“What the fuck were you doing?” Arsene Wenger shouted at Robin van Persie as he trudged off the field, following his second yellow card, soon after the second half kicked off with Arsenal a goal down against Southampton. It was the end of February and van Persie’s sixth ever start in the league, after usually being kept on the bench late in to the game before replacing Robert Pires or Freddie Ljungberg.
In The Telegraph‘s match report they claimed the new Arsenal signing was “21 going on nine.” After getting away with just a yellow card after elbowing Rory Delap, “most young men would have blessed their good fortune and kept a sensible distance from controversy from then on. But then Van Persie, who has upset Holland’s team officials with his arrogant attitude, is not most young men. He appears to believe that his footballing talent makes him a law unto himself.”
Players like van Persie tend to be very unpopular with fans of rival teams. Cocky, arrogant, dirty and supremely talented. But when they play for you, you love them. Ruud van Nistelrooy is probably the closest we’ve had to a player like van Persie, with that nasty Dutch streak running through him too. He was a figure of hate for Arsenal fans during the years when we competed against each other for the title. If van Persie had been Arsenal’s top scorer during this period, we would have likely passionately hated him too.
Unlike most players from rival clubs that I dislike, I’ve always admired van Persie and always been fearful when he’s played against us. He’s one of those players who just needs one slight lapse from the defence to rifle the ball in to the back of the net. I’d have loved him at United but that was never going to happen.
The Dutchman has dragged himself through the years at Arsenal after such a hopeful start. At the end of his first season, he came off the bench in that agonising FA Cup final in 2005 to score in the penalty shoot-out and help win them the trophy.
Eighteen months in to his career his good form was rewarded with a new five year deal but two days later he broke his toe. He made 24 appearances in the league and was an unused substitute in their Champions League final defeat to Barcelona.
The following season, this admiration I had from afar was diluted somewhat after he scored a late equaliser against us at the Emirates before Thierry Henry scored an even later winner. That was an awful day but the silver lining was the metatarsal break he suffered in celebrating the goal which put him out for the rest of the season.
See, that was the problem for van Persie. You had to wonder whether he was ever going to fulfil his potential, become a real great, because he suffered from so many injuries. Until last season, his best season, in terms of being injury free, still saw him miss ten league games. Discounting his first year at the club when he wasn’t a regular starter, on average he misses 16 league games a season.
However, last season, at long last, he finally had the kind of season you would expect from a player of his quality. He didn’t miss a single game in the league and scored an impressive 30 goals. Cristiano Ronaldo in 2008, Alan Shear in 1996 and 1995, as well as Andy Cole in 1994 (when there were 42 games in a season) are the only players to better this in the 20 years of Premier League football. Van Persie showed exactly what he was capable of when he managed to stay fit. However, it was yet another trophyless season for him.
Van Persie recently revealed that he would not be signing a new deal with Arsenal so chances are he will be sold on this summer, as he would be able to leave on a free next year.
Last month his father claimed that if Van Persie was going to leave Arsenal, it would not be to another Premier League club, and reckoned a move to Manchester City was “impossible”. However, with Arsenal becoming City’s feeder club, they were favourites to sign him, despite reported interest from Italy. United had been linked with him but even with a reduced transfer fee, due to his age and contract status, there’s no way we could compete financially with City when it came to his wages.
Then reports in The Mirror yesterday claimed that Sir Alex Ferguson had been telling people he was confident about us signing van Persie. You can of course take this with a pinch of salt but it does get you thinking. Is it a real possibility? Do we want it to be? Of course, if news broke today that he had signed for United, I can’t imagine there would be too many disappointed people, but speaking hypothetically, do we hope there is truth in these reports in The Mirror?
For me, I’d be fairly disappointed if we spent £20m on a 29-year-old injury prone striker in the last year of his contract, even after his brilliant season. There’s no doubt he’s a top player still but it’s hard to imagine him equalling or bettering his 30 goals in 38 games last season, for the likelihood that he will miss chunks of the season through injury as much as anything else. He apparently turned down £130k at Arsenal, so we’d be paying him £150k? £180k? And where would this leave the likes of Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez?
If we’ve got £20m knocking about and the ability to pay a massive salary, there can be no doubt that it would be far better spent on a superstar midfielder. We have top quality up front, on the wings and in defence, but it is the centre of the park that we could really do with strengthening. We’ll be fine next season if Tom Cleverley (and Anderson) can keep the injuries away and if Paul Scholes is used wisely. Michael Carrick was great last season and if we can maintain that form then that will be great. We lost the title on goal difference after suffering ridiculous injuries, so if we can keep our players fit this year, we have a good chance of winning the league. But a world class midfielder would make all the difference for the title and to allow us to compete in Europe. To spend it on van Persie would be wasteful.
Of the two Manchester clubs, United would be the best move for him, because he would almost certainly play more. If he suffers from injuries next season, as you imagine he would, he wouldn’t get a regular run in the City team to help regain fitness and would just play a bit part role. He could go to City, help them win the league playing a minor role, and maybe that would be enough for him on the wages they would offer. Or he could come to United, help us win the league playing a major role, and maybe contributing more heavily to the success and playing more regularly would be worth enough to be paid less. Who knows? Just as van Persie’s dad is certain he wouldn’t go to another Premier League club, Arsene Wenger was certain he wouldn’t go to Serie A, telling journalists: “If he moves there, I will buy you a caramello.”
However, being realistic, chances are we won’t have £20m or the money for a top salary, so we should probably put thoughts of a midfielder and van Persie on hold. Indefinitely.