The game of football loves a talismanic figure, a player who can grab the game by the scruff of the neck and turn it on it’s head in an instant.
Thoughts of Cryuff, Cantona, Zidane and Platini spring to mind when thinking about the type of player who could offer a moment of magic and change their team’s fortunes.
Last season, that player was Robin van Persie. Time and again he rescued arguably one of the most lacklustre Arsenal teams of recent memory, dragging them to third in the league.
Sometimes however it’s not enough to just be that figure. While the adulation and sense of purpose was no doubt enjoyed by the aforementioned, there is always a sense that these are players who strived for more.
Throughout the whole of last year the British media was whipped up into a frenzy of superlative-laced copy proclaiming just how good Van Persie was. Week after week back pages and supplements were strewn with words like ‘incredible’ and ‘unbelievable’ as the Dutchman embodied just what a captain’s display was.
Feeling the need to see it for myself I headed to the Emirates for Arsenal’s midweek game against Newcastle.
Much in the way that Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno’s brilliant Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait highlights Zinedine Zidane’s role in a understated game against Villarreal, Van Persie was similarly brilliantly underwhelming against Newcastle.
Prior to kick-off the Arsenal captain lapped up the praise, as 60,000 adoring Gunners fans applauded their hero, chanting his name and showing their devotion to a man who was the beating heart of this particular side.
However, come kick-off he cut a completely different figure. While his movement off the ball was instinctive and his first touch assured, he looked like a man who was feeling the strain that the pressures of being a talisman brings.
His shoulders slumped and his arms stretched out, Van Persie seemed to be asking more of himself and his team-mates, more than they were perhaps able to offer him.
Going a goal down only appeared to compound his frustrations and while he immediately snatched an equaliser, it merely papered over some pretty visible cracks.
If the first half showed frustrations, the second half showed petulance. The revered Van Persie frequently snapped at defenders and squared-up to international team-mate and Newcastle goalkeeper Tim Krul in an altercation which would continue after the final whistle.
While the crowd encouraged the pantomime villain, it seemed to me that this was the turning point in the mentality of a player who clearly wants more from himself.
One trophy in eight years is simply not good enough for a player of Van Persie’s stature. Lesser players have vastly more medals in their cabinets.
It was then that he looked like a man who had endured enough.
Arsenal have stood by Van Persie since he arrived as a fresh-faced 19 year-old. The fans have suck by his side through lengthy bouts with injury and indifferent form, and while he owes a debt of gratitude to a club which have made him what he is, surely it’s time to let him go.
He kept to his promise when he said he would get them into the Champions League, and as he ponders his Arsenal future while looking at his solitary 2005 FA Cup winners medal, he will know what he truly wants.
Cesc Fabregas aired similar grievances to those in Van Persie’s recent statement. While his heart lay with Arsenal, by the end his head was elsewhere.
Van Persie’s thoughts were met with derision by Gunners fans, but it shouldn’t be that way. It’s difficult to accept and even easier to say it’s about the money, but in all honesty it’s not.
Ultimately Van Persie’s success will be measured by trophies, and he won’t get that at Arsenal.