It seems to be a recurring theme at Arsenal these days. Every summer seems to be dominated by the story of a big player—often the captain—leaving the club.
It started in the early 2000s with Patrick Vieira for a few summers. Once he left, Thierry Henry was the flavor of the season. Cesc Fabregas took centre stage next. Last season, Samir Nasri was in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. And this year, when we hoped things might be quiet, or at least not overly complicated, Robin van Persie has knocked our socks off.
Last year's transfer window—starring Fabregas and Nasri—was undoubtedly the nadir. A case study on "How to make a complete hash of your club's summer." And the fall-out effect on Arsenal's season was immediate. 17th place after the first five games, if I remember correctly. One that we could not recover from.
This year, frighteningly, threatens to be no different. Van Persie has upset the apple cart with his most thoughtful "Update for the fans." And a tug of war has ensued, featuring Arsenal, Juventus, Manchester United and Manchester City.
In all this murky business, the only party that stands to lose is Arsenal—either financially, or as Arsene Wenger once said, "footballistically." Gotta love the boss!
It is, therefore, imperative that Arsenal make the best of the hopeless situation they find themselves in, or else we may be faced with another season of underachievement and frustration. And to make myself clear, I'm not a "trophy hunter," but I feel frustrated that the team does not make the best use of its potential.
For starters, Arsenal have done well to bring in Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud. They did this nice and early, knowing that van Persie may not be a stayer—as confirmed by ex-Gunner and current scout Gilles Grimandi. And their timing ensured that they were charged reasonable prices for both players. Well done, so far!
With those fine preemptive moves now consigned to the history books, the road ahead is what matters. And it is a road that is littered with land mines.
Here's what I think the club must do to escape with the fewest scars.
Make an Honest Announcement
Robin Van Persie wants to leave Arsenal Football Club. Fact. Arsenal would love him to stay, but barring the mother of all climb-downs, he won't. Reality. Arsenal are looking for a rather large pound of flesh for their prized asset. Fair enough. It will probably be in the latter half of August when the sale is made. Inconvenient, yet probably true.
Ever since Wenger has returned for preseason, all he has said is that van Persie is the best striker around, and that he wants him to stay. The most recent such utterance was just yesterday. However, reality suggests that the player will leave, and it's time the club officially accept that.
In this context, I have to say that I was most impressed with Roberto Mancini's handling of the Carlos Tevez situation last season. As soon as the issue unfolded, the player was fined, sidelined from the first team, and put up for sale at a price determined by his club.
There was limited talk on the situation from Manchester City, and the club, fans and press all accepted that Tevez would not be a part of the team for the foreseeable future. They moved on.
Had he been sold in January, there would have been limited impact on the squad, because they had already come to terms with his departure. He was not expected to play a role for the remainder of the season.
And when he did eventually apologize and return to the squad, he was, in the immortal—and sometimes frustrating—words of Arsene Wenger, "like a new signing." a crucial component in the club's title victory.
The van Persie situation is largely similar, and Arsenal would do well to emulate City. Van Persie should be sidelined from the first team, this should be clearly announced to all and sundry, and plans should be made for the season ahead without him in mind.
Therefore, if he goes, there will be no impact on the team. And if, for whatever reason, he stays—for one season or more—his presence will only make the team stronger.
Get the Interested Clubs into a Bidding War
As far as we know, three clubs are interested in van Persie—Manchester City, Manchester United and Juventus. and who knows when Barcelona, Real Madrid and AC Milan may join the party. There is no Cesc-like situation, with the player wanting to go to just one club. He probably wants to go where he'll earn the most money, because all of these clubs are almost equally likely to win some silverware.
Arsenal need to send out a clear message that they're looking for the highest bidder, tell van Persie's representatives to discuss personal terms with all interested parties and get the bidding war started!
Set a Price and a Deadline
Arsenal must surely have a figure in mind. Let's say it's £25 million. It is also fairly obvious that a financially prudent club like Arsenal will not wish to lose the player for nothing next year. Therefore, a deadline for his sale needs to be cast in stone. With the transfer window closing on August 31, I would say that August 29 is as far as the club should stretch it.
As of August 29, if a club bids anything in the region of £20 million, the player should be sold. In my opinion, van Persie should be sold to a foreign club. Even if that means a slight financial loss for Arsenal. The fall-out of having a former player in the Premier League—think Nasri, Emmanuel Adebayor and Ashley Cole—is massive.
No thought should be spared for the player's preference. If the highest bidder is Anzhi from Russia, send him there.
There exists the possibility that come August 29, the highest bid may well be from Manchester City, and the amount may be no more than £15 million.
In that case, I would say keep the player and sell him for nothing a year later. That would be an almost unthinkable option for Arsenal. However, it is worth bearing in mind that this is no ordinary player we're talking about, and his performances may just earn Arsenal more than £15 million in prize money and commercial revenue over the course of the year.
And of course, there may be a reduced interest in signing an injury-plagued 30-year-old player in the summer of 2013. So it may not be the worst idea out there to just keep him.
Yes, this all sounds very simplistic, and it's probably not a perfect reflection of how things really work. But in this murky business of football transfers, one thing must be paramount—the interests of Arsenal Football Club.
We've been nice guys too often in the past. With people who aren't so.
It's time to stand up for ourselves.
Because if Arsenal doesn't take itself seriously, don't expect others to do likewise.