TEAMtalk guest blogger Rich Kitto looks at Robin van Persie's situation at Arsenal and poses the question: "Is there any loyalty in football?"
'The ability of players to jump teams when their contracts are up has hurt fan loyalty' - Will McDonough, American Sports Writer
It's a sentiment that is typically scoffed at nowadays with a response of 'it doesn't exist', and as Robin van Persie has revealed his intentions to snub a new deal at Arsenal it raises the questions again - Does loyalty exist anymore in football? Do players owe managers, fans and their clubs? Or do players have every right to chase their version of success? I believe, in the case of Van Persie, that the latter is certainly the case.
This news is a heavyweight blow to everybody connected to Arsenal football club. Talismans, inspirational leaders, and record breaking goalscorers are hard to come by - especially when the qualities are rolled into one individual with a gifted left foot.
Though, without the instrumental Dutch striker at their disposal last season, Arsenal would be in a far stickier situation than they are now. His 30 league goals lifted them from mid-table obscurity to an eventual third-place finish, thereby maintaining the tradition of Champions League football under their current manager.
Nevertheless, that doesn't appear to be enough of a carrot to encourage their captain to extend beyond his eight years at the club, as his official statement appears to question a lack of footballing ambition as opposed to financial prerogatives: "This was a meeting about the club's future strategy and their policy. Financial terms or a contract have not been discussed, since that is not my priority at all."
Sympathy must be passed onto the fans, as Arsenal supporters will yet again be suffering that accustomed feeling of deja vu as they witness yet another one of their best performers turn down an extension to stay. Just as Mathieu Flamini did in 2008 when leaving for Milan, and of course who could forget last season's saga where both Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri decided their talent and ambition didn't match that of the club? And in hindsight can you really blame the players for doing so?
Flamini went on to win the Scudetto in 2010-11, whilst the successes of both Fabregas and Nasri have been highly documented (publicly so by the latter). Meanwhile, Arsenal appear to be stuck in neutral. And whether Van Persie, or rather Arsene Wenger, decides now is the best time for him to leave or not, it appears he'll be going to one of the top clubs in Europe where he will no doubt be fighting for the major honours. For the quality of player he is, it's what he deserves, and based on current trends it appears very unlikely he'll get such opportunities at Arsenal.
And this is where the argument boils back to loyalty. I'm very much of the opinion that ultimately players must decide what is absolutely best for them, regardless of the impact it has on the club/fans that they leave behind. Why shouldn't a player be entitled to this?
They should be encouraged to chase ambition and push themselves to achieve their ambitions in what is a relatively short career. In this respect it should be no different to how we operate in our working lives.
Of course fans of the club will never see it this way, and they are not expected to, as loyalty will always remain with the club they support over their favourite player. But it should be recognised, and players should not be treated with vitriol as a result of leaving for pastures new.
But 'loyalty' as we used to know it no longer exists. In fact, it's considered such a rarity for players to put their club ahead of themselves in this modern era that their competency is questioned for doing so. Alan Shearer remains a perfect case of a player that joined his home team over one fighting for top honours, as he once declared: "Some players are criticised for having no loyalty. Well, I wanted to go back home and play for the club I supported. I don't think that's a crime."
And whilst players are constantly hounded for 'forgetting who made them', managers are free to do as they please. This week Andre Villas-Boas signed a three-year deal at Spurs, after his sacking by Chelsea halfway through last season, without much chastise from the blue half of London. And although Villas-Boas is not exactly a Blues legend the sentiment remains. Were Luka Modric to make the reverse journey there would be certain uproar.
Van Persie has spoken of his love for the club, players, and fans and recognises the gratitude he owes his manager. Whilst there is likely to be some finger pointing in the direction of Wenger by disconsolate supporters watching history repeating itself, they must themselves recognise that without the enigmatic Frenchman at the helm Van Persie would not be the player he is today and would not have served the fantastic memories that he has.
Much was said of last season's transfer movements out of The Emirates, as many announced that it was the year the club slid down the league, but it didn't, so fans must remain faithful.
Football is all about evolution, not revolution. Players will constantly come and go; it's how the game works. Nicolas Anelka, Thierry Henry, Van Persie - there will be a next great player to take the reign. It just takes trust and patience in a manager whose transfer activities have rarely disappointed.
Wenger must now make the tough decision on whether to sell his leading striker now and recoup a small pot of his worth, or see out his final year to provide a proper opportunity to bring in a worthy replacement. Either way, Van Persie has made up his mind, so supporters should do exactly that - support.
The feeling of recognition and appreciation should be mutual between players and fans. Loyalty is increasingly rare, and should no longer be assumed and criticised. Steven Gerrard almost joined Chelsea, Wayne Rooney and John Terry flirted with Man City, but nowadays such is life. Remain loyal to your club and the ones that best serve it.