Robin van Persie’s decision not to extend his contract at Arsenal should come as little surprise to keen observers of the game. At 28 years old, the Dutchman’s next contract is set to be his most lucrative ever – that, combined with trophy concerns, must have surely weighed on his mind.
Having stayed injury free last season, something which had always concerned clubs who considered bidding for the former Feyenoord youngster, scoring 30 Premier League goals in the process, Van Persie put himself in the clearest of shop windows. The Dutchman delighted in being made Arsenal captain and spoke at length of the honour he felt at the accolade. But loyalty is a rare commodity in the modern game and foreign players, with little to no connection to the clubs for which they play, are the least likely to exhibit it.
Van Persie’s decision to seek pastures new also came with a coded warning to Arsenal fans as to the direction in which Arsene Wenger and the club’s board are steering the Gunners. The Dutchman revealed that meetings between himself and the Arsenal hierarchy had revealed that “we in many aspects disagree in the way Arsenal FC should move forward”.
While Arsenal will not take risks they see as financially irresponsible, the loss of Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas last summer hit Van Persie, with the departure of the latter particularly hard to take. “I miss Cesc Fabregas not only as a footballer, but also as a friend”, admitted the Dutchman to Inside Futbol as recently as January. “I consider him to be amongst the top five players in the world and of course he is almost impossible to replace – not only at Arsenal, but in almost every team.”
For Van Persie, watching world-class players leave was the ultimate indictment of the Gunners’ accepting a “comfort zone” of third to fourth in the Premier League and regular Champions League football, but having neither the will, nor perhaps the resources, to mount a sustained challenge for honours. Seeing Nasri lift the Premier League after less than 12 months at Manchester City just hammered home the message.
While Van Persie’s refusal to pen a new contract might have taken some of the Gunners’ faithful by surprise, there is little doubt Wenger was aware of his captain’s leanings. A man who ummed and arred over splashing the cash last summer, despite realising both Nasri and Fabregas wanted out, until deadline day itself, was suddenly transformed into an early shopper. Now the arrivals of Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud can be seen clearly for what they were – planning for a post-Van Persie future.
Finance must also have played a part in the Dutchman’s decision, despite his protestations that “financial terms or a contract have not been discussed, since that is not my priority at all”. Nasri became the highest-paid French footballer of all-time by moving to join Roberto Mancini’s men at Manchester City, while Chelsea recently handed Eden Hazard a deal worth £200,000 per week; Arsenal were serious contenders for the Belgian forward too, until the reality of his demands sunk in – and Manchester United offered Hazard more than even Chelsea.
Now is Van Persie’s time to answer not just his desire for silverware – he has not won a trophy at Arsenal since 2005 and Holland’s Euro 2012 exit may have hinted that he cannot count upon the Oranje to end the drought – but also to earn the large pay cheques his talent deserves. In Spain, with a beneficial taxation system for professional footballers, his pay would rocket. There is also the path well-trodden by Gunners’ stars in recent years, northwards to Manchester City.
At Arsenal, Van Persie’s imminent departure may cause a reappraisal of the strict budgetary controls at the club. There seems little sense in employing bit-part strikers Marouane Chamakh and Park Chu-Young when the money could be put into the pot to boost the salaries of the side’s key players. The overall spend need not change, but the distribution must be tilted in favour of the world-class, even at the expense of the squad players.
Van Persie’s contract bombshell has opened a can of transfer worms which looks set to run throughout the summer and where the 28-year-old will be playing his football on 1st September is an as yet unanswered question. What is clear though is that the departure of Arsenal’s third world-class performer in the space of 12 months means life at the still shiny new Emirates Stadium will never be the same again.