Van Persie finds peace at Highbury

Arsenal's latest Dutch recruit tells Conrad Leach how a fight with Ajax fans hastened his transfer

Big Brother ended last night and the final four contestants were presumably extremely relieved to finally emerge from under such intense scrutiny. For Robin van Persie, one of Arsenal's summer recruits, it became obvious four months ago that he had to leave his own personal goldfish bowl.

Dutch football is dominated by the triumvirate of Ajax, PSV Eindhoven and Van Persie's previous club, Feyenoord. It was at a mere reserve match in the spring between the former and the latter at Ajax's training ground that tensions rose so high that there was a pitch invasion by Ajax fans and Van Persie was punched twice.

He was helped off by Marco van Basten but the unsavoury incident came at a time when Van Persie, who turned 21 yesterday, was considering his future with the Rotterdam club.

The versatile striker, who can also play out on the left wing, had lost his first-team place and had a decision to make. In the light of that attack he said yesterday: "When the fight happened I also had a little chat with PSV. But also Steve Rowley [Arsenal's chief scout] saw me as well and that made it a bit easier for me to make my mind up."

Even though he has left the Netherlands for £2.75m, he still faces abuse when he goes home, such as when he played in Amsterdam last week in a friendly against River Plate. He called that "horrible" and, to add insult to injury, his car was attacked when he was driving in the city.

In coming to England, Van Persie has had further difficulties on the road, although of a more mundane nature, namely coping with right-hand drive cars, but so far he has managed to negotiate the mean streets of Hampstead, where he is renting a flat, without a scrape.

To help ease him into life with the Premiership champions is none other than Dennis Bergkamp, who made his name at Ajax, and for whom Van Persie has unreserved admiration. After Van Persie had sealed his move to Highbury he explained how he delved deeper into the myth of one of the Netherlands' finest players.

"It's fantastic being here with Dennis," he said. "I've bought a DVD of him at Ajax and also of his 100 goals at Arsenal. It was quite amazing. I was watching it with a friend of mine and every goal I was saying 'Jesus'. It was unbelievable. I knew he was good but didn't know he was that good."

One goal stood out for him and that was Bergkamp's strike for the Netherlands against England in a World Cup qualifier at Wembley in 1993 when he lobbed the onrushing goalkeeper Chris Woods while on the move.

For Van Persie, Bergkamp has not lost that touch 11 years on, and the two could pair up in tomorrow's Community Shield against Manchester United. He said: "I see him in training and every contact with the ball is 100 per cent. He's a good teacher for me, I think.

"In the dressing-room I sit next to him because he is number 10 and I am 11. We get to talk about things so it is good. If I could win half of what he has and sometimes play as well as him then I will be happy."

Van Persie calls Bergkamp a "genie'' but one who will be out of the bottle next summer when he is set to retire. In London N5 they will just have to hope there is a fresh flask with another Dutchman's name on it instead.

Comments