Searching for loyalty in football nowadays is like looking for Penguins in a rocky desert. ‘Allegiance’ is a word used in short-team context, as it changes like dresses of super-models on a ramp. The love for the game of football in its entirety – which involved the club, the fans, the allegiance, the manager, the players, and the history – has ceased to exist. A football club is now a mere employer, run with a shrewd business model to attain maximum profit. Players are just employees – they play for the club, collect their salary and go home. If they are discontented over the less salary which they dutifully term as ‘lack of ambition’, they leave the club for supposedly greener pastures.
The latest of the lot to tread the dark path is Arsenal’s captain from last season – Robin van Persie. A self-proclaimed Gooner with a ‘cultured’ background who showcased his polished demeanor even off the pitch, van Persie was a man to ‘look up to’ for any Arsenal fan. He had often stated that he always wanted to win trophies with Arsenal, and not with any other club. Finally, the devil (read – Agent) triumphed over the assured and calm van Persie, and made him do whatever he did.
A preposterous statement later, he made his position untenable at the club – wherein he had no choice but to move forward. Never ever did he envisage a possibility of jumping ship to the biggest rival Arsenal had in the Premier League era; however, it happened. Robin van Persie became the first Arsenal player under Arsene Wenger to ‘transfer himself’ to Manchester United, a hefty 24 Million transfer fee being the only consolation for the club and the fans.
From a purist’s perspective, if you have played for the club for eight years and honored the famed Red and White with your blood and sweat, you tend to get attached to the club. Or so one would assume! Apparently, that was not the case with the Dutchman, who was prolific for the Gunners in the last one and a half years, scoring goals at will – ‘whenever he wanted’. The ugly-faced egotistic gate-keeper of doom opened the gates to a much beautiful world which flashed 200,000 Pounds a week, including the time the Dutchman would sleep peacefully at night. Van Persie embraced the opportunity to pair with English striker Wayne Rooney, the thought of which would give goose-pimples to Manchester United supporters as Gooners would cringe in disgust and disappointment.
Has the dark path been traded before? Well, yes! Almost all hardcore Gooners world over will be aware of the former Arsenal manager George Graham. The Scot was a prolific player for the Gunners as he played six years of attacking midfield at the Highbury before crossing border to Manchester United in December, 1972. In fact, Graham was bought to Arsenal from Chelsea as Bertie Mee paid for his services to the West London club in 1966. Ironically, Graham played two years at United as the club got relegated to Division-2.
.Republic of Ireland International Frank Stapleton is probably one of the most bizarre examples of treachery – although that would be harsh words for those days when Arsenal and Manchester United didn’t really share the same intense level of rivalry like they did in the late 90s. Stapleton played almost the same number of games for both clubs, helping both win FA Cups during his time at the respective clubs. A fantastic tough-tackling forward, Stapleton joined Arsenal when he was overlooked by Manchester United in 1974. Seven years later, he altered his allegiance to Manchester United and went on to score crucial goals for the club, helping them win the FA Cups in 83’ and 85’.
Many fans across the border will remember that Sir Alex Ferguson’s first signing was a player from Arsenal – Vivian Alexander Anderson. Viv played in defense for Arsenal in the mid-80s which culminated in some success in 1987, when the Gunners won the League Cup Final against Liverpool. Much to the dismay of Arsenal fans, who weren’t too pleased with George Graham’s decision, Anderson switched loyalties to Manchester United that same year. Though Viv played first-choice Right Back for United over the years, he was left in the dark in the last season, as he finally packed his bags to leave the club.
Players like Bryan Kidd and even one Mikael Silvestre have played for Manchester United followed by their stints at Arsenal, but this one, wherein the club captain has deserted his ship and jumped to his rival’s territorial army is perhaps the most unendurable episode for Gooners in modern era, who have loved the player over the years despite his inadequacy in the fitness department. This is a scar beyond refurbish, a permanent taint in Arsenal history – an example set in the pages of Arsenal’s ‘What Not to Do as an Arsenal Player?’ year-book.
Though Arsenal are well replenished this season with fantastic new signings and renewed team spirit, there is a repugnant odor in the form of a captain altering loyalty that cannot be masked by words like ‘at least he fetched us 24 Million Pounds!’. Van Persie has left such a sour taste in the mouth of Gooners, that even Samir Nasri can be ignored and forgotten for what he did a year back. In fact, the Red Devils, howmuchever they cherish the new signing; have absolutely no regards for the Dutchman for pulling off such a deceitful act.
At the end of the day, one curses, one gets disenchanted, one shakes his head, but most importantly, one moves on. Van Persies will come, van Persies will go! Arsenal Football Club will go on to newer levels led by a manager who turns raw materials to gems but van Persie will just remain as a forgotten chapter in Arsenal’s folklore.
As Roger Waters pens it…“Where has the feeling gone? Will I remember the songs? The Show must go on!”