Firstly, I would like to say a big thank you for all the comments and feedback on yesterday’s piece on the Red and White letter, ostensibly sent to the board, but actually written for our ‘benefit’. I realise that my opinion may be one that you wholeheartedly disagree with – I wish to see Usmanov as far away from the club I love as possible, while many view him as a potential wind of positive change – but the debate was a fascinating one. Thanks for reading and writing, genuinely.
I’m now going to step back a day, to the news that preceded (and perhaps prompted the release of) the letter – Van Persie’s declaration on his personal website that he would not be signing a new contract, or more pertinently, the tone of the letter, which has caused one of the quickest disintegration of goodwill from fans to a player in recent memory. I want to take a look at the events that led up to what amounted to a bolt from the blue, and try to find the logic and rationale behind it all.
Note that some of this is speculative, although I suspect that only a few details are off track.
So let’s rewind, back to some time last season, when Arsenal began to suspect that Robin was going to need replacing.
Arsenal offer a new contract (2011)
Logic: With a little over a year remaining on his current deal, the time had arrived to finalise Van Persie’s contract situation. Three possibilities remained – he would sign, Arsenal would sell with one year left, or he would run his contract down and leave in 2013.
Arsenal are: hopeful.
Van Persie is: skeptical. This offer most likely originally came in the summer of 2011, one of the most turbulent in Arsenal’s recent history, and probably the worst in Wenger’s tenure. Under such conditions, the signing of a new contract by a man who would turn 30 in the summer that his existing deal expired was never likely.
Arsenal continue to push for Van Persie to sign (2011-12)
Logic:With the media turning his contract situation into a major story, it was becoming more of a concern that he would not sign, and would leave Arsenal in a perilous negotiating position in the summer of 2012.
Arsenal are: coming to the realisation that he is unlikely to sign, and beginning to formulate a contingency plan.
Van Persie is: happy. Having the season of his career, his stock has never been higher. He holds all the cards, and he knows it. He has no reason to act before the summer.
Van Persie gets offers (Mar-May 2012)
Logic: At this point, it is becoming apparent to many that Van Persie is unlikely to sign. Agents begin to sniff around, and the tapping up begins in earnest. It is highly likely that he received some ballpark figures from Manchester City in this timeframe, perhaps accompanied by a couple of others.
Arsenal are: trying to keep the furore under wraps while the season closes.
Van Persie is: coming to a decision.
Van Persie decides not to sign a new contract (May 2012)
Logic: He is about to turn 29 and has just completed the best season of his career, scooping individual honours and worldwide acclaim. With one big contract left, he wishes to make it a good one, with a salary fitting his ability and trophies in his cabinet. While the offer from Arsenal is financially strong, others are stronger and come with a likelihood of achieving both aims, particularly at City. A 3-4 contract at City would leave him with bursting pockets and as close to a guarantee of silverware as you are likely to get. For him, it is win-win.
Arsenal are: disappointed but accepting. They ask Van Persie to keep his counsel for the time being, as announcing his refusal to sign a new contract would put the club in a weaker bargaining position when it comes to signing the necessary replacements – it would allow selling clubs to demand more due to Arsenal’s dire and immediate need for their players. Despite the recent protestations from Arsenal that they were still trying to get him to sign, I think that they’ve known for some time that he would not, and this was purely media posturing.
Van Persie is: happy. His decision has been accepted, and he has no reason to counter Arsenal’s request. At this point, he is poised to leave with the blessing of the club and the fans, and move on to fulfill the rest of his ambitions.
Arsenal line up Podolski and Giroud (Summer 2012)
Logic: At this point, Arsenal are aware that Van Persie will be staying for a maximum of one season, and quite possibly not even that. Given the paucity of striking options already at the club, multiple reinforcements were needed, and there was little point in hanging around, particularly once the Champions League windfall was guaranteed.
Arsenal are: happy. Both signings are expected to be ready for first team football immediately, and by signing players ahead of any Van Persie announcement, they hope that the blow will be softened.
Van Persie is: happy. With two signings arriving, he knows he will not have to keep quiet for much longer, and can go about making his desired move.
Note that at this stage, pretty much everyone is happy. However, this is where I believe it all started to unravel. I suspect that at this point, Arsenal made one of the following two decisions. Either:
a) They decided that selling Van Persie to Manchester City was a step too far, and insisted that if he were to go anywhere, it would have to be abroad.
b) They decided that with each of his replacements being new to the club, they needed Van Persie to bridge the gap while they settled, and therefore told him that he would be required to remain for the final year of his contract, at which point he would be free to leave.
I honestly don’t know which of the two it was (although I suspect the latter), but I strongly believe that whichever it was, this was the point where the relationship soured.
Arsenal refuse to sell (to Man City?) (Summer 2012)
Logic: Whichever of the two decisions was taken, it was made in the best interests of Arsenal Football Club, not Robin van Persie. 2012/13 would be more difficult without him, especially if he moved to Manchester City.
Arsenal are: resolved.
Van Persie is: unhappy. His stock is at its highest, and this is his best opportunity to seal the contract of his dreams. If it is Manchester City he desires, then his failure to arrive in the summer will probably lead them to chase other options, and with him turning 30 next summer, there is no guarantee that they will return for him, particularly if his form isn’t as spectacular or he is hit by another injury. If it isn’t City, this still hurts him for the same reasons – his 2013 options may be scarcer than his current ones, those that lead him to his original decision.
Van Persie makes his move (4 July 2012)
Logic: He realises that Arsenal are resolved not to give him the move that he wants, wherever that may be to. He has only one card left to play, and that is to up the ante by making his position at Arsenal untenable, and therefore force the club to move him on. He probably believes that his stunning season gives him sufficient leeway with the fans that they will side with him over the board, so includes a few digs with his statement as an attempt to curry favour. It backfires from a PR point of view, but the end result is still likely.
Arsenal are: furious. Thy respond with their own curt statement.
Van Persie is: who knows? No doubt he is now aware that his PR move largely failed, and his stock amongst Arsenal fans has plummeted spectacularly. But the net result is still likely to be the one he desires – he will move on this summer, rather than seeing out his final year at the club. The only question is where.
I don’t know where Van Persie will end up, only that I’m certain he will now leave, and without the goodwill that he held in abundance only two days ago. His spiky message crossed the line for many (myself included), particularly when his argument that the squad should be strengthened is countered by the two players that arrived within days of the transfer window opening.
But, while I am not going to make any excuse for his actions or his words, I can understand exactly how this situation came about. I think Arsenal refused to give him the move that he wanted, when he wanted it, pointing to his contract and making a decision that was best for them, not for the player, sometimes they are criticised for not doing enough. Van Persie has undoubtedly reacted badly to this, and as a result will join a very long list of players I no longer care for the minute they exit the club.
For me, the club acted correctly throughout. You cannot force a player to sign, only give them the environment in which they wish to stay. Sadly, we have been unable to do that, and sticking to our guns has made Van Persie overplay his hand. But I strongly believe that we were right to focus on our own needs rather than those of the player. Players know they are assets, and make the most of that – it isn’t harmful to remind them it is a two way street.
As for Van Persie himself, I can understand his frustration – Arsenal put his chosen move into jeopardy. But if you sign a contract, your employer is entitled to ask you to stick to it. He has taken drastic action to avoid that, and while he will now get the move he desires, he has lost the respect of many for the way he has gone about it.
He will move on. And so shall we.