LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - MARCH 03: Robin van Persie of Arsenal celebrates scoring the equalising goal with teammate Bacary Sagna (L) during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Arsenal at Anfield on March 3, 2012 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
When I woke up today, the 4th of July, a day off from work, at 11 AM, foggy and slightly irritable, I was not expecting to see texts about the Robin van Persie Statement (henceforth "Statement") on my phone. I was expecting to go get a nice cup of coffee, buy some mind-numbing comics, and read them while drinking yet more coffee. The Statement altered those plans (don't worry, I'll get to the comics eventually), obviously.
What the Statement has done to me this morning puts into full relief what it means to be a sports fan in today's world, I think. We live in a sports world where individuals are free to seek contracts with whomever they like after their current deal is done, but of course, it's much more complicated than that. As fans, we can only offer support in various ways. That is the full extent of our contribution to the system, despite the illusion that there is so much more to it than that. We follow a crest, a badge, colors, but the names come and go as human beings will.
My thoughts and feelings about the Statement do not follow any sort of logical pattern right now. When I think about van Persie, a mish-mash of images goes through my mind: a young talent with a temper issue, troubles with the law that were later proven to be totally baseless, the volley at Charlton, grimaces of pain, the way his arms look weird and floppy when he's dribbling, the way I don't really like how his face looks when he is celebrating a goal, but also how I don't care, Giorgio Chiellini's tackle in a friendly and the subsequent eastern European horse placenta treatments, some words about loyalty and never being able to see himself in a different shirt in 2009, the way those words sound today, 37 goals this past year, and, as usually happens when I think too much about something that confuses me, the ultimately fleeting and arbitrary existence that sums up being alive (I've had no coffee today, yet, as I said, due to the Statement. Bear with me).
Time equates to change, or so Science tells us. Circumstances change. If Napoleon had turned out to be a demon who liked sun-dried tomatoes, I doubt 250,000 French soldiers would have followed him to the edge of Moscow. Loyalty is a hard thing to actually pin down in most circumstances, and those looking for loyalty in today's football environment are probably going to be looking for a while. We know that van Persie was an Arsenal fan since he was at Excelsior, admiring his idol Dennis Bergkamp. We know that he signed for £2.75 million (and what a deal that turned out to be), and we know that he looked to be an ideal on-field captain this year, leading by example, even as he visibly tired as the year went on. This is why the Statement surprised people, including the club, apparently.
It's hard for me to describe my emotional state today. On the one hand, I'm deeply frustrated that the Statement arrived in the middle of the club trying to improve the squad around their leader, I'm upset that the intimation therein is that Wenger, the man who put van Persie in a spot to succeed, lacks ambition of some kind (he may not always do right, but Wenger loves the club and will do everything he can to see it succeed), I'm super super worried about the season ahead, and I'm angry that a player whom the club backed through injury after injury, whom they trusted to be its face, has decided that that's not enough.
However, I can also understand the Statement. I understand that there are players who want more pay; although I can't actively put myself into that mindset, I have to accept that it's a mindset that exists. I understand wanting to win trophies. I understand that van Persie, as much as one player can, singlehandedly got the club close. I'm not willing to pin the whole "he should ask himself if he could have done more to win the trophies himself" thing on van Persie, either. I can understand if he is frustrated with the direction of the club in some aspects; I am too. He's a fan as well (which only complicates the situation further).
It boils down to this: such is my fence-sitting that I think the club should both sell RvP for as much money as they can AND make him play the final year of his contract to prove a point (as Aidan argues here), depending on what minute of the day it is. I'm just very conflicted right now.
If I think real hard, I don't believe in loyalty in sports. I've simply seen too many counter-examples in my life. My hockey team left Minnesota for Dallas--DALLAS, yes, in TEXAS--in 1993, basically crushing my youthful nascent interest in pro hockey. My favorite pitcher of all time left my team, leveraging a big free agent payday. My favorite wide receiver of all time is a raving lunatic who likes to annoy police officers with his motor vehicle and leave town at the drop of a hat. Players staying at one team forever are a rarity, ever more so today as wages and contracts inflate. I understand this, logically.
If I think even a little harder, though, I do believe in loyalty in sports. There is evidence of it all around--people following colors and crests, the idea of changing rooting interests positively unthinkable. It's strange to think about this, but there is no way that I would consider changing interests, even though it should be totally doable in theory. And it's definitely been done in practice, tons of times. I just can't do it, though.
What is difficult is that players can. It's one of the many uncertainties that we just have to deal with as fans. Arsenal will carry on; the club has survived despite players leaving in the past. The preseason starts in 10 days, and there I'll be.