Another summer off-season has brought on another crisis for the Premiere League’s Arsenal FC. In 2009 the red and white lost power talents Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Adebayor to rivals Manchester City in summer transfers. In 2011, they lost world class midfielder Cesc Fabregas to Barcelona and playmaker Samir Nasri, along with defender Gael Clichy, to Manchester City. The club has mostly replaced such lost talents with cheaper, younger players, many of whom have not stepped up to fill the lost Gunners’ boots. This year, as the Gunners ruthlessly climbed the table after an awful start to the 2011 campaign, striker and captain Robin Van Persie emerged as the massive talent that the club’s fans suspected he was, but which a string of injuries had prevented from full revelation. He scored when he wanted in the 2011 season, it seemed, banging in 37 goals in all competitions and netting the Premiere League’s Golden Boot and both Player of the Year awards. At times Van Persie carried the Gunners on his back.
But throughout Van Persie’s incredible campaign, there was a nagging doubt that he would not return for another season. He was in the penultimate year of his contract, and had put off any extension talks until the end of the season. Arsenal finished third in the table, and RVP joined his countrymen at the Euro 2012 championships, no new contract inked. On Wednesday, he declared that he would not sign an extension.
His announcement has sparked condemnation and a raging debate: Should Arsenal sell him and buy other players to replace him, or should they hold him to that final year?
Van Persie is no youngster by soccer standards; he turns 29 in August. He has been injury-plagued throughout his time at Arsenal, and was once accused of rape. That charge was false, and the club stood patiently by him during that ordeal and the many months he has spent off the pitch and on the doctor’s table. One great and complete season later, though, he questions the club’s ambition and says that he will not extend his contract. Here is how he framed his decision to leave in his statement to the club’s fans:
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 should move forward.
I’ve thought long and hard about it, but I have decided not to extend my contract. You guys, the fans, have of course the right to disagree with my view and decision and I will always respect your opinions.
I love the club and the fans, no matter what happens. I have grown up and became a man during my time with Arsenal. Everybody at the club and the fans have always supported me over the years and I have always given my all (and more) on and off the pitch.
The timing is interesting: Arsenal have already bought two world-class strikers in Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud before the summer transfer window has even officially opened, and are said to be chasing the signatures of a new goalkeeper and one or more established midfielders including American Clint Dempsey, who is coming off his best season at Premiere League stalwart Fulham. They are also in the hunt for Belgian defender Jan Vertonghen. Podolski carried his German club last season, and Giroud led the French league in scoring on the way to his club winning the title. None of Arsenal’s moves to sign them and other players show any lack of ambition. Despite his protestation that he has “huge respect” for club manager Arsene Wenger, Van Persie’s statement says otherwise: The player is questioning the manager’s and the board’s vision for the club. His public statement caught the club off guard. It was designed to damage the club going into its transfer window, and may reduce the price it could have gotten for him had he stayed quiet. That’s disrespect, and the club and its fans expected and deserved better from him.