02 September 2014

Van Persie advises Welbeck on what to expect at Arsenal

It was a desultory, diffident day at Old Trafford. The lads were sorting their kits and sundries. With the transfer-window closed and an interlull beckoning, the mood was downcast, even somber. Whether this reflected the ambitions of a squad that had again stumbled to yet another disappointing result or the bewilderment of having splurged on another scorer for a squad that was bereft of and desperate for defenders is for the therapists to sort. Yes, there was something melancholy in the air, a feeling of bereavement. It was into this atmosphere that Robin "Vanchester" van Persie found his way over to the locker of Danny "dat guy" Welbeck for a tête-à-tête.

It was a moment pregnant with symbolism, rife with subtexts and implications, one that teetered and threatened to explode. At one end, there was the grizzled and greying veteran, the former captain and forever-Judas. At the other, there was the outcast ingenue, the could-be and might-have-been. 'Twixt the two, this encounter could collapse under the weight of collective expectations or fizzle into passive-aggressive recriminations. Into the breach stepped the star-in-the making, seizing for himself a chance that was never allowed him on the pitch.

     "Rob." His voice was low. Flat. Devoid of emotion.
     "Danny! Danny boy! My man." His voice sounded forced, contrived, as if it were trying just a bit too hard.
     "You ready for your trip to Italy, mate?"
     "Hm? Oh—right. Italy. Thursday. I don't know. My thigh is acting up. You know how it goes. I may not be up to it. Well, it's not a vital match, now, is it? I'm sure the lads can cope without me."
     "I thought it was your knee that was the issue."
     "Right. Um, yeah. It's something to do with the muscles in my thigh and the knee. Same leg. It's complicated." He paused meaningfully, his chin dropping just a bit, as if he hoped that his gaze would say more than his words could.
     Welbeck took this in. "Tough news. I hope you overcome it. I know we, uh, struggled without you being fully fit this past season."
     "Thanks, Danny!" Again, the voice sounded tinny, hollow, forced.
     "Listen, Rob—if I can address you as such—I, um, I won't be around much longer."
     "Retiring, are you? Can't say I blame you. You might have been Fergie's baby, Old Trafford's darling, but this is my town now. Even Rooney knows that. Don't feel bad. You're not the first to get van Persied. Ask Arshavin or Bendtner. Hell, ask Theo. 'When the Skunk is scorin', the rest are borin'.' You like that? I came up with—BOOM—just now."
     "Erm. Yeah..." Welbeck's eyes scanned the room, looking to make contact with someone who would bail him out. It seemed that everyone was preoccupied, unlacing a boot or aligning shin-guards just so. "Listen, Rob, I—"
     "Dude, this locker-room, this squad, this club, it's mine. I didn't like Moyes, and he's gone. This van Gaal? Wrapped around my finger. Watch and learn, bro. I'm running this show. I—"
     "Rob. Listen."
     "What, man? I'm testifying. Preaching. This better be good. Better than the so-called 'service' Rooney and Mata offer."
     "I...I don't know what to say to that." Welbeck studied the floor. "I, um, I'm leaving."
     "What? C'mon. We still have some a few minutes to—"
     Welbeck sighed. "No, Rob. I'm leaving. For good. I'm going to Arsenal."
     Van Persie threw his head back and laughed. Others looked up, startled at the uproar. "What? You're leaving? To Arsenal?! Puh-leeeeeeeeze. Let me tell you something about playing for Arsenal. Wenger, or is it 'Venguh', insists on taking all the credit while you take all the blame. You think I got to where I am by being loyal to that cheese-eating surrender monkey? Nope. If you're going down there, prepare to go down. As in, down the table."
     "Wait, Rob. Didn't Arsène help you develop, stand by you when things got a bit tough?"
     "Yeah, yeah, yeah, yadayadayada. End of the day, you gotta strike when the iron's hot. The Emirates iron was stone-cold, and I was the only one doin' any striking. You can take that to the bank. I know I did."
     A look of confusion crossed Welbeck's face. "Rob, I'm confused. Doesn't Arsène find players and make them into superstars? I mean, look at you. At Feyenoord, you were a hothead. You came to Arsenal, and—eventually—became a world-class scorer, one of the club's best since Henry. Couldn't I emulate—"
     Van Persie's eyes bugged out. "Henry? Henry? Don't talk to me about Henry. If I had stayed, I would've shattered that Frenchie's records, I promise you that. It's just that the injuries slowed me down here and there. Speakin' of injuries, lemme share a l'il secret. If you're ever not quite in the mood, if you're ever feeling a bit, well, you know, jaded, just limp around a bit until the physio asks what's wrong. The rest takes care of itself. Back to Henry, though, if I had been fit, let me tell you, I—"
     Welbeck put his finger to van Persie's lips. "Shush, Rob. Shush. I—I've heard enough. Ever since you've arrived, I've seen my trajectory flatten. I was supposed to be this club's talisman, but that's shriveled to dust. You came along and we won the Prem, it's true. But to what end? Fergie's gone. Moyes has come and gone. We're spending money on transfers like it's going out of style. Shaw? Falcao? Are you kidding me? I grew up loving this club, and what has it become? It's Man City. It's Chelsea. It's...it's...I don't know. I need to go somewhere where they believe that players can come in and grow, where they can prove themselves. I can't do that here. Not anymore. I...I—"
     "Hey, Danny, what's wrong? There's, like, drops of water, like, coming out your eyes. What's that all about?"
     Welbeck looked up at his erstwhile teammate. "It's called passion, Rob. Passion. You traded it for glory. I've done just about everything I've been asked. I've played wide. I've tracked back. I've passed when I should have shot. I've kissed your butt. No more. I'm going where they might appreciate effort and passion." With that, he picked up his duffel and strode off, leaving the aging striker to contemplate what had just transpired.