If Anyone Can, Van Can
Good afternoon, morning, evening depending on your geographical/ topographical situ. This has been my first article for a little while. The little matter of a holiday in Spain, as well as boring career issues have prevented me from etching my thoughts for a while. Yeah, and a good old fashioned case of writer's block to boot. As I have mentioned in the past, the whole issue of transfer speculation does not exactly get my mojo going. In fact, I would venture that the sight of Boris Johnson in a sumo thong would do more to get my juices flowing (no, I haven't been drinking).
But with the primary summer gossip amongst Gooners focusing on what we need, I prefer to think about what we already have. This also provides stark contrast to those outside of the club who appear hellbent on reminding us what we have lost. It is interesting that the departure of Henry has sparked such delight amongst the anti-Gooners, over the last few weeks I have been teased several times about his departure. I find this interesting because those looking in from the outside appear to regard his sale with more significance than we Gooners. Those of us who watch Arsenal more regularly realise that Henry's stock in the side had fallen over the last two years, that his enthusiasm had evaporated. Even Mourinho and Ferguson have questioned the significance of the sale. Of course, when a Spud or Whammer or Scouser or some other such biological construct is faced with this logic, we are dismissed as sour. (Even when I provide the naysayers with articles I had written on the subject some months before his departure). So it was with some interest that I read Don Howe's comments on the transfer in the Arsenal magazine last night (though this is not a plug, if anyone from the magazine is reading, and there are any jobs going, consider this aside very much a literary wink in your direction). The journalist immediately mentioned that Don broke out into a big smile, he was quite candid in his assessment that Henry's body language suggested a move was the right thing for all parties, and that, essentially, certain players were now being entrusted with extra responsibility. Giving young players something to prove is often the best way to accelerate their development, for instance, Cesc Fabregas's growth in stature since he stepped into Vieira's sizeable boots. Howe went on to say that Henry's departure essentially lifted a shadow from the team, the tallest tree in the forest has been chopped down, presenting the other trees with the chance to compete for the sunlight.
A name Howe mentioned again and again was that of Robin van Persie, and that brings me onto the point of this article. van Persie is a special, special talent. Anyone with a functioning set of peepers can see that his touch and technique are utterly flawless. The Dutch striker's development has been cruelly curtailed by unfortunate injuries at crucial times. His last two campaigns have been prematurely ended by injury just as he appeared to be ingratiating himself as a real star in the team. Despite missing around 40% of last season, he still finished as top scorer (though that also serves as something of an indictment on our shot shy midfield). Had he stayed fit, Robin may well have been in with a decent shout for the golden boot.If a rich vein of form in the winter of 2005 gave us a glimpse of van Persie's potential, then his form last season saw at least some of that potential realised. van Persie became a trump card for Arsenal, a match winner. He is a player possessed of a rare quality to win a match in a moment of brilliance. One can point to his two goal showing at the Valley last year, the second of his goals quite literally taking the breath away. But we all knew that he was capable of doing that, it was around Christmas last year that I think he really arrived.
Allow me to elaborate. The post Christmas cracker at home to Blackburn has to be one of van Persie's worse performances in an Arsenal shirt. He looked languid, fatigued and unable to trap sand on a beach. With four minutes remaining, he twisted Andy Todd inside out and won the game with a superb individual goal. Three days later, we journeyed to Vicarage Road and he was worse still. Looking apathetic, lazy and argumentative, castigating Baptista for taking a shot in a promising position. With five minutes remaining, he twisted Danny Shittu inside out and won us the game. Special players do that, in their worst, most frustrating games, they can win it for you in an instant. Cantona did it with alacrity, Henry was dreadful in the San Siro and invisible in the Bernebeu. But we don't really remember that do we? van Persie's performance at the Valley was nothing special either. His goals were.
In fact, that game at the Valley showed another side of van Persie that we are all familiar with. Minutes after his equaliser, he aimed a senseless kick at Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink which should have seen him red carded. van Persie is a player with a little of the devil in him, he also knows how to con an official. The dive against Hamburg, the sneaky handball leading up to a penalty award against Tottenham (doesn't your heart just bleed?) Often this is a hallmark of a special player (unfortunate as it may be), Rooney, Maradona, even our beloved Dennis Bergkamp had it in them. Alan Shearer is probably the filthiest footballer I have ever seen. Do not get me wrong, in an ideal world, van Persie would have an unblemished sense of fair play. But my point is, special players often play on the edge. van Persie fits this category.
As much as I adore van Persie as a footballer, I have often questioned his attitude and temperament. I feel he is still a player with a hell of a lot more to show us, injury appears to have robbed him of any kind of constistency. I think the departure of Henry will aid and abett his blossoming into a true star. I am not entirely convinced van Persie and Henry really ever hit it off as a partnership, they both liked to occupy the same spaces on the pitch and were a little too similar for my liking. I felt both players were better foiled by Emmanuel Adebayor, who creates the speace for these two special players to strut their stuff. I also feel that in terms of profile, van Persie was always going to be in Henry's shadow. Robin, like Thierry, has a sizeable on pitch ego, he is very sure of himself on a football pitch. Just as my earlier examples Rooney and Cantona are/ were. Having a player of this disposition on a football pitch is no bad thing, having that one trump card, the star turn if you will. However, having two is often just troublesome. For instance, when celebrating his stunner at the Valley, Henry correctly reminded van Persie not to celebrate too exubrently as he had already been booked. The fiery Dutchman responded with a strong expletive. With Henry now in Catalonia, van Persie emerges from the shadow as the ace up our sleeve, the lace in our nightgown.
I think van Persie's arrogance will see him undertake this mantle quite comfortably. In fact, I think it will benefit him tremendously, he is something of a show off on the pitch, having the heat of the spotlight focussed clearly on him will compliment his attention hungry feet. He has that star quality, our own boss likens him as a hybrid of Bergkamp and Henry. I used an analogy on the forum the other day that I will regurgitate here. If he were in a band, you've the impression he would immediately appoint himself lead singer, he has that Mick Jagger/ Ian Brown/ Liam Gallagher (delete as age deems appropriate) swagger about him, a presence that cannot be pinned down by futile words. It's just there. Often giving a player with temperament issues greater responsibility is the best thing you can do for them. Roy Keane, Patrick Vieira, Eric Cantona all fought the law, but grew into the extra responsibility bestowed upon them with applomb. I am positive that this will be the case with van Persie now, all eyes are on him, it's sink or swim. I don't think this guy will have any problems staying afloat. LD.
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