By Wayne Veysey | Chief Correspondent
The beginning of the end of Robin van Persie’s Arsenal career came in a meeting at Arsene Wenger’s home in the exclusive Totteridge area of north London three days after the dramatic finish to the last Premier League season.
Van Persie was finally ready to talk about his future after delaying contract talks until the last ball had been kicked of a campaign which had finished with him carrying off a clean sweep of the player of the year awards.
Goal.com can reveal for the first time, 24 hours before the pair are due to meet again as Arsenal take on Manchester United at Old Trafford, the explosive details of the summit, which was to sour the relationship of Wenger and Van Persie beyond repair.
It set the wheels in motion for a £24 million move to United that would be completed three months later, but only after Wenger went to extreme lengths to steer his star player into a cut-price move to the Continent.
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Van Persie and his agent Kees Vos, a long-time family friend, met face to face with Wenger and the Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis. The meeting took place at the manager’s home because he had just undergone eye surgery and was wearing an eye patch.
Discussions did not centre on what kind of contract Arsenal were willing to offer or, indeed, the type of deal that Van Persie wanted. Instead, the reigning PFA and FWA Player of the Year demanded to know the direction in which Arsenal were heading.
Wenger explained Lukas Podolski, a signing that had been announced in April, would provide greater penetration on the left flank and there were plans to add greater depth and quality to the squad.
Van Persie was not happy with what he heard. Emboldened by his remarkable performances in 2011-12, when his 37 goals inspired the team to heights that had seemed impossible following a disastrous start to the season, the Dutchman spoke his mind.
“There were very heated discussions,” a source with knowledge of the talks told Goal.com. “Van Persie told Wenger which players to sign and who he should appoint as his number two. He wanted an external coach from outside of the club to replace [the retired] Pat Rice and didn’t want Steve Bould to get promoted because he felt the current staff were all ‘yes’ men and too comfortable in the job.”
Arsenal were unwilling to comment when contacted by Goal.com but it is understood that Wenger was furious. He had once axed Thierry Henry from the team for declaring in his national newspaper column that the club should sign Shaun Wright-Phillips and did not take kindly to his judgement being questioned, however celebrated the player.
“Van Persie challenged Wenger and no-one really does that,” the source added. “It developed into quite a row.”
Subsequently, the relationship between the one of the most respected managers of his generation and one of Europe’s most feared forwards broke down.
Van Persie left for Euro 2012 with his future unresolved, while Wenger pushed ahead with plans to sign not one, but two stellar replacements.
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This view was strengthened when the Dutchman went public with his misgivings by releasing an incendiary statement on July 4 which effectively said he wanted to leave because he disagreed with Wenger and the board of directors "in many aspects… on the way Arsenal should move forward".
To Wenger, this amounted to treachery and, by twice crossing the line, he felt Van Persie had caused irreparable damage to their relationship.
The striker returned to pre-season training in mid-July but pulled out of Arsenal’s tour to try and force through a transfer. In the eyes of manager and player, it was not a matter of if but where.
The departure avenues had been narrowed down to the two Manchester clubs and Serie A champions Juventus. To Van Persie’s dismay, the two Spanish giants, Real Madrid and Barcelona, did not bite when the hook was dangled, while he refused Chelsea’s tentative interest because he did not want to move to another London club.
“There was one price for European clubs and another price for English clubs,” the source added. “Wenger cut the £25m asking price by £10m to sell him abroad but Van Persie didn’t want to go to Juventus.”
The 29-year-old risked tarnishing his legacy even further by taking the already well-trodden path from Arsenal to Manchester City, a route taken by Emmanuel Adebayor, Kolo Toure, Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy.
Wenger told a shareholder after the Arsenal AGM last week than City offered Van Persie an astonishing £300,000-a-week. There was even a rumour that the Premier League champions were willing to pay for a helicopter to enable the Dutchman to commute from his Hertfordshire home to Manchester for training every day.
However, City were keen to end the overspending on transfers that accompanied their rapid rise from mid-table club to champions and refused to pay more than £15m for Van Persie’s signature.
In any case, the Dutchman did not want to tarnish his Arsenal legacy even further by making what would have been viewed as the greediest move available, to City. The forward vowed to accept an offer on the table from Manchester United.
However, Van Persie’s stance changed slightly in the first few days of August as rumours spread around the London Colney headquarters that Santi Cazorla was on his way to the club, and could be followed by Nuri Sahin.
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Van Persie flew out to Arsenal’s week-long training camp in Germany ahead of a friendly against Cologne but Wenger’s mind was made up.
A few days before the match, which took place on a Sunday night, the Frenchman gave the go-ahead for Gazidis and his opposite number at United, David Gill, to open talks on a deal that would take Van Persie to Old Trafford.
Twenty-four hours after Van Persie had been jeered by some Arsenal fans during a cameo appearance against Cologne, United and Arsenal agreed a £22m transfer fee.
But, there was one final twist. Wenger, loathe to sell to a rival, said he wanted another £2m from United, which frustrated the 19-times league champions and delayed the deal by another 24 hours. It would be late on Tuesday, 13 August before a £24m fee was finally agreed between the two clubs, which was then announced to the media the following day.
Ever the gentleman, Wenger will no doubt shake the hand of Van Persie before proceedings gets underway at Old Trafford on Saturday afternoon as the Dutchman prepares to play against the team that he graced for eight seasons.
Hiding behind the mask of politeness will be the face of a manager let down by someone he had helped nurture into a superstar.
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