Sorry for the delay in getting this out. You’d think having all the time in the world would make cranking blog posts easier. I swear, I’m gonna get on a schedule one of these days.
When news broke over the Fourth of July holiday that Robin van Persie would not sign a new contract with Arsenal, the natural reaction from Gooners everywhere were the predictable: anger, disappointment, recrimination, fault-finding and a “Sell his ass now!” attitude. If he had not released his statement, his sale could have happened with little negative feelings. As it currently stands, there is just no way he can be returned to the fold without a major apology from him – which, even then, would not be accepted by a large segment of the support base.
This was followed by the usual braying from the media types: the broken cannons, the “Arsenal in Crisis” headlines, the connections to the last few years of losing Fabregas, Nasri, Adebayor, Hleb, Flamini, Henry, Vieira and others. Combined with the Red & White release and the talk of Theo Walcott’s contract situation, it looked as if things would, once again, go bad for Arsenal before a ball had been kicked in anger.
And I gotta ask: why all the fuss?
Whether because of injury, transfer or retirement, each and every one of those players would have left the club at some point. It may have been their choice or it may have been the club’s, but the fact remains that those players would have walked out of Emirates or London Colney one afternoon and never returned. Legends like Vieira, Pires and Henry were sold to other clubs. Other legends like Bergkamp and Adams simply retired. And in between you have players of all kinds (from Edu to the Hoyte brothers) who’ve been sold, walked away or transferred to other clubs. This is normal in football.
Some would argue that you cannot be a top-level club if you are continually selling your best players. I would ask those people if they didn’t consider Barcelona a top-level club when they lost Ronaldo in 1997 and Luis Figo in 2000. Or if they thought less of Juventus when they sold Zinedine Zidane in 2001 or of Inter Milan when they sold Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry and Ronaldo from 1997 through 2002. Did they say the same when Cristiano Ronaldo moved from Manchester United just three years back?
Of course not. Transfers of top talents between the top clubs in Europe is quite common. New managers arrive and rub the established star the wrong way. Or there’s a bigger money move to be made to another club. Or they grow tired of the same coach and covet new challenges. Or a transfer doesn’t work out for the player and he wants out. Or any of a hundred different reasons that make a player consider the grass on another pitch greener than the one they’re standing on.
The “concern” for some is that the “player exodus” is tied with the “BLANK NUMBER OF YEARS without a trophy” tally that some seem to love to keep counting. How can the club return to glory (so to speak) if every summer another talented player departs. I’d reply “And how many trophies did they win with these players?” van Persie for all his talents, never had a full season free from injury until last season – not coincidentally his best season too. Fabregas kept getting injured during the run-ins of the last two seasons he was at the club – a major factor in the subsequent tailspins at the end that resulted in no trophies. Adebayor had one great season then parlayed that into a major move to Manchester City where he has entered their Pantheon of the Eternally Loaned. And so on.
The van Persie situation is the norm. Player sees chance for a “better” deal for himself and takes it. It happens all the time – it’s what happened to Hleb and Adebayor and Flamini and Petit and Overmars and Anelka and countless others both with Arsenal and other clubs. Some times it works for the player. Other times it doesn’t. That is the inherent risk for both club and player: the club might not find a replacement to be equally as suitable – Arsenal did when they went from Anelka to Henry – while the player may find himself unable to recapture his form at another club – see: Hleb, Adebayor.
There’s an old anecdote about Brian Clough and Peter Taylor that said that, whenever they bought a new player, they would bring in him to Clough’s office, sit him down and proceed to say: “Just so we’re clear. If we find a player who can do your job better than you, we’re buying him. Don’t get upset if it happens but our job is to put the best team out there. If we didn’t do that, we wouldn’t be doing our jobs. We would be out of our jobs.” That is the nature of professional sport: it’s always in motion and always looking for the next great talent. We, as fans, may cheer our hearts out for specific players and consider them “legends” but they’ll all eventually be replaced. It is their fate.
That’s why you root for the crest in the front of the shirt and not the name in the back.