Football, and in particularly the Premier League, often suffer from more than a touch of amnesia from time to time. When a striker such as Robin van Persie notches up 30 league goals in a season, the legacy of such a feat will remain for quite some time. But as Arsenal are rumored to be seeking anything from £20-£30million for a player in the last year of his contract, it would appear his recent achievements have erased elements of his past from the memories of his suitors.
The term watershed season probably doesn’t do Robin van Persie’s 2011-12 effort enough justice. His 30 league goals in 38 league games saw him emerge as one of Europe’s best strikers, if not the best out-and-out marksman. Arsenal fans may well be wryly smiling at those who have been saddled with surprise at the Dutchman’s efforts last season.
But even after Van Persie hit an incredible run of form on the back end of the 2010-11 season, surely even they didn’t expect the season that came.
Robin van Persie has always been an outrageously gifted technical footballer and his ability was never in any doubt during his career. Although the holy grail of the striking classes, and indeed the trait that has always evaded Van Persie, is that of consistency. Last season saw the final piece of puzzle put into place; the effect was nothing short of spectacular.
And it isn’t any surprise why he is craved by just about every top club on the continent. It’s hard to pick out any genuine flaws in his striking game- his movement’s truly world class; he can score headers as aptly as he can bury scorching volleys and his finishing is as good as any in the game. He bestows a superb and consistent set-piece delivery and Arsenal have benefitted as much from his link up play as they have from his goal scoring exploits; he bagged 13 assists in the Barclays Premier League last season.
Although after reading a passage like that, there feels as if there are some uneasy blanks to fill in. If Robin van Persie beholds a level of talent as exquisite as what’s just been described, then how come he is rapidly approaching his 29th birthday with only an FA Cup winner’s medal to show for it? One can ridicule the fortunes of Arsenal as much as they want in recent years, although the answer owes as much to Van Persie himself as it does to the underachievement of the club he plays for.
There was one statistic that seemed to stand out more prominently than anything else on the Van Persie résumé from last season- and it wasn’t his goal tally, either. The Dutchman featured in all 38 of Arsenal’s Premier League games last season. It was the first term that he’d ever broken the 30 game barrier in terms of appearances. Before last season, Van Persie averaged about 22 league appearances a season for the Gunners during seven years in England. That is a statistic that simply isn’t good enough.
And this is where it feels like you reach something of a crossroads in the evaluation of Robin van Persie. No one is claiming he has some intrinsic desire to spend time on the treatment table. But the facts are as clear to see as his superb goal scoring exploits of the last 18 months. Perhaps it is unwise and also a little macabre to take a punt on injury misfortune hitting any footballer. But if last season was the first he has completed over 30 games, what is more likely to be the one off- his 100% record last season or the previous seven in which he failed to appear more than 28 times in the red of Arsenal?
It’s this point that seems to have more than a bit of the sticking factor about it. Arsenal have stuck by Van Persie through thick and thin- some may argue that he more than paid his club back by carrying them on his back for large portions of last season. But last season has been a long time coming for Van Persie and it feels as though the weight of Arsenal’s commitment still weighs heavier on the scales than one blockbuster RVP season last term.
Yet it is within a protracted transfer that the real truth may hit home- for all parties involved. The contractual situation of Robin van Persie seems to be echoing an uncomfortable pattern for Arsenal and the club cannot allow it to go on any longer at the Emirates. But as the near on £24million that the club gained for Samir Nasri shows, the stigma of players entering the final year of their contract doesn’t necessarily denote the sort of apocalyptic slash in transfer fee that many predict.
But Nasri was 24 when he moved away from the Emirates last summer. There were no lingering concerns over the Frenchman’s ability to go the distance in the season and even if there was, he is of an adequate age in which such a reputation can be consigned to history. Robin van Persie has only played more than 28 league games once in his entire professional career- that was last season. He is turning 29 in a fortnight’s time and will have little to no resale value. This will be his last major contract.
Such a question may well be rendered academic if the petromillions of Manchester City come calling. But even if such a fee has been grossly exaggerated, can you justify spending near on £30million on Robin van Persie? As football enters an era of Financial Fair Play, splashing out a massive transfer fee and gargantuan wages on Robin van Persie offers a substantial risk. The efforts of last season have somewhat masked what feels to be a legitimate question mark over the Dutchman.
Scoring goals has never been the problem. The problem is you can’t score goals if you don’t’ regularly play, as blindingly obvious as that may sound. But it’s not the long-term injury that has been Van Persie’s problem. It is the six-week or the eight-week stints out with persistent ankle or knee knocks. The subsequent time taken to regain form and fitness can be painstaking. It seems absurd to critique a man who has scored 132 in all competitions for Arsenal. But such is the talent of the man, it should be (or should have been) so much more.
Some very difficult answers are set to be answered very soon indeed for Arsenal, Van Persie and his potential suitors. But the brutal reality must be that however much Wenger craves for his star striker, the chances are he may go for far less- however right or wrong that may seem.
Can Arsenal really command such a colossal transfer fee for Robin van Persie? Are his goals last season enough to make you forget about his previous fitness worries? Arsenal fan or City supporter, tell me how you view it- follow @samuel_antrobus on Twitter and bat us your views