Can Arsenal Make Van Persie An Offer He Can’t Refuse?
Since August last year, Robin van Persie’s contract extension has been as consistently in the news as the Dutch striker’s goals for Arsenal this season.
There has always been hope among the Gunners faithful that Van Persie will sign a new contract in the summer of 2012. In the past, he has spoken about how money does not mean everything to him. He loves life in England, especially in London and has a high regard for English culture. If Arsenal can finish third and automatically qualify for Champions League football next season, it should match his ambitions to compete at the highest level.
But what figure can you put on the Dutch striker’s unquestionable class and current form?
Van Persie has himself warned Arsenal in the past to keep up with the salary structures of other top clubs in Europe to retain top players. This from a Daily Mail article published in May 2008:
If you want to keep the group together, you have to keep them happy. If you are 27 or 28, I can understand that you would make the decision to go elsewhere if you can earn three or four times as much.
If that sort of money was also paid here, I’m sure that person would stay.
I think of myself as an Arsenal man but Arsenal should also try to make sure that we all grow together.
It’s been four years since the interview and Arsenal have raised wages in the meantime. A few months ago, one of football’s most acclaimed bloggers, The Swiss Rambler addressed Arsenal’s wage structure while evaluating the club’s interim financial results. As noted by him, wages at Arsenal have risen by 20% between 2009 and 2011 and the club now has the fourth highest wage bill in the Premier League behind Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United.
When you take Van Persie’s comments and place them besides the rise in salaries, it does show that the club has tried to address the issue of being competitive by revising pay scales. Still, the gap to City is a whopping £50m with the Citizens paying on average 40% more than Arsenal do.
The last few years have also seen unprecedented investment from eager club owners wanting instant glory, no matter what the cost. As highlighted before, Manchester City are the English league’s best paymasters since the sheikh-over in 2008, Chelsea is not far behind, PSG are the new big-boys-club wannabes and Anzhi Makhachkala announced their presence by making Samuel Eto’o the highest paid player in the world. This is apart from Real Madrid, who are always keen on that next big superstar and willing to put big money on the table to secure their signatures.
Coming back to the Van Persie situation, we mentioned before about other factors that may influence the Dutch striker’s decision. For the sake of this argument, let us assume that those factors (settled life in London, compatibility with the club’s philosophy, belief that Arsenal can challenge next season etc) are in favour of him staying. In that case, there will be financial negotiations between the player and club.
The general feeling among fans is that Arsenal should ‘give him what he wants’. But what should Van Persie want?
For some footballers, money is not the only motivation and Van Persie seems to be one of them. Lionel Messi is another example, having gone on record to say he would play football for free. Still, Barcelona have made him one of the highest paid footballers ever.
For players like Messi and Van Persie, a higher pay is more a sign of the club’s recognition than anything else. After all, salaries are as much a measure of an employer’s view of individual worth as remuneration for the job performed. If they are among the best, they are right in expecting to be paid as much as the best – whether it be £10k-a-week or £100k-a-week.
The world’s best players are reportedly earning between £200k to £320k in weekly salaries at the moment. Would a £130-150k offer that is being talked about, be enough to keep him at Arsenal when Sergio Aguero reportedly earns £200k at Manchester City? Even with a £6m signing-on bonus, it will still not come anywhere near to that amount.
A professional footballer’s career is very short and Van Persie, who is 29 in the summer is slowly but surely coming to the end of his. Whichever contract he signs now will probably be his last. Can we fault him if he tried to secure his future, especially as all he’s asking for is to be paid on par with other players of his class?
So how does Arsenal make a competitive offer? There is a suggestion that selling players considered ‘deadwood’ will allow for wages to be freed up. Of course, this does not take into account that other players will have to be recruited in their place. Arsenal fans are always complaining about the Gunners’ lack of depth in experience, so these new players would have to be experienced professionals and their wage demands are unlikely to be lower than the departing members, when you consider the spiralling salaries at other clubs.
Right, let’s assume Arsenal bite the bullet and pay the Dutchman £200k-a-week in a new four-year deal. While Robin is in scintillating form this season and there’s no reason for that coming to an end anytime soon, consider just two variables. The obvious one is the ever-present injury concern, how much might this hamper his form in the future? The other is the reduction in pace that will invariably come with growing age, can he adapt to play effectively in the Bergkamp role?
These are difficult to predict and many footballers have extended their careers beyond the mid-30s and Van Persie may follow that route. What is definite though is that he will play a lesser role in the team in three years time.
For the club, the impact of offering a substantially higher wage to Van Persie will be felt on other player negotiations.
Theo Walcott has a contract ending next year as well. How much should Theo be paid to retain his services, considering that the benchmark is moved to £200k? Also factor in his growing understanding with Van Persie and the effect a break up will have on Arsenal’s attacking options. While you are doing that, please also bear in mind that Samir Nasri is reportedly earning £175k per week at City and Theo easily outperforms him in the contribution stakes this season.
And what about the precocious talent that is Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain? It’s only been a year since he’s signed but how long before his potential merits enquiries from other clubs? Should the club pay him a higher salary now for his obvious talent to ward off interest from rivals? And what happens if that potential fails to materialise to the extent anticipated? (Read Big Al’s post yesterday at ACLF for some of the Arsenal youngsters that did not make the big time)
The point I am trying to make is that it’s a difficult choice for the club to give players ‘what they want’, even if that player is as deserving as Robin van Persie. Once you move the bar higher, it is impossible to bring it down again. Arsenal will have to relook at the self-sustaining business model if we are to compete shoulder to shoulder with likes of City on pay scales. Again, this does not in itself guarantee short-term rewards (Manchester City) or long-term success (Chelsea).
Many Arsenal fans abuse Manchester City and Chelsea for trying to buy success and take great pleasure in their failures. It is perplexing then, that a majority of those fans castigate the club for not following the same route and ‘lacking ambition’.
For Robin van Persie, it is a massive decision. I did not feel much sympathy for Cesc Fabregas because he decided to give the best years of his playing life to Barcelona. I felt no sympathy for Samir Nasri because he did not believe in the Arsenal philosophy.
For Robin van Persie, I feel empathy. On one hand, he probably does want to stay at Arsenal. On the other, the club cannot come anywhere close to matching competitors and he’s not getting any younger. We also have to bear in mind that contract negotiations are no longer between player and manager directly, there are agents involved that bring very dispassionate arguments to the table.
If Robin refuses to sign a new deal, it will pose a big challenge for Arsenal. With only a year left on his contract, selling Van Persie would be the smart option. But how will fans react to that? Another summer of losing yet another of our superstars would arguably be more harmful to the club than the shenanigans of last August.
In such a case, I think Arsene Wenger would be successful in persuading the Arsenal board to let Robin’s contract run till its end. I’m sure he tried to do the same with Nasri. In the end, £23m for a player who had half a good season was an offer we could not refuse. In hindsight, it was the right thing to do although the timing of it left us in disarray.
So can Arsenal make Van Persie an offer he can’t refuse? Logically, I would have to say the answer is ‘No’.
In the movie ‘A Beautiful Mind’, Nobel prize-winning mathematician John Nash notes:
What truly is logic? Who decides reason? It’s only in the mysterious equation of love that any logical reasons can be found.
I hope when the summer comes, Robin discovers the right answer to this question – in the mysterious equation of love between him and Arsenal Football Club. Because eventually, that may become the most compelling argument in this discussion.