22 April 2013

Uh, congrats, Robin, I guess...

So Man U has won its 20th Prem title on the back of a Robin Van Persie hat-trick. Some might say this culminates all of Arsenal's fears ever since Van Persie left: Man U wins the Prem, doing so thanks to Van Persie's heroics, and he emerges with the Golden Boot. That last one is still, technically, to be decided as Suarez's punishment is not yet announced and Bale could conceivably go on a torrid tear to claim the prize as his own. I wouldn't mind that (unless it impels Spurs to overtake us). However, I really find myself with little more than a meh. I ripped the "Van Persie is gone" bandage off long ago. I really have no reaction to Man U's league title other than to acknowledge that it happened. We knew coming into the season that the Prem would come down to Man U and Man City and maybe Chelsea, so for it to go to Man U should not come as much of a surprise. Good job, Man U. Well done. Sorry if I sound a little flat on that.

However, I can't help but feel that there's going to be a certain emptiness to the achievement, at least from Van Persie's point of view. He may not admit it, he may not even be aware of the concept, but his contributions to Man U's title are not all that significant. Yes, he has again scored innumerable goals, and a few of them, including one today, have been highlight-reel worthy. However, how much can he really claim to have achieved? He helped a team that finished in second place on goals last year finish in first place this year. How much of this is attributable to his contributions as opposed to Man City's own season-long hangover? Any team that wins a championship is going to stumble a bit in the following season, and any team that comes agonizingly close frequently comes back more focused and determined than everwitness Bayern's season-long "scorched-earth" approach after finishing second in the Champions League. In other words, it's quite likely that Man U would have ended up precisely where it is without Van Persie. A marginalized Wayne Rooney might have simply replicated his own performance from last year instead of having been shouldered aside by Van Persie.

Yes, I know that he has led the drive to the top, and 24 goals is quite a bundle, but, then again, only four came against teams with legitimate top-four aspirations (sorry, Everton and Liverpool, but I'm leaving you out in the cold). I'm not saying he's merely feasted on lesser opponents, but you can look up apophasis on your own if you're in the mood). For us last year, he had as many as seven, and I'd submit that he had many more highlight-worthy goals, for what that's worth. On one hand, maybe this suggests that he's traded individual glory for team success. However, that's not why I see.

Maybe this is little more than sour grapes. I'm willing to own up to that. After all, we're talking about a man who single-handedly (it seems) propelled us to our 3rd place finish last year and who abandoned us to achieve a 1st place finish this year. The bigger question, for me at least, comes down to this: do you want to be "just another player" on a team that just wins and wins and wins like a mindless automaton, or do you want to become a legend for a team with a deeper philosophy? Looking at this situation as an American, I'm reminded of two teams: baseball's New York Yankees, who remorselessly buy up any player it can find, and the Los Angeles Raiders, whose motto is "just win, baby." In both cases, the rapacious commitment to championships trumps (and yes, I want you to imagine Donald Trump right there) all else. Sure, the trophy-cabinet is stuffed to overflowing, but each one is reduced to just another tawdry trinket.

I'm no fool. I know full-well that money makes the money go 'round. I don't lament the idea that we could have won our own championships with Van Persie (much). I do regret the idea that Van Persie, had he stayed, could have become one of the legendary players to wear the cannon. Now, he's just another player for Man U, indistinguishable from so many other names. I rue that. He was, after all, the last remaining link to the Invincibles. Had he stayed, he might have earned his own statue outside the Emirates. As it is, he's become little more than Ibrahimovic-lite, pursuing that next payday, mistaking the zeroes before the decimal on his contract as validation of his legacy.

I'll leave you with this: ESPN's biography of Van Persie starts by saying "Little was known about Robin Van Persie when he came onto Arsene Wenger's radar in 2004...." We don't buy superstars; we make them. Van Persie may have always had it in him to become the striker he is, but it was only through his time with Arsenal that this happened.