There is and always has been debate around Robin van Persie in Holland.
It seems like we – Dutch – don’t understand players like him. We like two types of players: players that perform (and we don’t care if they’re arrogant or annoying) and players that are humble and work their arse off.
In category one, we have Johan Cruyff, Marco van Basten, Dennis Bergkamp, Willem van Hanegem, Wesley Sneijder, Rafael van der Vaart…. Cruyff was very egotistical, Willem cynical, Marco aloof, Dennis didn’t fly, Wesley is cocky, Rafa overweight, etc etc. We don’t care. Actually, we love them all for it.
Three characters: RVP, JC and The Iceman
The humble ones? Jaap Stam, Jan Wouters, Phillip Cocu, Wim Jansen, Johan Neeskens, Gio van Bronckhorst, Edwin van der Sar, Aron Winter.
And there is a huge category we do not really warm too. The ones that think they’re better than they are. And the ones who rap. Although this second category is basically a subgroup of the first one :-). Drenthe, Babel, Elia, Kuyt, you know who you are.
In that category players who over-estimate themselves are the ones that leave for greener pastures early in their career. Again, Drenthe, Babel, De Ridder…all those players who disappear.
Robin van Persie was one of those lads, almost.
Terribly annoying at Feyenoord (sure, very gifted too), headstrong, streetwise (talking with a Moroccan accent as a result of hanging out mostly with Moroccan kids… Robin ended up marrying a Moroccan wife and according to some converted to Islam).
Bert van Marwijk (and his staff and senior players) couldn’t contain the young prodigy. He was amazingly talented, although Bert didn’t really know how to use the youngster best. Was he a winger? Was he a playmaker? A striker? Whatever he was, the playmaker role didn’t exist in Feyenoord ( Bosvelt played from deep, with runner Tomasson upfront behind Van Hooijdonk). Pi-Air was untouchable of course so left wing was to Robin’s spot.
When he moved to Arsenal, it still took some time for Robin to make it in the first team, as a starter. Sure, he had his games in his first seasons, but also his fair share of run ins with team mates and coach Wenger and even got a red card for a lunge, which resulted in Wenger yelling obscenities at Van Persie from the side line. Van Persie played a wide role for Arsenal for quite a while and had a number of goes as midfielder behind Adabayor. In the 2008/09 season, he took the role of Henry as main striker, when the Frenchman left for Barca.
It would take a bit of time for Van Persie to shine in that role due to injuries.
Robin has quite a reputation from his early days in Holland. He was known to be a misbehaved streetkid who was sent away from school many times. Later on, after a Dutch World Cup qualification game in 2005, he was arrested on suspicion of rape. He was held in custody for 14 days and circumstances were so bad in the little holding cell that RVP passed out at a certain point. The case was dropped as there was no proof that sexual contact with coercion happened and the “victim” – a former Miss Nigeria/Holland – admitted she claimed to be rape to “gain publicity”. RVP did have sex with her and cheated on his wife, in other words, which didn’t help his public reputation. It later emerged that over 200 police officers had had access to the case file, most of them not authorised to do so.
RVP was always seen as a tremendous talent but his personality and his vulnerable physique made it hard for him to be the dominant player he wanted to be. In 2008/09 he reached the 20 goals per season at Arsenal for the first time, but the season after, he dropped back to 10 (in 19 games) as as result of injuries. In 2010/11, his last season for the Gunners he produced a whopping 22 goals in 33 games, a feat he’d better last season for ManU when he scored 37 out 48 games. This is basically 0,8 goals per game!
Here’s a tip for you: don’t sub me!
In the Dutch team, he scores once every second game (this year, he is on 4 goals in 5 games, which is as good as his ManU stat, by the way). This is certainly not bad for a striker. But somehow, the perception is, that RVP doesn’t deliver in Orange.
The reason being, of course, that he scores easily and prolifically against smaller nations (qualifications and friendlies) but hardly in big games or big tournaments.
In 2006, the World Cup in Germany, he scored one goal at group stage.
In 2008, RVP didn’t start until Romania and he scored two goals before Russia ousted Holland. Robin played as a winger, supporting Van Nistelrooy.
In 2010, RVP played as central striker, but only scored one goal (Cameroon) in a successful campaign.
Sadly, RVP’s performance stood out like a sore nail during that campaign. Sneijder and Robben were the heroes of the World Cup, with Kuyt, Elia, Van der Vaart and Stekelenburg getting headlines as well.
In 2012, the world expected more from him at the Euros, but a disastrous game against Denmark (in which he missed a number of good chances) resulted in a downward spiral. RVP only scored one goal, with his right, against Germany. A game in which he could have had a second one (and maybe saving Holland from disgrace).
The widely heralded striker can not look back on an international career like Ruud van Gol, San Marco, Patrick Kluivert or Johan Cruyff can in a similar position.
But…is it because he is not good enough? Is it because he chokes in big games?
I don’t believe that. To be able to play at this high level for so long (EPL, ManU, CL, etc) your mental state is totally fine. You will NOT survive one week at ManU if you are not mentally strong.
I would call that evidence #1.
Not good enough? There are many YouTube clips demonstrating how good Van Persie really is. His athleticism, his speed (both with his feet and his brain/vision), his ability in his left foot, his ability as a header of the ball, his ever improving right foot, his finishing ability, his ability to set a goal up…. There is nothing he can not do. I believe he’d even make a good goalkeeper.
Messi is probably faster with the ball and a better dribbler, C Ronaldo might be stronger, but other than that, RVP is the complete package.
So what is it then, that held the former Excelsior player back?
I believe it has to do with team-dynamics and hierarchy on the one hand, and team tactics on the other.
I believe Robin and Bert did not have the best of working relationship. I believe Robin may have genuinely liked Bert as a person, but I believe Robin thrives with a coach who really emerges into the team… Someone like Wenger, Mourinho, Guardiola, Ferguson and Van Gaal.
Van Marwijk is more distant. More like Mancini, Benitez, Capello, I’d say. Van Marwijk was very laissez-fair.
Let the alpha dogs sort it out.
We all remember how the Sneijder clan ( Robben, Van der Vaart, Mathijsen, Heitinga, Stekelenburg, Kuyt) knotted together while the RVP clan ( Van Persie, Afellay, Boulahrouz) had their own little circle.
Bert made Wes the man. Kuyt was his #2. And in the team, despite RVP’s role as central striker, it was Sneijder who dominated the game and would always look for Robben as an outlet, as these two complement each other so well.
I am not saying Sneijder did it on purpose to spite Robin. Playing the ball deep to Robben in space behind the defence of the opponent was simply how Sneijder could contribute best. RVP prefers the ball in his feet and Sneijder and RVP would frequently block each other’s space.
But Bert didn’t care about whether Robin shone or not. He cared about winning. When Bert started the WC2010 campaign he did so wanting to play attractive and attacking football. Like Holland did in the qualifications. He was happy to go with the Fab Four (Wes, Raf, Robben, Robin) but Robben’s injury changed those plans. The way we started at the WC (Denmark and Japan both parking numerous busses) determined how we proceeded.
“No, that is where the problem is, Louis….”
Louis van Gaal is also all about results but more so about execution and using the weapons you have at your disposal best. Van Gaal knows that results are the result of something. You focus on execution and the results will come.
The system we played in 2010 was not suited for any center striker. Our 4-2-3-1 was executed from a counter football perspective. You can play 4-2-3-1 in a forward pressing mode, which would definitely result in many opportunities for the center striker. But the way we played, sitting deep, allowing space behind the opponents back line, results immediately in a difficult role for the striker. In our case: Robin van Persie.
His tasks, in that set-up, are putting pressure on the opposing defender with the ball and making himself available once they lose the ball. The first pass would go to Sneijder or RVP, the most forward man, who holds the ball up and redistributes towards the midfielders coming forward who then pass to the fast wingers exploiting space. The Robbens, Narsinghs, Lenses and Elias…
It is no coincidence that Elia, Kuyt, Robben and Sneijder were the goal scorers, as rthe wingers would move inwards towards the center position. Robin hardly got a real chance at the World Cup.
Again, playing 4-2-3-1 in an attacking mode would change this significantly, but in 2010 we were not able to do so, unfortunately.
Now, LVG will not play 4-2-3-1.
His 4-3-3 is set up in a very strict, almost rigid way.
People execute 4-3-3 in several ways. With two sitting midfielders (Bayern) and one forward midfielder, or with two creative forwards and one holder ( Barcelona)…
Louis has distinct roles for his players. One holding mid (De Jong, Clasie, De Guzman, Strootman, Fer), one box-to-box runner (Strootman, Fer, Van Ginkel) and one creative forward, playing as a false striker close to the striker (RVP, Lens, Huntelaar). For this role Louis thinks Wesley, Rafael, Maher and Siem de Jong are his candidates.
As long as Robben and the right winger keep it wide, or allow the full backs to overlap, the field will be wide.
It will allow space for Robin and the playmaker to play off each other.
At the same time, we do need to realise that the time the oft scoring striker are over, in modern football.
“Trust me Robin, in the next game I will pass the ball to you…”
Adabayor at Spurs, Benzema at Real Madrid, Torres at Chelsea, Carrol when at Liverpool, the French dude at Arsenal (forgot his name)…. It is less and less their role to be the final stage of the attack. These lads are all key in allowing the runners around them to take position (the coming man vs the player who is already there) and become the most forward playmakers in the box.
Against lesser teams, sure, these guys will score their goals. But against tougher opponents, even in this 4-3-3 I do expect the Sneijder role, the Van Ginkel role and the wingers to be scoring more. Simply because the central striker already is in position (and easier to mark) while the others will jack-in-the-box into the box…
But whether RVP scores or not, I am convinced that (if he is fit etc etc) he will be of the utmost importance to us.
And I do hope Arjen Robben will finally with the Ballon D’Or this year, allowing Robin to snatch it up next year, after winning the EPL title again and the World Cup with Holland. ( He won’t win the CL, as Frank de Boer will claim it this time around….)