Category Archives: Robin Van Persie

Robin recruits Cesc to reunite at Old Trafford

     The warm, soft Catalan sun was shining down on Cesc’s shoulders as he strolled along the water’s edge, waves lapping gently at his toes, and all felt right with the world. Despite a troubling season that had seen Barça, finish without silverware for the first time in what felt like ages, Cesc felt confident that the upcoming World Cup would give he and his teammates time to bond and unite around—a loud buzz interrupted the reverie. Fumbling with his mojito, Cesc managed to get out his mobile in time to see the check the caller i.d.
     “Clothes for Charity? How did they get my number?” Cesc muttered to himself. “Ah well, it sounds like a decent cause. Hello?”

     Wincing at the caller’s shout, Cesc pulled the phone from his ear and gawked. That doesn’t sound like a charity calling me, he thought. He brought the phone back to his ear and asked, “who is this?”
     “Cesc, c’mon. Don’t play like you don’t remember the sound of your ol’ pal’s voice.”
     “I—er, actually, um—who is this?”
     “Cessssssc. Cescy. You can do better. Not better than that, though. ‘Cescy?’ Eh? Eh? Pretty clever, innit? It’s like ‘sexy’ but also like Cesc so it sounds like I’m saying you’re sexy. No homo. Anyway, listen, I—”
     “I’m sorry to interrupt, but who am I talking to?”
     “wanted to—Cesc. Seriously? After all we played together, you don’t recognize me?”
     “So this is not a charity that is calling me?
     “No, that was just a scam. I tried calling you from my own phone but I kept getting a message about being blocked. Weird. It’s me. Robin. Van the Man. R to the V to the double-o P!”
     “Double-o P? I’m not sure that’s really how one says—”
     “Sure, sure. Listen. Shut up for a sec. So I was thinking, we each had kind of sub-par seasons, right? What with you all finishing sixth like us—”
     “Second, actually.”
     “What? Right. Anyway, I was thinking, with neither us playing Champions League next season, I was thinking, see, that—”
     “We’re in the Champions League, Rob. First pot. Like always.”
     “Oh. Of course. Anyway, like I was saying, wouldn’t it be ace if we were to get back together? It would be like old times, right? You passing it to me, me scoring? Vanchester would be rockin‘!”
     Ace? Cesc wondered to himself. Did he say ‘ace’? How old is this man? “I don’t know, Robin. I don’t think people would like it much if I came back to England like that.”
     “What are you talking about? I did it, no problem. Everyone loves me here.”
     “No, I mean over at Arsenal. I’m not sure I’d want to—”
     “Will you stop worrying? Sure, they were butt-hurt at first, but they got over it once they saw my greatness on full display. I, like, won us the Prem all by myself.”
     “Last year.”
     “Hm? Oh, well, yeah, things under this guy Moyes are a little different. I can’t quite hear the little boy within, what with other players occupying spaces I want to play in, but I wonder if he wants me to leave. you know, go somewhere where I can just get trophies without having to, you know, work for them?”
     “Uh, I’m not sure that’s really the attitude that will win you many—”
     “Trophies? I know, that’s why I was thinking of leaving.”
     “I was going to say ‘friends’. Weren’t you just inviting me to come to play with you at Man U?”
     “I meant more like for me but whatever. It doesn’t have to be at Man U. Rooney’s always asking me to pass to him, which gets old fast, let me tell you. You and me, we could team up anywhere. Contracts don’t mean a thing. We could probably get Pep to sign us both over there, and we could tear that Bundesliga up.”
     “Robin, I never said anything about leaving. I’m happy here. I’m home. If I’m going anywhere, it’ll have to be for the right reasons, to the right place. No disrespect to Bayern or Pep, but I’m not interested. As far as I’m concerned, I’m staying here.”
     The other end of the line was silent. For a moment, Cesc thought that Robin had hung up. Then, he heard a long, drawn-out sigh.
     “Fine. Do you have Alex’s number? He must have needed to change providers or something because the number I have doesn’t seem to work. It just rings and rings.”
     “I’ll, um, tell him you called.”
     “No, wait, just give me his number. All I need is five minutes to talk to him to convince—”
     Click. Cesc looked at his phone, chuckled, and shook his head. Sliding the phone back into his pocket, he turned his gaze out over the ocean. The waves rolling up on the beach were just loud enough to obscure the faint sound coming from his pocket. “Wanker,” Cesc said, to no one in particular, and walked on. “I wonder what Arsène is doing…” He pulled his phone back out to scroll through his contacts…

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Van Persie manages to get hold of Arsène…

It was a pleasant afternoon, as far as such a thing can be said for a February weekend in London. It wasn’t quite freezing, and the sun peeked from behind the clouds. All in all, it was an afternoon that invited reflection. And so it was that Arsène nestled into his favorite armchair, wrapped the afghan around his shoulders, and decided to close his eyes—not to sleep, mind you, just to rest them. The cares of the world slipped away. Gone for the moment were concerns around the squad’s performance on Saturday. Gone were the worries over how the players would respond. Gone, too, were the—
The phone rang.
Arsène, vexed, glanced over but did not turn his head, nor did he move to answer it. ‘UNKNOWN CALLER’, the display read. Assuming it to be a telemarketer, Arsène shrugged his shoulders and once again closed his eyes. “Where was I? I don’t want to comment on speculations. Ah, yes, I was little bit thinking about—”

Again, the phone. More shrill this time.

Annoyed, Arsène answered this time. “Allo?”
“Arsie! It’s me!” The voice, though familiar, sounded a bit strained, as if it was trying too hard for jollity and therefore failing.
“Who? Who is this I am talking to?”
The voice, again, sounded forced. Too happy. “Robin. C’mon, Arsie. Don’t tell you’ve forgotten your old friend Robin already! How’s things?”
“It is too early to talk about that. Please apply the handbrake. What is it you want?”
“Well, I was thinking, Arsie—you don’t mind if I call you Arsie, do you?”
“Well, yes, actually, I—”
“Great, great. Well, I was thinking, see, you need a striker, right?”
“Yes, there is a little bit speculation about this. Am I looking to make signings? At the moment, no.”
“That’s okay. Just hear me out on this, ‘kay? Just—just listen for a minute.”
“Do I want to hear? No, I think there is a little bit niggle in the connection. We will, uh, have to see at another time.”
“No, no, NO! There’s no TIME. Don’t you SEE? I mean, um, there’s no time like the present, right? Uh, haha. Ha. Um, yeah…”
“Robin, I do not think now is the time for these informations. I have to rest. The weekend it has been difficult and—”
“That’s exactly why I called, Arsie! My weekend was also difficult. In fact, this whole damned season, well, I won’t lie to you, Arsie, old boy—”
“Please, it is time to stop calling me Arsie. I coach in this league 17 seasons, I think I deserve a certain respect.”
“Right, right. Exactly. That’s why I’m calling. I want to come back because I respect you. I want to help you win. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we’re struggling a little bit. Ha! Get it? I said ‘little bit’ just like you do! See? We’re buddies! We go way back, don’t we? And buddies help each other out, don’t they?
“I ask already to stop calling me Arsie. And that is the wrong information. I don’t say ‘little bit’.”
“Riiiiight. Anyway, look. You have a problem. I have a problem. One hand washes the other right?
“Do I have a problem? Maybe. I don’t know. Do you have a problem? Yes. What is your point?”
“Well, Arsie—I mean, Arsène—why don’t I come on back to the ol’ Emirates? I mean, I know we’d have to wait until summer and all, but it could be old times. You, watching me, me, scoring goals…what do you say?”
From the earpiece, Robin couldn’t hear a thing.
“Arsie? Arsène? Hello?”
Still, silence.
Hey! Arsène!  Are you okay? Answer me!!!”
“Oh. I’m sorry, Robin. I forgot. You can’t hear a smirk over the phone.”
Robin pulled the phone from his ear and gawked at it. Even at a distance, he could hear the click, then the dial -tone. It took him several minutes to grasp what had just transpired, time enough for Arsène to turn off the phone, rearrange the afghan, and doze off, murmuring, “I always know he was a little bit thick, but…”

What Arsenal can learn from Spurs

I refer, of course, not to Tottenham but to San Antonio. Yes, those Spurs lost to the Miami Heat in this year’s NBA championship, but the San Antonio Spurs’ approach has achieved such a track-record of success that it offers important lessons to franchises in any sport. We talk of the Arsenal Way and of how Arsenal have redefined how football is played in England, and it’s not for nothing that the Spurs have dominated how basketball is played in America (to clarify the issue moving forward, “the Spurs” refers to the American basketball team; any use of “Spurs” without “the” would refer to the lily-livered Lilywhites from White Hart Lane).

Since 2003, the Spurs have won the NBA championship four timesthat’s four out of tenand finished in second place once (this year). The remaining six championships have been split among five different teams. For the sake of this argument, we’ll treat the Los Angeles Lakers, winners of two championships, as the league’s equivalent of Manchester United, and the Miami Heat, winners of the last two championships, as the league’s equivalent of Manchester City or Chelsea. The Lakers have a pedigree and a glamour to them; they’re a flagship franchise and can count on that prestige to lure the league’s best players to play for them. The Miami Heat are the nouveau riche club that has suddenly, through a few dramatic high-profile signings, vaulted to the top of the league….However, under the league’s strict salary-cap, the Lakers and Heat find themselves locked into long, expensive, contracts that make it all but impossible to sign enough players of quality to sustain their success over the long term.

The current divas of the NBA, the Miami Heat, have built a squad for short-term success, and it looks to have worked to the tune of three consecutive appearances in the the NBA finals and two consecutive championships. Their Big Three of Dwayne Wade, Lebron James, and Chris Bosh are talented enough to carry a team filled with wash-outs and minor talents, but their contracts make long-term success all but impossible to sustain. Already, there are significant questions about Wade’s age and Bosh’s future with the team, but there’s little that the club can do to address this. The gap in talent between the three players and the rest of the squad is immense, and even after two championships, it seems difficult to convince good players to accept less money for what might amount to a guaranteed championship. As a result, they may have to dismantle the current squad and attempt to rebuild sooner rather than later.

By comparison, the Spurs are a model of fiscal restraint. Yes, they have built around three incredibly talented players, but they have built a system whose success depends far less on the players. Their manager, Gregg Popovich, is among the most-respected in the league, and his teams just win. Aside from Tim Duncan, almost all of the squad’s players have been late picks in the draft (teams select first-year players in a draft based, roughly, on worst-to-first, os a team like the Spurs that frequently finish in first place essentially choose last. There are some wrinkles, but let’s focus on the larger picture). The Spurs, like Arsenal, thrive on finding obscure talents and transforming them, most notably Tony Parker, the 28th pick of the 2001 draft, and Manu Ginobili, the 57th pick of the 1999 draft. The rest of the Spurs’ roster is frequently a mix of seasoned veterans, such as Michael Finley or Terry Porter, and promising young players, such as Kawhi Leonard or Danny Green. The difference between this roster and that of the Heat or Lakers is that the Spurs seem to assemble players based on thorough scouting. Instead of settling for who’s available, the Spurs make shrewd signings that address their needs. Instead of ending up with aging carpetbaggers hoping to sit on the bench and collect a championship, the Spurs stand apart by their ability to consistently identify those players who are most likely to contribute. Then, through the system and the coaching that Popovich and his staff provide, those players actually go on to contributeall according to a plan.

Therein lies the key: a plan. All too often in recent years, we seem to have approached the transfer-windows with diffidence or a lack of purpose. When we knew that van Persie or Fabregas wanted to leave, for example, a key signing or two might have convinced him to stay (if it was ever possible to do so). The best we could do was Lukas Podolski, not enough to sway van Persie. When it became clear that Fabregas wanted to leave (and we would have £30m or more to spend on replacements), we brought in Mikel Arteta, who has turned out to be a wonderful addition but for £60k a week or so, he’s still a budget-minded buy rather than a direct replacement. The signing of Nacho Monreal may not have happened at all if Gibbs had not been injured. We all know that Arsenal has worked within its budget for years now, and this is not a call to suddenly spend like it’s going out of style, but there have been too many puzzling signings and far too few defining signings to convince us that there is a larger plan beyond fiscal stability. Instead of going out and acquiring the biggest names available, then, study the Spurs’ model: target those players most likely to address our needs. Higuain fits that model. Rooney, I’d submit, does not. Cesar? Yes, probably.

The transfer market is officially open, so I imagine we’ll see some announcements soon, and we’ll see then whether there’s a plan to move forward.

In unrelated news, this year’s YAMAS awards have opened balloting for Arsenal blog awards. The survey itself is here, and it’s six questions long. Yours truly is one of five blogs contending for “Best New Blog”, but I’m not making any recommendations other than this: go over and cast your ballot for who you think most deserves it!

What Higuain’s arrival would mean for Theo

We’re all suffering from feverish anticipation as rumors continue to swirl around Higuain. I think we’ll hear something important today, something more substantial than the stories peddled by The Mirror, Sun, Marca or other tabloid-ish sources. Without going so far as to jinx it, I think the club has been waiting to get past the anniversary of signing Dennis Bergkamp to avoid risking the “anointing” effect. If the signing had been confirmed yesterday, 18 years to the day after Bergkamp had signed, Higuain would then carry the heavy mantle of replicating Bergkamp’s feats, style, and glories, and that’s just too much to ask of anyone. Look at how Ramsey struggled to “be” Cesc, or how Theo has labored under the “next Henry” burden (something I’m guilty of pushing). Instead of expecting new players to imitate the legends, we’d all be better served by letting them develop their own identities and their own games.

Speaking of Theo, I look forward to signing the likes of Higuain or some other center-forward (I’m going to continue to hedge because I don’t want to queer the deal) because how it disabuses Theo of the notion that he should play more centrally. I’ve long pushed the concept that he should play on the wing–it suits his abilities so much more than playing centrally. He’s incredibly fast, largely one-footed, and small. He’s at his best running onto a through-ball to finish or to fly down the wing to create chances for others. Put him in the middle, and he all but disappears. His ball-handling is not strong enough to allow him to take a ball from the air or to receive a pass with his back to goal and then dribble through a thicket of defenders.

However, in his defense, the aura of the center-forward position is not to be underestimated. When you think  of the players who have played there in the last decade, you can understand why Theo would want to: Henry. Bergkamp. Van Persie. Wright. It’s arguably the most-glamorous position on the field, the one that demands the most attention and that receives the most opportunities. It’s like the lead guitar in a rock-band. Theo wants to be that man, but it’s just not meant to be (in my opinion). You could almost see him this year craving that role after it was vacated, even more so after each time Giroud or Gervinho squibbed or fluffed or sent one into the cheap-seats. Theo’s mind probably raged, “I would have put that home! That should be meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”  Makes sense. I remember a few times screaming at the set that I could have finished better than Gervinho did, and I’m a 39-year old with a torn ACL.

If we can bring in someone like Higuain, the knock-on effect will benefit Theo in the long run. No longer will he have so much inspiration to crave the center-position as it will finally be filled by someone who knows what to do and how to do it (I’m sure Giroud will improve on this year’s performance, but he’d still need time to change perceptions). Like a lot of us, I’ve written extensively on Higuain’s virtues, but one neglected quality is how he’d mesh with the team. His willingness and ability to share time with Benzema and to defer to Ronaldo suggest that he doesn’t have so much of the “me-first” quality that players like Rooney carry. Maybe that’s a personality flaw that drives excellence–maybe a dominant finisher needs a certain dickishness as part of the skill-set. Then again, Messi. Moving on. Higuain seems like he can come in without stifling Theo’s development, and the two could then form a powerful 1-2 punch. Not hero and sidekick, necessarily, but a working relationship that gives both the space and the touches they will need to score.

Freed from always hoping to play centrally, no longer tempted to drift in to “prove” his superiority over Gervinho or Giroud, could encourage Theo to accept his position as a destiny rather than a fate and would allow Theo to focus on redefining the position. It’s not for nothing that he scored so many of his 21 goals from the wing (17, I believe). There are few sights more breath-taking than seeing him bolt down the wing past hapless defenders and curl in through the corner of the box. I’ve argued that this looks to be a break-out season for the lad, and I believe that pairing with a more-dominant center-forward will help that prediction to bear fruit.

You know something, van Persie? You can take a flyin’ leap.

I can’t believe the nerve of this schmuck. I’m trembling with rage, so if there are more typos than usual to be found here, you’ll have to excuse me. I just simply cannot believe the unlimited depths of this craven weasel of a man, who engineered a move to one of the cushiest positions in the Prem, spit in the face of the man who made him who he is, and then, as if he hadn’t fully revealed the shabbiness of his soul already, reveals that he’s little more than a shell of man, a huckster, a rat, a coward, a….I don’t want to go any further lest the momentum carry me to saying something I’ll regret and have to apologize for later.

That pestiliential bastard. We stood by him through thick and thin, through frustratingly sparse seasons and injury after injury after injury. Such was the club’s belief in him that it stood by him through that cooked-up rape allegation when another club might have cut its losses and moved on. Yes, the allegations turned up false, but it still served as a firm symbol of the club’s faith in him, not just as a player but as a person. After all, he was not the player then that he is now, a scorer of 21 goals in 79 appearances; in other words, not yet a player whose statistics could shield him from opprobrium. For Arsenal to have stood by him through that ordeal should be worth something. At least something more than the following:

It was [difficult] because it wasn’t only me who decided where I went to play. I also depended on my former club as well and how they saw it. And then of course you always have these games that the directors play. It’s a bit like a rollercoaster. Some days it is looking good and other days it is worse. You don’t really know what to expect because things can change so quickly.

Is he serious? Is he actually complaining that we weren’t willing to roll over and let him use us like a two-dollar whore? I’m beginning to think that the only synapses that fire behind those beady little eyes control his left foot. All else is a vast wasteland. So the little boy wanted to go to Man U? Explain why we’re at fault for seeing if we can get a better deal, financially or otherwise, from Juventus? Why the flying [expletive deleted] should we just drop him off at Old Trafford? Were we supposed to kiss him on the forehead and wipe his nose as our feelings of pride washed over him, our little boy, all grown up as he goes off to “big boy” school?

Putz. The directors play games? Oh, it’s enough to give me the vapors! Quick, bring me the fainting couch!! How my heart just goes out to this poor, innocent boy, this naive, little boy, this babe in the woods, pure as the driven snow who always only said what was honest and true. How he must have suffered as the scales fell from his eyes and he saw the world for what it really is for the first time. O brave new world! How he must have felt to learn that Arsène Wenger, who played such a huge role in making him into the player he now is, who waited years for van Persie to fulfill his potential, was only preparing to sell him on when the time was right. Poor Robin. Oh me. Oh my. He almost had to play for Juventus, only one of Europe’s most storied clubs. He must have been miserable as he worried about where his next paycheck would come from: what denomination will it be? Do they still use the lira in Italy? What’s a euro? Is it colder in Manchester than in London? What would become of poor, defenseless Robin?

When van Persie left, I merely resented him. He was selling us out for the baldest of reasons. Sure, I understand that he wanted trophies and was worried that his age in history of injuries were on his mind. Fine. Whatever. Why come out and kick Arsène in the groin a year later, after getting everything he’s wanted all his life (apparently)? Money. Fame. Glory. Adulation. Trophies. You know what? On that little list, he already had the first four. Had he showed a little more loyalty, a little more patience, who knows what could have happened?

I’m not bitter; I am enraged. Somewhere on the spectrum of departed players, with Fabregas on one end as “understandable” and perhaps Adebayor, Cole, or Nasri at the other as “absolute shite”, I had once played van Persie somewhere in the middle, leaning just a bit towards Adebayor, Cole, and Nasri. Now, however, he’s extended that end of the spectrum quite a bit further out.

I would never wish harm on a player (maybe privately, in those darker moments before we shake our heads and snap out of it), but I’m not so noble as to hope that the accumulation of age, injury, and complacency are enough to see this punk rust and fade away, gradually diminishing in form until he is cast off.

Of all of the superstars Arsène has made, he stood a chance of joining a pantheon of Arsenal legends. Sure, he’ll probably still claim a spot among the club’s best players, but he’s forfeited his potentially legendary status. Yes, other legends have left, but it’s the manner of van Persie’s departure, and how he’s handled it ever since, that poisons his legacy. Can you see him coming back in the twilight of his career for a curtain call akin to Henry’s? Maybe it’s just too soon to consider, but at this point, I don’t want him back and would turn my back rather than watch. He could have answered the interviewer more artfully. He could have dodged the question or chosen an answer that acknowledged everything Arsène and the club did to support him, but no. He took a man who has fallen on his sword and gave that sword one more twist. I can come to terms with a player leaving. I understand the narrow window of opportunities that a footballer has to squeeze through and the imperative to seize opportunities when life presents them. I don’t understand, however, being an absolute twat about how van Persie seized this one.

Maybe he can explain it to me in terms a little boy would understand.