Robin van Persie: a tribute
When I was asked to write a detailed piece for Sabotage Times on the marvel that is Robin van Persie, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to do the Dutchman justice. I knew I would need a wide range for synonyms for “brilliant”, for one thing.
For a piece on van Persie’s career path so far, you can click here. But the point of this article is to explore what has made and what currently makes van Persie such an excellent player, and so important to Arsenal.
Critics of Wenger’s men would argue that van Persie is made to look good by the relative incompetence of his team-mates (although that claim had even less credibility at the Emirates on Tuesday) but that would be a massive disservice to the captain, and quite frankly, a lie.
There are many scorers of great goals (for example, Gianfranco Zola perhaps) and then there are great goal-scorers (look no further than Ruud van Nistelrooy) but the best strikers – taking nothing away from Zola or van Nistelrooy – combine the two. Thierry Henry did it for Arsenal, Lionel Messi is doing it for Barcelona, and now van Persie has done the same.
Early in his career in North London he would have been certainly classed in the former category; strikes against Charlton, Blackburn and Wigan helped give him that reputation, but as he’s become a more central figure for the Gunners, he’s thrived on the responsibilities and the expectations, and his goal-scoring talents have gone from strength to strength.
Arsene Wenger’s ability to nurture raw players verges on the legendary. He did it with Henry, Vieira, Fabregas and Adebayor to name just four, and his methods have helped van Persie to thrive. The Dutchman spoke about how his manager helped him “find his own answers”, instead of simply telling him. While some may struggle with this teaching style, it’s clearly worked perfectly for van Persie.
His maturity as a footballer and as a person as well has been cited many times by Wenger, and is quite remarkable. From an occasionally petulant youngster, he has become a respectable ambassador for Arsenal Football Club and deserves big credit for how he’s grown up.
As for his style of play, it has been greatly influenced by the large number of injuries he suffered at Arsenal. He no longer has that pace he once did, but has developed his other attributes greatly in order to make up for the loss of his once-frightening speed. Having joined as a winger, van Persie is now a leading man, and Arsenal’s talisman.
The 28-year-old is central to Arsenal’s style of play, his movement vital to the Gunners’ success. He’s such a difficult player to pick up – and is the type of player that was instrumental in the so-called death of the 4-4-2 formation. Not only have players like van Persie led to 4-4-1-1 and other variations of it in order fully utilise their talents, the opposing teams have to adapt – many task a player with the job of man-marking the player, and this evolution was a massive part of how football tactics came to be as they are today. Of course, Dennis Bergkamp was one of the main players who caused this transition in systems through-out the world, and was a mentor to van Persie during his years at Highbury.
While Wenger is undoubtedly a superb teacher, having a role model like Bergkamp around to learn from and listen to was clearly a masive help to van Persie’s development, and it’s no surprise that van Persie is a very similar player to Bergkamp in his prime. He loves to curl the ball in the same way as Bergkamp did, and also has an eye for a chip like his countryman.
It’s clear that van Persie has learnt from Thierry Henry as well as Bergkamp, and he has almost combined their best technical qualities into one well and truly complete forward. While he lacks the physical attributes of Henry – namely that blistering pace – it is this rounded quality to his general play that makes him such an effective player. Like Henry and Bergkamp, he’s selfless, but then selfish when he needs to be. What is clear is that van Persie puts the good of the team before his own – something that has changed since the early days of his Arsenal career.
One of his best talents is his footballing intelligence and vision. Credit rightly goes to Alex Song for the assists for his skipper’s wondergoals against Everton and Liverpool, but as the saying goes, it takes two to make a pass (I may or may not have just made this up, who knows). And van Persie certainly did his bit – peeling off of his marker and beating the offside trap with expertise. The finishes were just as good; he timed everything to perfection, measuring every step (he said so himself) and firing home with the precision and deadly accuracy he is now renowned for.
Henry was never keen on heading, which was one of his true weaknesses – it’s rather odd that such a competitive, brilliant player never fancied scoring with his head, because he could have been even better than he was. Van Persie is different, as he is desperate to score more headers. He clearly has the talent – headers vs Liverpool and Leeds prove that – but physically he sometimes struggles, as it’s often him up against two giant centre-backs.
While van Persie’s lack of burning pace stops him from being even better, he more than makes up for it with his other attributes. When countering against Tottenham, he held off two Tottenham defenders brilliantly, before finding the on-rushing Theo Walcott, who finished well. Van Persie is a clever player, and uses that to his and Arsenal’s full advantage.
There are some things, like pace, which cannot be improved significantly at van Persie’s age, but everything else he has worked on with inspirational dedication. His right foot, for example, is now almost as clinical as his left. He’s scored some sensational goals with his “chocolate leg” as he calls it – in particular one against Liverpool in 2009, which was certainly one for the e-scrapbooks. His hard work, commitment and determination are exceptional, and he is a superb example to everybody at Arsenal.
The thing that makes van Persie so difficult to stop is his unpredictability; Jurgen Klopp, manager of Borussia Dortmund, said that he had never seen a player who was sometimes very deep in midfield yet still so good in the box. It’s very hard to track his runs, and the freedom of his role at Arsenal is key to him excelling. He can end up isolated when the rest of the team aren’t on their game, but when he gets a chance he is usually deadly, as he showed at Anfield.