When Robin van Persie joined Manchester United in the summer of 2012, my immediate reaction was anger. That’s because I’m Arsenal fan. Another captain sold and our last ‘world class’ player, even if not by the standards of the man poaching him away, was to join a bitter rival.
Living the majority of my life in London and Surrey, a high percentage of my friends are Manchester United fans. Previous departures of very good players from Arsenal to Manchester City had me annoyed, but I didn’t have to suffer any personal jibes, as most Manchester City fans actually live in Manchester.
Nevertheless, van Persie’s departure came at a time in my life where supporting Arsenal had taken its emotional toll and I had to make a promise to myself to not let Arsenal’s goings on dictate my mood. Easier said than done, but I was trying.
My new outlook drove me to become more understanding of Robin’s move rather than spend my summer in anger. To do this, I took the frustration I had been feeling as a fan of my team and put myself in the position of how disheartening that would be as the best striker in the country. Aged 29, Alex Ferguson offered van Persie a Premier League medal and delivered on that promise.
From then on, although I didn’t quite keep my promise of feeling no ill towards van Persie, I did feel he had justified his decision as Arsenal again finished fourth that very season.
But fast forward to October 2015, as the Dutchman, on his 100th cap for the Oranje, heads into his own goal to end all hope of his country of qualifying for next summer’s European Championships. Now I ask, did that move give Robin one good year and then effectively end his career?
After seeing his nation out of the European Championships, van Persie returned to warming the bench for Fernabache alongside fellow ex-Red Devil Nani and current Liverpool winger Lazar Markovic. Van Persie spent three years at Old Trafford before his move to Turkey but will only be remembered for his first. That’s because of two things. Firstly, he blasted them to the league title with 26 goals, including two hat-tricks and, secondly, the next two years were bland and forgettable to say the very least.
The start of the end of a superb talent was the exit of Alex Ferguson from Manchester United. Ferguson leaving was a devastating blow for van Persie. In the words of Rio Ferdinand, Ferguson’s retirement “took the wind out of everyone’s sails… the person it hit more than anyone was Robin.”
The 2013/14 season saw David Moyes come and go as a typically injury hit van Persie manage just 21 games an 12 goals. It seemed like a match made in Dutch heaven when Louis van Gaal arrived – fresh from taking Holland to third place in the World Cup, captained by van Persie – was the man chosen to lead Old Trafford. Although an unpredictable man, not many would’ve predicted van Gaal would have parted with van Persie a year later.
So what could’ve been if the Dutchman had stayed put at Arsenal? The season after his departure a certain Mesut Ozil joined the Gunners, but he struggled to find someone to pass it to ahead of him. The next year saw Alexis Sanchez join, and the missing piece in the Gunner’s puzzle seemed to be a world class centre forward. Van Persie would argue his injury history and Arsenal’s years of finishing just short of the mark didn’t allow him any more time to wait at Arsenal.
He was has a unique talent, where he is effective either by subtle or explosive means. A delicate chip, a long range screamer and a simple tap in are all likely when he plays. It is sad that at the end of his career he will not be cherished by a club the way his talent deserves. Not every footballer’s career will end with a Steven Gerrard style goodbye, but if van Persie had stayed at Arsenal it would have ended that way.
Robin van Persie can always point to his Premier League medal if questioned on his decision to leave Arsenal to Manchester United. In the summer of 2004, when RVP joined Arsenal, he was joining a Premier League winning team known as the ‘Invincibles’. He gave eight, albeit injury hit, years to Arsenal trying to emulate that team.
In fact, for RVP’s 11 seasons in English football, he has only one league title, an FA Cup for Arsenal and two Community Shield wins to show for. For a player of his quality, that’s a crying shame. Which is why, in hindsight, Arsenal fans must understand why he moved on.
Will he be remembered as a one season wonder for United? A traitor for Arsenal? That own goal for Holland?
In time I would hope Robin Van Persie will be regarded as one of the great Premier League talents. If it wasn’t for injuries and an Emirates Stadium bill, there’d be an RVP statue in North London.
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