything and anyone. Those, one must live to their ignorance.
The fact is, there's a limit to what Arsenal can spend, and what they can't afford, they can't afford, despite Van Persie's wishes.
Therefore, notwithstanding the fact that he may have his own "vision" as to the direction of the club, it has to be anchor in reality. If it isn't, the claim becomes what it really is in essence: a smokescreen.
Any player who wants to leave Arsenal this day can do so under the guise of "wanting to win trophies."
Trophies are good, and players should want to win them, but to say that Arsenal don't want to win trophies themselves is a little unfair. What is instructive is that the players who advance this reason almost always go to places where there's higher pay.
A Test of the Club's Ambition
By this, I'm not referring to Van Persie's words per se. I refer to what the club must decide to do, which is either of two things: cash in and move on, or hold the player to his contract to prove a point. (This is as close to a prescription as I get.)
But what is this point to prove?
There is in the first place the fact that contracts matter. By which case a player cannot simply decide to leave just because his fancies find no fulfillment.
Secondly, there is the fact that clubs cannot simply wave money around, unsettle our players and then take them away, killing two birds with one stone as a result—in the first place crippling Arsenal's power to compete for trophies (which reduces Arsenal's threat to the offending club), and in the second place, strengthening the offending club's ability to compete.
There is in the third place that fact that the club can call Van Persie's bluff: refuse to let him leave, go on with its preparation for next season (which I'd think should include one or two more signings) and let the chips fall however and wherever they may in the coming season.
True, the club in doing so might be kissing at least £20 million goodbye, but perhaps in doing so, it might lose the battle and win the war.
There is, of course, the other side of the argument: let Van Persie go, take the money, buy other players and move on.
For me, though, this should be incumbent upon the fact that there are players out there that Arsenal could purchase immediately to make up for Van Persie.
In either of these two scenarios, I believe it is time for Arsenal to nib in the bud the notion that the club somehow lacks ambition. Being decisive involves requiring Van Persie to honor the term of his contract and remaining at the club for one more season.
There is, of course, the fact that making a player stay against his will never tends to pan out well. It often results in loss of productivity.
In the event of this, though, I'd doubt that Van Persie would have any notable place to go to. His only chance would be to recreate his form for Arsenal, and if he did, it could only benefit the club, and who knows what this might yield? Who knows what a year could do?
Fans should Respect Van Persie's Decision
The only blight on Van Persie's stay at Arsenal and on this decision is the fact that he has had just one season of real quality at Arsenal. It is the reason many would have loved him to stay on at Arsenal.
Many people allude to the fact that Wenger has stayed loyal to him despite his penchant for injury. Why couldn't he do the same, demonstrate the same loyalty?
It is a legitimate question to ask, but apparently Van Persie doesn't deem this worthy of consideration. Or perhaps he thinks one season of quality makes up for lost time.
I believe we the fans should respect the player. Personally, I'll always love and respect Van Persie and I can only wish him well wherever he goes.
Fans Should not be Disrespectful to the Club
There is a circle of fans that sound more like rival fans than Arsenal fans.
Nothing is ever good at Arsenal except that "it is the fifth richest club in the world!" How exactly it came to be numbered among the rich clubs seems to be of no account to these "fans."
Every other player is dung. So their complaint isn't just on the matter of spending. It is disturbingly about everything. In fact if you write favorable articles about the clubs, you are dung as well.
For this set of fans, this situation is fodder for another round of mindless criticism. Criticism can be fair, but it must be anchored in reality and fact.
For example, you'd hear this bandied around by just about anyone who has thumbs to type on Twitter or in the comments section of whatever articles they happen upon: "The club should have taken care of this long ago."
The club's first attempt to talk with Van Persie was at the time when he still had 18 months or more on his contract. Now realize that this predates the fantastic form he showed last season. How exactly, then, has the club erred in its attempt to renew his contract?
Are you saying that clubs should renew four-year contracts just half-way through the contracts? If so, what are the ramifications of this?
While there's indeed an argument to be made for this notion of "it should have been done long ago," such a statement shouldn't be thrown around as though it is the final knockout blow that clinches the argument.
Do not suppose other people fools, such that they simply went about like sheep without ever realizing that they could have settled all this "long ago."
The Saga Isn't Over Yet
Van Persie says he will update fans about further development on the situation when Ivan Gazidis returns from a two-week vacation in America. (Arsenal deny that Gazidis is on holiday.)
I'd think that further development would involve either of the two things I discussed under ambition above.
Meanwhile, Arsenal have released the following statement on Van Persie's decision:
We have to respect Robin's decision not to renew his contract. Robin has one year to run on his current contract and we are confident that he will fulfil his commitments to the Club.
We are planning with ambition and confidence for next season with Arsenal's best interests in mind.
Although the statement seems to imply that the club might require Van Persie to honor the remainder of his contract, it'd be a mistake to state this conclusively.
This is the first reaction, which I suppose will be mitigated by further deliberation on the matter.
One thing is clear: we haven't heard the last of this. What the management decides, though, might critically impact the club's immediate future.
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