By Joe Meloni
(Before I get into the body of this piece, I must fully disclose that I am an Arsenal fan. I have a vested interest in Robin van Persie being happy and healthy and productive – even though I don’t think I’ve ever seen him in a state worthy of those three adjectives simultaneously.)
The scoreboard said 2-0. His country was celebrating, while he and his teammates finished off an easy win over Slovakia and sealed their place in the quarterfinals of the World Cup. No, there really wasn’t anything for Robin van Persie to be angry about on that chilly South African evening. So as Dutch manager Bert van Marwijk beckoned to Robin van Persie to exit the game, he probably expected the Arsenal striker to trot off the field with grace as he saluted his Oranje-clad countrymen clamoring in the crowd. Not so surprisingly, van Persie opted, instead, to throw a fit – disrespecting his manager and disgracing himself in the process.
van Persie’s anger with his place within the Dutch squad stems from a two-year-old feud with midfielder Wesley Sneijder over who would take a free kick in a quarterfinal loss to Russia during the 2008 European Championship. Even as Sneijder was the designated kick taker throughout the tournament, van Persie, one of the best dead-ball players in Europe, wanted his turn behind the ball. In a sense, van Persie has the right to demand a greater role with his national team as he’s done well to prove himself as one of the most dangerous strikers in the world. But, at some point, the now-26-year-old van Persie needs to show a willingness to place the good of his national team above his own interests.
In so many ways, van Persie has done well to declare himself a leader for his club in North London – even earning the vice-captain distinction – but any sense of team and collective glory seems to disappear the moment he puts on his Oranje. This latest exercise in immaturity drew a pretty candid reaction from van Marwijk following the win over Slovakia.
“I will never accept anything that could upset the next match,” Van Marwijk told Dutch national broadcaster NOS, according to ESPN Soccernet.
“I spoke to Robin and he is supposed to have said something about Wesley. I’ve spoken to Wesley and after that I called the team together … told them what I think and then drew a line under it,” he continued.
van Marwijk finished his interview by declaring the strife between two of his most dynamic players was “over” and would no longer pose an issue for the Dutch as they work toward their first-ever World Cup crown. It must be pointed out, however, that everyone involved in Dutch football scoffed at the suggestion of a row between Sneijder and van Persie before the tournament began proves it’s hard to take any declaration of truce as more than a smokescreen.
Whether or not Sneijder deserves to be the No. 1 free-kick taker for the Dutch is not, however, the issue here. van Persie needs to understand that in a tournament like the World Cup, teams can’t afford to be putting out fires in the locker room when a team like Brazil is standing between his side and the semifinals. And it’s not like van Persie can afford any kind of distraction at the moment. Even with the Dutch walking through its first four games, he’s hardly had his best few run-outs for the Oranje.
The stars of this Dutch side have been Sneijder and Arjen Robben. At several times in Holland’s Group Stage wins, it was difficult to even locate van Persie on the field. At this point, people still question those proclaiming he is one of the world’s best strikers for this very reason. He’s either dazzling with his left foot, injured or completely invisible. Finding his form now will help prove he can be one of the best rather than just a good player on Sneijder’s World Cup team or Cesc Fabregas’ Arsenal side. The last thing he, or the Dutch, needs is something else standing between van Persie and greatness.
A single moment of distraction, a single instance of selfish play is all Robinho or Kaka or Luis Fabiano or Maicon or Dani Alves or well, you get the point, need. Brazil’s good, Robin. Even with an ultra-cohesive team standing across from Brazil, the Samba Stars are likely to beat your side tomorrow afternoon. Don’t make it any easier for them.
Joe Meloni is a contributing writer and editor for The Soccer Guys. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org