By Arsenal blogger, Gingers4Limpar
Shouldn’t football fans grow up and stop having massive collective strops every time a player moves to a rival club? Aren’t we all hypocrites for castigating footballers who move for self-interest, when most of us do the same in our own careers?
Partly, yes. But as Robin van Persie’s move to Manchester United in the summer demonstrates, the threesome relationship between clubs, fans and players is far too messy over which to cast such simplistic judgments.
The story begins with Arsene Wenger signing a talented yet troublesome Dutch youngster from Feyenoord in May 2004 – a dream move for Van Persie, who was soon training alongside giants of the Invincibles team such as Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Robert Pires, and Pascal Cygan.
Five months later and the then 21-year-old’s ability was apparent for all at Highbury to see, as he curled in a superb last minute equaliser to save us from a humiliating home defeat to Southampton.
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A star was born!
Alas for Robin, injuries plagued his time at the club. Only two of his eight seasons saw him start 20 or more league games. And not until 2010-11 did he manage more than 20 goals in a season (including all competitions).
Yet the manager stuck by him while the fans kept faith – the same fans that relentlessly, vociferously sang his name last season, once his injury problems finally cleared up.
The Gooner affection that surrounded Robin for much of the previous two seasons was richly enjoyed by its recipient and added to the drama of the protracted “will he, won’t he” saga as his contract ticked down. He, his advisers and his family happily endorsed the painting of a man who was vehemently ambitious yet deeply in love with his club.
“I’ll always be a Gunner,” he smiled when collecting the Football Writers' Footballer of the Year award last May – an early sign of his odd desire to fire up the emotional link with the fans while simultaneously paving the way for his departure.
Robin’s regular pledges of love for the club were echoed – somewhat strangely – by his family. His wife used Twitter to refute “rumours” of his departure. “Please don’t believe anything,” she begged of Arsenal fans, while gaily retweeting happy exchanges with supporters throughout the period.
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"Arsenal believed in Robin when he was young and when he was considered as a bit of a rebel,” she told the press in May. “I also love it that everyone at Arsenal respects him. At the training ground, at the stadium, his team-mates, the fans. Everyone comes up to me all the time to tell me how happy they are with him.”
If that wasn’t enough, enter Van Persie’s mother: “Arsenal is a beautiful club. I honestly feel that the fans and the people at the club really love him. That is worth so much, too,” she said, also back in May.
As the Van Persie womenfolk dropped hint after hint that Robin could stay, the man himself added to the feeling – for example by proudly telling of how his 91-year-old grandfather was allowed onto the Arsenal pitch after a game, as another example of his family’s supposed connection with the club.
Yet we all know how it ends. Just weeks later Robin published an open letter to Arsenal fans which absurdly attested his “respect and loyalty for the club” while at the same time forcing his way out of north London and straight into the arms of one of our most fierce rivals.
The contradiction perhaps shouldn’t have surprised us. As crazy as it sounds, Robin wanted to stay loved by Arsenal fans while also getting a chance to play for Manchester United. This is a man who poses proudly with his dutiful wife and kids, yet allegedly cannot resist partying with women of dubious morals while away from home with the Dutch national team.
He demands his cake’s icing to remain pristinely undisturbed, at the same time as wanting its creamy filling to be shoved gluttonously into his gob.
As Robin has discovered, you can’t have it both ways – at least not in the football world. And most people in the game understand that you can’t have it both ways with regards to the fans’ behaviour.
If supporters are going to be as devoted and caring towards players as Villa’s faithful have been of Stiliyan Petrov, to give one admittedly extreme example, then they’re also going to be pretty upset when a player callously snubs them and jumps into bed with the enemy.
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It may seem irrational and childish, but such is the nature of supporting a football team. Jumping on a train to Carlisle on a Tuesday night to get drunk with your mates while cheering on 11 men kicking a ball around is also irrational and childish, yet the game would be pretty dull if thousands of us packed that in for the more “rational” option of a night in with a DVD and a 'Dine in for £10' meal for two deal from M&S.
Robin will, therefore, get a rough reception from us travelling Gooners tomorrow. Yet I, personally, plan to refrain from such behaviour. He has already paid the price, in my mind.
He wanted to be an Arsenal legend and a Manchester United legend but has lost any right to the former. Quite simply, he made his decision and is not welcome back. Energy wasted on vitriol towards him is better spent standing together and supporting our wonderful club and the boys on the pitch who have not (yet) deserted us.
And besides, I’m getting too old for all that shouting and bile. It’s a great shame that Van Persie slipped so swiftly from potential Arsenal legend to troublesome runaway child; but that’s what happened, and so be it.
You see I’m not angry with you, Robin – just disappointed.Follow Gingers4Limpar on