Manchester United striker Robin van Persie went down the non-celebration route after putting his new club ahead against his old one, Arsenal, at Old Trafford at the weekend and for most sane fans, that was the end of that.
Yet a disturbingly vitriolic sub-sect of the club’s support still take it upon themselves to show their hatred of the man, but hasn’t it all gone a little too far now?
The latest clip doing the rounds is of a three-year-old toddler singing a chant with reference to the rape allegation brought against van Persie back in 2005, while there were several videos in the summer of fans burning their Arsenal shirts emblazoned with the Dutchman’s name on the back. What is clear is that these are the actions of a fringe minority of the club’s support; every club has them, no matter how much we try to ignore them, but it’s simply a case of tribalism gone way too far.
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While I’m often hesitant to sweep acts of hatred as those of a ‘minority’ in the game like others usually do, for it’s not always the few which should be accused but the many, it seems in this case that it most certainly is. Plenty of observers have had their say on the non-celebration at the weekend, arguing that it was a move to placate those very fringe loons that routinely demand unyielding loyalty from their players. Others simply saw it as a classy player trying to provide a fitting mark of respect towards the club he clearly still has an affection for after an eight-year affiliation with Arsenal.
Piers Morgan, never a barometer for anything even vaguely well thought-out or rational I grant you, labelled van Persie’s move to Manchester United as ‘a sickening betrayal’ earlier in the summer, while plenty criticised his motivations behind the switch, claiming that it was solely to do with money. Of course, the obvious counter-argument to this is that had he wanted to leave merely to line his own pockets some more before his retirement, then he would have opted for Manchester City instead, but that doesn’t quite fit in with their line of thinking and is conveniently glossed over.
There’s a danger with always trying to lump fans of one club in together, as if they think en masse in some sort of group-thought about any single issue. Van Persie left for silverware having won very little during an injury-hit but still distinguished career. He just so happened to time his move to the club with the start of their seven-year trophy drought, and he has just a solitary FA Cup win to his name from back in 2004-5 to show for his efforts. Every right-thinking supporter will understand the reasons for his departure, even if they don’t appreciate the stark realities that it reminds them of.
Of course, the manner of his exit will still quite rightly leave some raw wounds and the timing of his statement coupled with his insistence on joining another English club will have angered some, but it’s not as if van Persie is some academy graduate which the club had nurtured from a young age. No, he joined as a somewhat mercurial talent back in 2004 from Feyenoord after garnering a reputation as something of a trouble-maker at the age of 20.
That he left a big club in Holland to match his ambitions of plying his trade at a top English club is in keeping with the rationale behind his move to Manchester United. At the time, the transfer was considered a risky one on Wenger’s part by bringing him to the club, and they’ve undoubtedly had to nurse him through various off the pitch controversies, not to mention the startling regularity with which he was confined to the treatment table.
However, this has conjured up some misplaced sense in some that van Persie ‘owed’ Arsenal. Football, as we are routinely reminded by the club’s chief executive Ivan Gazidis, is a business these days. Employees are paid handsomely by their employers because they want to succeed. Arsenal is now no longer a local family run club, but a global business model and just like with every big conglomerate, a revolving door policy in terms of personnel is common.
You could argue that by giving Arsenal eight years of ‘service’ that van Persie has more than done his bit and that in no other industry is loyalty demanded so readily and with such passion. The hysterical fringes still view the striker as someone having abandoned a sinking ship just when they needed him the most, but a failure to invest and win silverware is hardly the fault of him as a player, rather the board and the manager.
Why I wouldn’t begrudge any fan from feeling anger towards a player, for it is a ritual in football these days it seems, it’s when the reasons for that anger are not only incorrect and ill-advised, but stray into irrational and nasty that I start to question the motives of those involved. Nobody benefits from carrying it on.
By all means dislike the man over the manner of his exit and the nature of the club he joined, but turning your back on someone that you once idolised, for the minority out there with such strong feelings on him still, simply marks them out as too emotional for football. In a game which is dominated by change and freedom of movement, naive notions of loyalty and ‘debt’ no longer have a place. Players move on and like it or lump it, you have to get over it.
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