Arsenal may have nurtured Robin van Persie but it was nature that made his departure last summer inevitable, according to the unique explanation from former manager Arsène Wenger yesterday of the “saddest” departure in his long tenure in north London.
Van Persie makes his first return to the Emirates on Sunday and does so as a champion for the first time – the overriding reason why he left the club that had been his home for eight years. His football clock was ticking.
“He [reached] the age of 29 and thought, ‘can we win the championship here or do I have more chances to win it somewhere else?’” said Wenger. “There’s a kind of time scale like for a woman who has no baby at 39. She starts to think, ‘I have not much time left now’.”
Van Persie has not taken long to consummate his new relationship at Old Trafford and will run out through a guard of honour provided by his former team-mates, and to an expected chorus of boos, having proved the pivotal figure in United’s comfortable title triumph, which was crowned by his 24th Premier League goal of the campaign against Aston Villa on Monday.
Wenger remains in contact and on good terms with Van Persie and has no lingering issues with the Dutchman’s departure. “It was completely honest with Robin,” said Wenger. “We had a frank exchange of views. He’s an honest guy, Robin. He tells you the truth – his truth. The truth is what you want. He was respectful until the end and we cannot complain.”
Asked whether it was the deal that has saddened him the most, given the investment he and the club had made in Van Persie – who arrived at Arsenal from Feyenoord aged 20 as a noted talent but also an occasionally angry young man – Wenger said: “Yes, because we have lost some other big players like Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira. They had won with the club and they were around 30 or 31. He could help us to win because we haven’t won for a few years. That he left before that was frustrating.
“It was one of the hardest decisions. But you have to be realistic. It is difficult when the player does not want to be here to force him to be here, and know that at the end of the season the club does not get anything [as well as] knowing that he might not contribute as well [through that extra season]. So you are twice a loser.
“We are in a job where you want to do two things: do the best you can for your club and influence in a positive way the life of people. On that side, I think that Arsenal had a positive impact on the life and career of Robin van Persie. So we have done our job in a positive way.”
Wenger, who insisted he has no qualms over his players providing the traditional guard of honour for United, admitted that it took time to adapt to Van Persie’s departure, although he pointed to Arsenal’s goalscoring record as evidence they have done so. With four games remaining his side are nine short of the total of 74 they managed last season.
“You always miss a big player. It took us a while to get around it but if you look at the number of goals we have scored, it’s similar to last season,” said Wenger.
In this most Germanic of weeks, the Arsenal manager is expected to field Lukas Podolski in place of the suspended striker Olivier Giroud against United. “It took us a while to find a different way because the game went through him a lot. We had to find a new balance between defending and attacking, but now we are stabilised.”
For all that Wenger remains an admirer of Van Persie, it is not his former charge whom he would chose as player of the year. Instead, it is another in United’s line up who has most impressed Wenger this season.
“I think Carrick is an under-rated player in England,” said Wenger. “I would choose Carrick, as Robin had it last season. He is a quality passer. He could play in Barcelona. He would be perfectly suited to their game. He has a good vision and is an intelligent player, and it is for what he has achieved in his whole career as well. It is this year or never for him.”