Two and a bit words for the New Year. Words I am about to fling with irresistible force against the swell, the flood, the wild ooh unleashingment of depressingly ahh tsunamic stories arising from last weekend’s footie/rugger/cricketstuff. Words that o’er-surf the turgid tabloid controversy mega-fest, sloshed abart as it inevitably is like some cheap grog. A name, in fact, foreign but not exotic, containing – or maybe laced with? – just enough of the alien to satiate the average Brit’s inferior awe. Now a symbol for rare but persistent, almost undeniable and recognisably Dutch brilliance. Robin van Persie.
Let’s cherish van Persie now, today, in the near-virginal lather of flushed wotnots that surely accompany our resolute beginning towards the next anti-climax. Van Persie, not some hand-ball, or tip-tackle, or appalling tiff-plus between Warne and Samuels. Let’s have a thrash at that celebratory kind of turning, eh? Palm away Alan Hansen’s predictable, post-dishy, clunkingly black-and-white-but-Red-All-Over justification for that Liverpool centre-forward’s latest. Sling out those stories ’bout English Boy-but-‘Girl’ out-half Toby (Psycho) Flood and his rampant eruption of poodliferous violence. Steer immovably smugly past that embarrassment ‘tween Oz’s (ahem) finest and that hot-headed wanker from the Windies. Towards something altogether more fetching and – if you can leave the tribal stuff at the turnstile – inspiring. A striker absolutely at his predatory peak. Robin. Not Robinio.
Arguably only the now historically significant Messi* could rob van Persie of this moment of recognition. When in any other just universe RVP would surely be at the centre of an unrivalled, relentless idolatry/respect combo for his utter command of the Striking Arts. When even Alan Shearer might find a meaningful sentence or two (He does all this neat stuff around the box but he really knows how to look after himself too, perhaps?) to praise the now Manchester United striker’s genius. Or how about something from the (generally more enlightening acksherly) Mark Bright school of punditry… van Persie… he’s just got everything. He can shoot, he can head, he can bring people into the game – he’s just got everything. To which I would add a solid AMEN, thus de-lionising Messi before the Argentine God had broken from his er, cage.
Yes – Amen and more, to Robin. Because we should be beefing up this faintly nationalistic (Premtastic?) counter-attack with That’s So True-isms. Like the fact that his weighted left-wing chest-pass to create another breakaway goal for United – at City, AT CITY!! – recently was one of the passes of the season. Like the occasional but über-ominous appearances as substitute, that have re-appropriated and even rehabilitated the word awesome into near-enough acceptable sports-journo-speak… because they were, in every sense, shape and dimension awesome. Seminal; perfectly measured; lethal – and of course, game-changing.
The ultimate in what has felt like some gathering notcherama – some exhibition, even – occurred at West Ham this last weekend. A van Persie-Lite United cruised at a significantly higher level than The Irons for much of the first half but failed to capitalise sufficiently. Meaning an Emerging (Televised) Cup Romance-Frenzy seemed possible, particularly after two sound nods from the ‘Ammers honest plodder/Ginger Monster of a centre-back put the homesters 2-1 up. As time ticked yahboosuckingly away at a violently masticating Fergie, he inevitably moved to counter – by introducing an alarmingly focussed-looking Dutchman. Cue the cockney expletives.
However right then the locals were not alone in their (so) near-far eel-pie kebab-trauma. Many of us in the Olympic Radiators R Us-sponsored Lowest Common Denominator Stand (okay, seats) – i.e. on Twitter – immediately barked out our own 140 character-or-less (often much, much less) swearword-heavy dissent. Roused to fury by the sight of Hernandez – for whom the phrase ‘looks like e’s got a goal in ‘im’ was surely invented? – being ruthlessly hoiked to accommodate the master. (In our defence I should say that to a man we felt only that the South American hare might have stayed on alongside van Persie and some goal-shy other been removed.) But tellingly, in the great, swingeing, mad and lovely toggeracious but bubble-popping scheme of things, it didn’t matter. Because a rejuvenating Giggs and RVP himself conjured one of the truly great… and timely… and emphatic… and epically heart-stopping/romance-thwarting/spell-binding-but-also-crushing goals you are ever likely to see.
Giggs struck a ludicrously instinctive and inviting long pass beyond van Persie, offering up a practically todger-erecting opportunity to attackattackattack the East End rump. In a flash (oops!) the sub had gathered and contemptuously by-passed the last defender before rattling the ball beyond a gobsmacked and frankly irrelevant ‘keeper. I am willing to contend, with a fairly straight face, that what happened in these barely separable instants seemed the raw but perfect expression of some kind of lust; or at least a moment where something was satiated – something cruel maybe, but pure – but sensational. The home crowd were crushed and exhausted, the United players in triumphant, ecstatic disbelief almost – such was the degree of devastation inflicted. It was a signal moment in the season; a time when not only did Team United beat out yet another powerful message of defiance but van Persie himself said unequivocally that he/I am TOTALLY IT. And he is.
Van Persie ain’t Messi. He is different. He is more abrasive, actually; he doesn’t dribble. He darts in a different, less low-slung way – more often without the ball. (Because he doesn’t dribble.) He slides and ghosts past one or two perhaps, then unleashes or curls one. He affects things. He gets goals, in a particular way – in stunningly diverse ways. Maybe by adjusting his feet to get airborne before heading or volleying with relish. Maybe finding a yard before persuading one round a defender or two… and into that far corner. Often that far corner. Like van Persie. Not Messi. Like a Dutch bloke with an absolute nose for it. Shielding the ball in that classically cool, Total Footballer kindofaway; coaxing or waiting… then striking.
Cut agonisingly adrift from this now, Arsene Wenger, we can only imagine, has to lump a fair amount of energy into the Not Thinking About Robin area of his turbulent life. Because he will know better than anyone the cost of the utter Gooner collapse which meant van Persie could go… to United. Something which might surely drain away much of any good man’s belief, or faith.
Even though it is possible to imagine that the bitterness between Wenger and Ferguson has somewhat settled, Arsene must be in some kind of grief. The rest of us, minus the hang-ups, really should enjoy this stuff. Whatever our tribal lunacies bray at us. Van Persie, right now, is uniquely, completely brilliant. And he’s here.
*Earlier tonight, Messi was again voted in as the world’s greatest player at FIFA’s Ballon d’Or awards for an unprecedented (and possibly never to be repeated?) 4th consecutive year.
Very recently, I published an ebook of selected posts and new material, with an Introduction by Paul Mason and recommendations from the likes of Brian Moore and Paul Hayward. It’s out on Amazon ebooks, under the title ‘Unweighted – the bowlingatvincent compendium’. The link amzn.to/SSc9To should take you there from Twitter. At £2.83, you ain’t being robbed.