Waking up to headlines that Manchester United are secretly, frantically, trying to offload Robin van Persie to various Turkish clubs, Arsenal fans could be forgiven for feeling smug. To them, it’s payback time.
What’s happening is a reminder of how quickly the fortunes of a footballer can fluctuate.
Just three years ago in his prime, the Dutchman held all the aces. Sat between two of the game’s greatest ever managers, with both whispering sweet-nothings into his ear, promising him that their ambitions met his, the striker was in a privileged position few other players could dare to dream about.
Destroying his relationship with the Gunners in one vulgar ‘statement’ may have been unnecessarily crass, but by using his power to leverage a four-year, £200,000 a week deal at Old Trafford, the forward didn’t exactly suffer. Earning silverware, plaudits and a lorry load of cash, I doubt there were many regrets on the back of a dream debut season.
Now? Fergie has gone, along with his guaranteed place, and the love of United’s fans. Even his compatriot Louis van Gaal doesn’t want him. It’s all come crashing down.
Having experienced the feeling of not being wanted as a footballer myself (and watched others go through similar struggles) it’s the little things that will wind him up in the weeks ahead.
Staff members or directors that used to go out of their way to manufacture cosy chit-chats, suddenly avoid eye contact. They cross the road to swerve you.
In training ground matches you line up for the ‘stiffs’, struggling to get a meaningful touch as those in possession of first team shirts give the second-raters a runaround.
The gaffer barely notices you’re there. When the bibs are given out, you’re left till last. On warm-down days, the fitness coach runs your knackers off while the stars put their feet up. Sessions built around improving your game dry up. Newer, younger models are showered with attention and affection instead.
At home games when your name is announced to fans, the cheer is demoralizingly muted compared to before.
Out of sight, out of mind, out of favour. It’s not a nice place to be.
Finding out the club is trying to get rid of him behind his back won’t be a surprise to Van Persie. He’ll have seen the tell tale signs. Yet that doesn’t mean it won’t hurt or frustrate – and with his family settled in the area, talk of a move to a different country may also spark difficult discussions at home.
I don’t feel sorry for him, but in a way the 31-year-old is also a little unlucky.
While it won’t have gone unnoticed in the corridors of power that his goals per minute ratio has been in a steady decline since 2011/2012 (111, 120, 132, 211), pro-rata no other Manchester United player was more prolific than he was last term. He can still finish.
For almost £1million a month they expect more though, and that’s the price most players eventually pay for signing up to long-term contracts on huge salaries. The moment you stop performing to the same level, you’re out.
Every club, every manager, and (as Van Persie knows himself) every player is only ever looking out for themselves. In a ruthless industry like football, emotion rarely affects decision-making. With this in mind, United will want to sell overseas to the highest bidder.
We did see a rare exception at Chelsea this week. It was lovely, and also honorable of Roman Abramovich to allow Petr Cech to join the club of his choice. And if Van Persie had stayed at Arsenal, I’d like to think Arsene Wenger would have considered doing something similar with him when his time was up.
The trouble is, the moment Van Persie reneged on his own contract at Arsenal, he forfeited the right to expect a club to treat him any differently themselves.
By selling his soul to the Red Devils, Van Persie risked being dumped in an equally brutal manner. I guess in the end, what goes around comes around…
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