. With the United Striker putting the finishing touches on a move to Fenerbahce, we take a look at the impact the Flying Dutchman left behind in England.
When one thinks of Robin Van Persie, a few terms come to mind; Genius, Maestro, Predator, Game-changer and Winner. Or if youa re an Arsenal fan, the words would most likely be replaced with Traitor, Sell-out, Turncoat, Defector and Scoundrel. For better or worse, Robin Van Persiea s memory in England will always be viewed through the prism of his move from Arsenal to Manchester United. To give a recap of his controversial transfer, the story went something like this.
Once upon a time, a Little Boy came to England from a Dutch Football Club to sign for one of the Top clubs in the Country, the team that had just won the English Premier League without losing a single game and been dubbed a The Invinciblesa . He had displayed prodigious talent back in his native land, though accompanied with some trifling disciplinary issues, and he decided to further his career by signing for the Champions of England. Life threw some irony his way, for these Champions did not further their glory, instead becoming the perennial also-rans since then. In the eight years he was at the club, the Little Boy had many sprains and twists, injuries and knocks and he was initially unable to show everyone just how brilliant he undoubtedly was. The once-upon-a-time Invincibles did not mind his never-ceasing list of worries, instead using him sparingly and with great concern for both his physical and mental condition, even offering him more money and toys during this trying time.
Six and a half years later, their patience bore fruit. For the Little Boy became a Man and trounced opposition defences as if they were made of clay. He tore open defences, created goals, sparkled creativity and inspired all his teammates who knew without of a shadow of a doubt, that he was the beating heart of a young and unfancied side. The Man, with all the eager ruthlessness of a cooped up attack dog, ravaged and raided oppositions, becoming a captain and icon to his team and their fans, long starved for success and glory, and an increasingly beautiful figure for neutrals and grudging rivals. With the confidence of the loved, his artistry and elegance flourished, summoned at will, as he had to do to keep his beloved team relevant in the grand scheme of things. He played his heart out for them, as they had kept faith in him and for 2 years, and was one of their pillars for limited success.
Then the Man decided to be a Little Boy once again. He wished to leave his beloved club, for a rival with more glamour and prospects. Helmed by a Master of the game, the rival offered him more money, trophies, knowledge and status. The Little Boy could not take his eyes away from all the big, glittering toys dangled in front of him and he joined the enemy with an enthusiasm and passion unfathomable to his former legion of adoring fans. They turned on him with a hatred that bordered on obscenity and railed against his decision, declaring him an apostate and a traitor, vilifying him with a ferocity that lingers to this day.
Robin Van Persiea s departure from Manchester United after three years over his lack of playing time has sparked diverse emotions in England. The relief of United fans is understandable. He was wasting away at Old Trafford, unable to scale his former heights that he had emphatically set in his first season. Getting his punishing wages off their books was a welcome step in their quest for another top striker. His former army of Arsenal supporters have all declared that Justice was served, that Karma has come back to haunt the man who left their club when it needed him most. They, who had been betrayed by many of their former icons who left for greener pastures, had always supported and nurtured him, indeed, counted on this love in assuring his loyalty. However, on the back of a stellar season, he too had done the unthinkable; he decided to leave them and their love behind for a new life. And so, as it often did in life, Love morphed to Hate. A blinding, red-hot rage that burned greater when they saw him achieve heights with their rival that he could not do with them. His departure became worse when it was obvious that his decision to do so was justified (at least for the time being). Relentlessly booed and mocked, there was a particular telling moment in April 2013 in English Football. Manchester United had just secured the Premier League Division with over a month of football still to play, with Van Persie’s 26 goals the crucial difference between them and runners-up Manchester City. Their next game was at the Emirates, where Arsene Wenger graciously decided to extend a guard of honour for the visiting champions. While the crowd largely respected his gesture and applauded the new champions, there were the inevitable chorus of boos when Robin Van Persie emerged from the tunnel. They could respect his teammates. But not him. Never HIM. The sight of his former teammates applauding what effectively was, his success, would have been unbearable to the Emirates faithful. He didn’t make them feel any better by scoring United’s equalizer on that day either.
Robin Van Persiea s decision to leave Arsenal for the greater pastures of Manchester will always rankle Arsenal fans, as it was a telling indication that their club did not belong in the category of winners and champions any more. The mere fact that Arsenal sold a star player (and captain) to Manchester United was damning enough. It almost indicated a willingness to accept their new status as also-rans and contenders for minor trophies. All this hurt and humiliation has come back with a fury over the past two seasons as Van Persie suffered a dip in form and Arsenal found themselves outstripping their Ferguson-less United rivals. With two trophies, albeit FA Cups, over the past two years, Gooners everywhere have more reason to celebrate than the Red Devils, who witnessed an appalling year in 2013 and a relatively better one in 2014. Robin Van Persie, too, has suffered a dip in form not unlike United post the Ferguson era. Believing he would be able to reap the benefits of the Old Mastera s teachings, he has since crumbled into a shadow of the striker he once was, bereft of pace, confidence and his defining magic. To add more salt into the gaping wound, he has now been left behind by United in their Louis Van Gaal Era, who has centred his team around the skills of Wayne Rooney and not, Robin Van Persie. And so, he leaves, to muted tribute in Manchester, and joyful spite in London.
This conflict with Wayne Rooney has been a silent power struggle in the last three years for Manchester United. It was Fergusona s intention to build his team around Robin Van Persiea s versatile talents, to keep him as the core and crux of the future, with Wayne Rooney an inevitable departure. Ferguson had never forgiven Rooney for the lattera s treatment of Manchester United in 2010, when he questioned the cluba s ambition and allayed their fears into a new, improved contract. However, Ferguson, the eternal pragmatist, could never let him leave without an adequate replacement. Robin Van Persiea s transfer to Manchester United saw a puzzle come together, with amazing and mesmerizing results. His goals were beautiful, assists splendid, spirit unquestionable. When he caught that Rooney assist (of all people!) on the volley to score a sumptuous goal against Aston Villa and secure the title, it seemed destined that this would be the man to take United forward. His decision to leave Arsenal was justified; he was a champion now and not just a fourth-place finisher. He would lead this team on to glory.
The cookie quickly crumbled. In a month, Sir Alex Ferguson was gone and his replacement David Moyes, was the man who nurtured Wayne Rooney in his teenage years. Before initially reassuring Van Persie of his status in the team, things quickly took a turn for the worse, with the new Manager installing a training regime unfamiliar and hostile to Van Persie. Injuries followed freely as they did in his early years at Arsenal, and with it, the slide into mediocrity began. Moyes then reassured Rooney of his place in Manchester United, with a bumper contract and the captaincy. Van Persie revived himself occasionally, scoring against his old club Arsenal for a 1-0 win and a hat-trick against Olympiakos to take them to the Champions League Quarter Finals. Yet, by the standards he had set amongst the United Faithful, these instances werena t enough in number to make him their icon.
With Louis Van Gaala s announcement, everyone foresaw an upward swing in Van Persiea s fortunes. The pair was manager-captain in Hollanda s successful run in the 2014 World Cup. Van Gaal publicly lauded Van Persie as the ideal captain, stating that he and the Manchester United forward had the same a philosophya in football. And we all know how serious Van Gaal is about his philosophy. It was imminent that Van Persie would be the focal point of the new Manchester United.
Yet the unthinkable happened. Van Gaal made Rooney his captain and the boy from Merseyside repaid his managera s faith, ably and adeptly guiding his team to their Champions League objective. Van Persie never recovered from that bump in the road. His form tapered off, his performances so declining that Van Gaal even stripped him of penalty duties and chose a tawdry Radamel Falcao ahead of him in the starting line-up. And in doing so, Van Persie let down one of the guiding principles of Manchester United; past glory counts for nothing if you dona t put in everything you can on a weekly basis. Starter or substitute, all effort is expended for the cause. This was the motto behind Sir Alex Ferguson; it is the motto of Manchester United. And Van Persie, with his little boy-ego and fragile disposition, never adapted to this philosophy. By the end of the season, he had become an enigma to United fans, who wondered why they never saw the Little Boy again, with his cheeky smile, magical touches and flawless finishing.
The Little Boy could have become a legend in either North London or Manchester. With more patience or perseverance, he could have become an icon at either Arsenal or Manchester United respectively.
Yet, he departs, as neither for the shores of Turkey.