On Thursday both Arsene Wenger and Alex Ferguson were queried by the gathered press about the one thing the two teams have in common, the transfer of star forward Robin van Persie from Arsenal to Man U. Ferguson revealed that United targeted van Persie, paid over the odds to get him, and beat out better offers from rival clubs to win the player’s signature. Meanwhile, Wenger revealed that he had no choice and that the deal was painful. But it was the man at the center of the trade who wasn’t questioned by the press but who, through the details, was revealed to be the real pivotal figure behind the whole move.
We now know that it was a series of phone calls between Arsene Wenger and Alex Ferguson which sealed the transfer. Wenger stood by his valuation and Manchester United ultimately paid £29m for Robin van Persie, a 29 year old in the last year of his contract. It was a figure that Ferguson balked at, as any rational human being would do, but which he ended up paying because as he put it “you either want him or you don’t, and you have to pay the price that the club is sticking out for. (And) we wanted him badly.”
We also had it confirmed that there were rival offers on the table from Man City and Juventus. Wenger made it clear that his preference was for van Persie to go to Italian champions Juventus even if that meant a significant discount on the player’s transfer fee. Wenger did not want to sell to United, he knew it meant strengthening a rival and weakening his own team. “But what is painful is to see United so far in front of us,” he said. “We knew when we sold him to United that would be the case.”
Juventus did their level best to lure Robin, putting together what Ferguson called “an amazing” compensation package. Beyond the money, there are footballing reasons why a move to Juve is a great one for Robin. The Old Lady plays a wonderful brand of football, had just gone 49 games unbeaten, are the Italian champions, and have no established star center forward. Robin van Persie would have walked into that Juventus side, taken the starting role, and would have probably led the bianconeri to the league title and probably challenged for the Champions League title.
But we also now know that Robin van Persie demanded to be traded to Man U in what must be classified as the biggest “fuck you” to a club since Sol Campbell promised to stay at Tottenham before switching to Arsenal. By demanding to e traded only to Man U, Robin essentially did exactly what Cesc Fabregas did the season prior. That left Arsenal with only two choices, hang on to this dressing room cancer and run his contract down for a year or sell him to Man U for an exorbitant sum. Arsene Wenger chose the latter.
Many argue that the club should have just held on to him. That Robin would have no choice but to be professional and play out his last year. I’m not so sure about that. His Independence Day “letter to the fans” was anything but professional. He publicly accused management of “being on vacation” (which was not true) and worse, openly stated that he disagreed with the manager over the direction of the club.
This wasn’t just any player making such a statement. This was the club captain, a guy who many of the young players looked up to, a guy who everyone respected. Suggesting that player should be kept around in training, on the pitch, and pouring poison into the ears of the younger players is unrealistic. The team dynamic thrives on trust and respect and Robin had shown himself to be untrustworthy and disrespectful.
So were the two choices really two? Or was there really only one choice? Wenger has said that he had no choice. I tend to believe him here.
A lot of ire is being directed at Arsene Wenger over this transfer but it’s largely misguided. If you want to blame anyone for Robin’s move to United, blame Robin. He disrespected the club and chose a hated rival as the only destination he would accept thus forcing Arsene Wenger to sell. And worse, in so doing proved that he didn’t give two fucks about the fans either — “you guys”.
And lastly, I don’t buy the argument that Arsenal didn’t replace Robin. You might not like the players that Arsenal brought in to replace Robin, but you cannot say that the club didn’t try. Podolski and Giroud are easily marked as the two players that Wenger brought to replace Robin’s position (forward) but to replace his intangibles, his superstar qualities, Arsene bought Cazorla.
All three of those players are seasoned professionals and have made the jump from foreign leagues to the Premier League with aplomb — slotting right in to the Arsenal system and ranking among the top players in the League. In many ways it’s a testament to Wenger’s ability as a manager that he can have two superstars in two consecutive years force through sales and is still able to rebuild his team on the fly using only players from the transfer market. I’ve been a sports fan all my life and I’ve never seen a team sell off two superstars like that and do anything other than sink like a rock to the bottom of their league.
This is not to say that Arsenal shouldn’t be active in the January transfer window. I’ve been clear on that. It’s also not to say that I wouldn’t have loved Arsenal to buy Falcao, of course I would. Rather that we as fans should be placing the blame for why Arsenal sold Robin van Persie precisely where it belongs, on Robin van Persie.