Robin van Persie has grown tired of Arsenal's failure to match his ambition. After eight years, the last seven of which have come and gone without a trophy, the Dutchman announced on Wednesday he will not be signing a new contract.
Most Arsenal fans will greet the news as a depressingly inevitable conclusion, that says everything about the club's limitations. Van Persie is just the latest player at the peak of his powers shot of the Gunners because of their reluctance to invest the kind of money on transfers and wages that wins titles.
His looming exit, whether it comes this summer or next, will cut deeper because Van Persie will leave reluctantly. If we are to believe the statement released on his personal website, there is little thought for his own financial gain here—though it is sure to be substantial wherever he lands next, especially if he chooses Manchester City.
What Arsenal are prepared to spend on Van Persie has never been the issue. It's what the club are prepared invest on world-class players to be brought in around him that appears to have forced the 29-year-old's hand. Clearly the signings of Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud do not represent the statement of intent he was looking for.
Here's what Van Persie said of his talks with Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger and the club's chief executive Ivan Gazidis, as per his statement:
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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.
Therein lies the dilemma for football clubs everywhere. Proceed with caution, balance the books and act sensibly in the transfer market, and you risk being left behind. And what point is there of a long-term strategy if, by the time it bears fruit, you've lost all your best players and are already too far off the pace?
That's one of the problems with UEFA's financial fairplay (FFP) regulations. While they are designed to ensure clubs stay afloat in the long term, they don't take into the account the fact that those who have acted with abandon in the past may start with a huge advantage.
With that comes a danger that the powerbase of European football will be frozen. Those at the top table will keep their seats, while the rest look on longingly.
Manchester City owner Sheik Mansour has invested a staggering £900 million since buying the club in 2008, and already raided Arsenal for Gael Clichy, Samir Nasri, Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Adebayor—at a combined cost of £73 million.
But City are reigning Premier League champions and surely Champions League mainstays from here forward. Success may well have been bought, but it means their earning potential has skyrocketed. As David Conn reported for the Guardian, City believe they can leverage their success to meet UEFA's requirements:
City maintain that the lucrative earnings from winning the world's richest league, competing in the Champions League and from commercial sponsorships including Nike, bring their earnings above £200m and that they can grapple wage costs under control.
City's risk-and-reward financial approach is the antithesis of that adopted by Arsenal in recent years. The Gunners' watchword is sustainability, and to that end theirs is exactly the kind of model UEFA are hoping to see replicated across Europe.
“It is mathematical logic that what goes out has to equal what comes in. If that does not work then the company loses money," said Wenger in February this year, as per Arsenal's official website.
The Arsenal manager believes FFP will level the playing field, and is unsurprisingly fully behind the new regulations. UEFA have already begun monitoring clubs' finances and will be issuing licenses to those who meet their criteria for the 2014-15 season.
In the meantime, what of Arsenal's aspirations to be a genuine force again? The Gunners went empty-handed last season and may well enter the next without a player who scored 30 of their 72 Premier League goals (Theo Walcott was next best with 8).
And even if Van Persie sees out his contract—as Arsenal hope he will—there's the looming specter of his departure to serve as a constant reminder that the Gunners weren't quite good enough for him. To that end, it might be best for all concerned if he goes sooner rather than later.
Whatever happens, the Van Persie saga is the just latest in a long line of frustrations for Arsenal fans. And it will take more than a cameo from Thierry Henry in January to appease the long-suffering souls at the Emirates next season.
We've said it before, but the new season is beginning to feel like a make-or-break one for Wenger. And it will start with the way he responds to Van Persie's statement—one that appears to undermine his manager's very vision for the club.