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by Paul Chronnell, Arsenal correspondent
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
Decision time looms for Gunners captain, and divided Dutch camp may have delivered a few home truths
Robin van Persie has maintained that he will decide his Arsenal future after Euro 2012, and the end of that tournament has arrived a little sooner than expected for Holland.
The Dutch’s dismal finals were completed by Sunday’s 2-1 defeat to Portugal to send them home without a point, and Van Persie back to north London to do some serious thinking.
Despite his stellar season for the Gunners in which he won the Premier League’s Golden Boot for scoring 30 goals and scooped both PFA and Footall Writers’ Player of the Year awards, the Arsenal captain endured an underwhelming tournament in Poland and Ukraine.
Although on target in last week’s 2-1 defeat by Germany, the hope that Van Persie would lead Holland to glory after they went so close in the 2010 World Cup final proved a forlorn one.
That, of course, is not of any great concern to Arsenal supporters. The rather more pressing issue of their captain leaving for a second successive summer is, however, and it is hard to know what impact the past two weeks will have had on Van Persie.
The divisions in the Dutch squad have been clear for all to see. Holland’s array of big-name stars includes Arjen Robben (Bayern Munich), Wesley Sneijder (Inter Milan), Tottenham’s Rafael van der Vaart and the ageing but no less influential captain, Mark van Bommel.
Alongside those names Van Persie, despite being confirmed as leading man and captain at the Emirates, is arguably not even among the inner circle of senior players.
He often cut a forlorn figure during the tournament, isolated in attack and reliant on passes from players who did not seem to be united by a common cause.
So could Holland’s implosion at the Euros have taught him a salutary lesson? On one side there is the all-important lure of trophies and glory in one final challenge in his career, on the other there is the fact that he has everything he could wish for – apart from winner’s medals – at the Emirates.
His predecessor Cesc Fabregas made some interesting comments last week about how hard it has been for him to settle in and adjust his playing style at Barcelona last season, and this from a player who was returning to his hometown club and was supposed to have ‘Barcelona DNA’.
Van Persie, who will celebrate his 29th birthday before the start of next season, is four years older than Fabregas and knows that his next contract will probably be his last, at least at a major club.
He has just had the best season of his life, and while the rewards have been personal and not for the team, strikers are selfish by necessity. Being confirmed as the best by his peers and by the statistics will have mattered a lot to Van Persie, even if it was not accompanied by medals.
Arsenal are believed to have made their position clear in the two days of meetings with Van Persie’s agent, Kees Vos, in mid-May after the end of last season.
A three-year deal is on the table, with a remuneration package that includes a hefty signing bonus along with a weekly wage of around £140,000 per week.
The Emirates board have discussed the issue at length with Arsene Wenger, and are open to the idea of their captain remaining at the club next season even if he doesn’t sign a new deal this summer.
If he wants to go now, then the suitors will have to pay up. Given that Arsenal are not inclined to sell, and that Manchester City would surely be in the market, the fee could climb as high as £30m. A move abroad has always seemed more likely, with Italian champions Juventus and the Qatari-backed French club Paris St Germain leading the chase. Of that trio it would seem that City, who could double his wages in the blink of an eye, would represent the most likely destination. Barcelona, as ever, cannot be completely discounted.
There is, of course, no guarantee that such a move would bring with it silverware and the glittering end to his club career that Van Persie’s talent possibly deserves.
Glory has proved elusive to him. At the end of his first season with Feyenoord, the then 18-year-old Van Persie was in the side that lifted the 2002 Uefa Cup after a 3-2 final success over Borussia Dortmund.
Three years later and Van Persie was celebrating the end of his first season at Arsenal by slamming home a penalty in the shootout as the Gunners defeated Manchester United to win the 2005 FA Cup. He has since admitted that, with the Invincibles season still fresh in the memory, it felt like winning trophies every year was just expected at Arsenal.
Seven barren years on, that sentiment seems almost fanciful. The big question now is whether Van Persie sees himself as the leader of the team who must bring that trophyless streak to an end, or a captain who will desert his post and head for pastures new to satisfy his lust for success.
Euro 2012 may have relegated club allegiances to the back burner, but Arsenal’s main story of the summer is back on the agenda. This time it must reach some sort of conclusion.