Watching football fans watching the football
FourFourTwo's Ben Welch on the fall-out from Robin van Persie's imminent switch from Arsenal to Manchester United
As another superstar walks out of Arsenal and into the arms of a rival club, it’s easy to understand why the fans are furious. But their anger is directed at the wrong person, for the wrong reasons.
Robin van Persie is being labelled a disloyal, money-grabbing mercenary for hopping off Arsenal’s Millennium Falcon, bound by a code of morality and justice, to step aboard the Death Star to join Darth Ferguson’s quest for world domination.
It doesn’t help when the high-profile fans like Piers Morgan spew hateful tweets such as: “Funny, I really thought @Persie_Official was different. But he turned out to be just another mercenary, heartless, selfish little s**t.”
Followed by another pragmatic gem: “What a sickening betrayal of Wenger too - the man who stood so loyally behind @Persie_Official through years of injury. #VanPursestrings”
What a plonker. Illogical, irrational, senseless tripe. Do Arsenal’s fans really think the club should be rewarded for not casting him aside during a spell on the sidelines? Surely that’s their duty as his employer?
He was a business asset. They were paying his wages. It was in their interests to nurse him back to fitness. Hardly a selfless act.
Let’s not forget he would’ve worked hard during his rehabilitation and when he was fully fit, he banged in a hatful of goals for the club. Last season he scored 30 in 37 Premier League games, racking up nine assists, meaning he was directly involved in 53 per cent of Arsenal’s goals. Not bad for a heartless gun-for-hire.
Football is a tribal sport, often invoking extreme emotional reactions, but why does it transform seemingly intelligent, logical people into mindless idiots?
Firstly, the fans make the mistake of gorging on an all-you-can-eat buffet of rumour and speculation served up by newspapers, websites, forums and social networking sites, all of which profess to have insider knowledge.
Sure, a well-informed journalist might know a few people behind the scenes, but they’re not there during the negotiations and they don’t always know the player well enough to know what they’re thinking or understand their family situation.
They generally get subjected to the same smokescreen press conferences and fluffy official statements the fans do, all of which come from the PR machine designed to paint a pretty picture.
We forget players are human. In reality we don’t know what factors have gone into their decisions, so why do we suddenly think we can castigate them when we know so little?
Think about it logically. Football is their job. If you were unhappy at your place of work and another more successful company came along and offered you more money and better prospects would you seize the opportunity? It’s a no brainer. The same reasoning applies to footballers.
In the past seven years Arsenal have won absolutely nothing. During the same period Manchester United have won four Premier League titles, one Champions League, three League Cups and one FIFA World Club Cup.
Put yourself in Van Persie’s shoes. You’ve been with the club for eight years, given your absolute all, but you’re 29 and you want to win more trophies before your short career comes to an end. One of the biggest clubs in the world, if not the biggest, comes calling. What would you do?
While Arsene Wenger has done an amazing job to keep Arsenal competitive, despite spending very little in comparison to their rivals, the Gunners are a selling club and the Dutchman knows this.
Ok, so this summer has been different, with the likes of Lukas Podolski, Santi Cazorla and Olivier Giroud being bought, but Van Persie has become accustomed to seeing former team-mates lifting trophies in the colours of other clubs – between them, Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry, Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas have won 14 trophies since leaving the Gunners.
Maybe Van Persie just wants to a new challenge – what’s wrong with that? Do we not all feel like that sometimes?
There is also no suggestion he ever demanded a transfer, he just stated he didn’t want to sign a new contract because he disagreed with Wenger on how the club should move forward. Surely, he’s entitled to his opinion? Just because he played for Arsenal doesn’t mean he’s forever in the club’s debt.
Besides, it’s not like it came out of the blue. At the end of last season he said: “I have been playing here for eight years and I love this club. Whatever happens that will never change. We'll sit down next week. Arsenal is a massive club, whatever happens I'll always love this club.”
He hasn’t been misleading, he’s been candid. And true to his word he sat down with the club and he wasn’t happy he decided he wanted to move on. Fair enough, no?
It’s funny that the same Arsenal fans who are furious with Van Persie for leaving the Gunners to join a bigger club, are totally fine with Podolski departing his boyhood club FC Koln for the same reasons.
The German international said: "I have made this decision not against FC Köln but for this great opportunity and the good of my own individual development.
“This was not an easy decision for me at all, as Köln, our fans and the city are something special for me. I will always carry FC Köln in my heart.”
Although the sugar coating of his statement was a little thicker than Van Persie’s, the sentiment was the same.
At least the Dutchman was up front and frank with the club and fans when he said: ”I think it’s fair for you guys to know what’s really going on at the moment.”
Last summer Fabregas did nothing of the sort, he kept quiet and played innocent, yet he’s still loved. Surely, Van Perise’s honesty is more admirable?
While some fans have vented frustration at the club for allowing such a situation to develop, I don’t think you can disagree it’s a good bit of business - £24 million for a 29-year-old with one full and consistently great season to his name. He has no further sell-on value and United don’t really need him. Trying to fit him into their system alongside Wayne Rooney may prove more of a hindrance than a help.
What is perhaps a more understandable gripe is that he has been sold to Manchester United. Traditionally Arsenal have sold their stars to foreign suitors (Nasri aside), which makes sense as they will not be direct rivals domestically. But this transfer could directly damage any chances the Gunners have of winning the title in the two or three seasons.
While Arsenal have shown more ambition this summer than in recent transfer windows, it is still hugely disappointing to lose another player to a bigger club. Arsenal are looking more and more like a finishing school for talented young players, rather than genuine contenders for the game’s major honours.
But fans should keep things in perspective, Arsenal may have sold their talismanic captain, but they have also brought in three very good players and have the cash to add further to their squad and overall the club’s transfer dealings make financial sense.
I just hope Sky Sports don’t find a baseball cap-wearing moron trudging around The Emirates armed with a lighter and a Van Persie shirt. That will prompt an overwhelming feeling of cringe and shame.
Before we start to point the finger, we should remember that while van Persie has been blessed with a super human talent, he is just a bloke that plays football for a living.
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