A mother and her young son approached me at a children’s indoor playground recently and wanted to talk to me about football. I’d never met them before but her boy, who was no older than ten, was a big fan of the game and wanted to chat. He had a problem. He loved the Premier League, something he had discovered in the last year, knew the players but needed a team to follow regularly and wanted my advice. I thought long and hard and after finding out a little more about him I finished my advice off with five words.
Don’t become an Arsenal fan.
Modern day football and super power clubs with mega rich owners have swallowed the hopes of competitive football clubs around the globe in the last decade. Fantastic, proud clubs with a history of winning things like Newcastle, Everton, Aston Villa, Tottenham and even Liverpool, of late, have realised they now start seasons with no chance of winning their domestic league. Fans may not like it but they still watch and average crowds have never been bigger at their grounds. They know their club’s identity much like fans of Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea know theirs. They now expect to win every year.
Sitting in between these two groups are Arsenal fans who don’t even fit in their own group because their own club splits their opinions right down the middle. There are those who believe in Wenger and those who no longer do. Either way, both groups still believe their team can win it all.
Those who believe in Wenger either do so because what he did a decade ago or enjoy supporting a football club that is financially sustainable. They quote FFP and believe that one day Arsenal will be laughing while other super giant clubs come crashing down. The problem with this notion is that other super giant clubs are not only better than Arsenal at football but also at generating revenue through commercial and sponsorship revenue. They are also better than Arsenal at consuming debt that will be allowed through FFP (to think FFP will regulate football clubs to spend less than they make, like Arsenal, is naive). And now they are far better than Arsenal at keeping players.
Footballers want two things in their careers, lots of money and trophies. The problem Arsenal have had in the last eight years is that they have not needed to find the key to their trophy cabinet. The cabinet, full of wonderful moments of the past, does nothing for modern day players when they walk by it. Van Persie was surely sold on it when he joined the club in May of 2004 and how could he have not have been? Arsenal had just won four major domestic honours in four years. They were a club who expected to win often. Over eight years later the Dutchman departs North London with one FA Cup medal from the 2005 final, a game in which he played just 24 minutes in as a second half substitute.
There will be those today who chastise Van Persie for leaving a football club that made him and paid him well during his time but the facts are the facts and one cup medal for eight years service at a club he believed was a serious contender for all competitions is not a worthy return for a player of his abilities. Van Persie has chosen to sign for a football club that every year gives their fans and players a real shot at winning everything.
His departure continues a trend at the football club that they, very much like the clubs named in the second group above, are now a selling club. They have created a message to players that now reads ‘come to our club, make yourself a star and one day you will win trophies – for other clubs’.
‘In Arsene We Trust’ members will rejoice today that they sold a 29-year-old player for 24 million pounds in the last year of his deal when in reality they sold their chances at winning the Premier League for that price. Sure, their signings this summer have made them stronger but with Van Persie in that team they were good enough to challenge the two Manchester clubs for the title. Without him they are now a side who will once again comfortably finish in the top four and somehow celebrate it like it is a significant achievement, when in reality all they have done is beaten a bunch of average teams for the right to finish close to the top teams in position only.
The record books will show the club finished third last season but those who witnessed it will tell you it was one of the worst seasons since Wenger came aboard, despite Van Persie’s fantastic 30 goal campaign. The club never came close to challenging, was out of all major competitions by the end of February and needed to get better. Instead, they sold their best player. Robin Van Persie would not have been the first player to stick around for a year, fulfill his contract and then leave for nothing and Arsenal fans who think that 24 million pounds is better than that scenario have clearly forgotten the joy fans get when their team wins something.
They may also not have considered that their club, for the second successive season, sold a top player to one of the three clubs who had legitimate shot at getting in their way of winning trophies this season. Van Persie will not return to the Emirates until April 27th and fans ready to give it to him that day should be reminded that it will be the first time in a number of years that the Dutchman will play a game in that stadium that late in the season that meant something in terms of the Premier League title.
Don’t be mad at the player, Arsenal fans. Today’s departure firmly puts you in a diffierent category. You are a great club with a great history but no longer one that is big enough to win and keep hold of the world’s best players.