Spoiled brat or Gunners legend?

2012-03-17 00:00

FOOTBALL is not a game played by gentlemen, and it hasn’t been for a very long time. Paul Gascoigne made sure of that. Yes, there are those with an air of professionalism about them, but for every honest and hard-working Scott Parker there are a hundred little brats with fat wallets running around the English game.

Two instances come to mind, the first of which has been so well documented that it should not be given any further momentum by being discussed here. I am, of course, referring to the Luis Suarez vs Patrice Evra rivalry, which ended with the latter rubbing victory in the former’s face with elaborate celebrations at the full-time whistle when United beat Liverpool in a league match last month. The actions of both Suarez and Evra that day were nothing short of disgusting.

The second instance that comes to mind is far more intriguing. After a ding-dong battle at the Emirates on Monday night, a last-minute Thomas Vermaelen strike gave the Gunners a priceless victory over fellow top four contenders Newcastle.

What should have been the perfect advertisement for exciting, competitive and unpredictable football quickly turned into the Jerry Springer show as an overly chuffed-with-himself Robin van Persie decided to have a go at Newcastle keeper Tim Krul.

RVP just couldn’t help himself as he taunted the devastated shot-stopper before waving his arms around in an Evra-esque fashion and calling on the Emirates faithful to back up his thuggish behaviour — which they duly did.

There can be no doubt that RVP’s reaction to the goal smacked of immaturity, insensitivity and a lack of sportsmanship. But there is more to the story. See, the feud between RVP and Krul had been building up for an age. When Newcastle took the lead the Dutch keeper took it upon himself to waste as much time as he possibl could every time he had the ball, which began to tick RVP off.

While we can never know for sure, it has since emerged that when the Gunners grabbed their last-minute winner, RVP went straight to Krul and muttered something to the effect of “Why don’t you take your time getting the ball out of the net”, which infuriated Krul and got the whole party started. Whose side you’re on in the whole thing is likely to be solely determined by whether you are an Arsenal fan, but one thing is certain: Arsenal fans worship the ground RVP walks on — and with good reason. A look at what the Dutch striker has done this season shows that he is a player of abundant quality. Van Persie has been scoring goals for fun and Gunners fans surely shudder at the thought of where they’d be sitting on the Premier League log were it not for their leader.

While RVP’s outburst at the end of Monday’s match may have been a little over the top, it showed that the man possesses a lot of something else: passion. It’s been a long season for Arsenal, one in which their manager has had his credentials questioned for the first time since he joined the club. It has been a trying time for Arsene Wenger, the players and the fans. And even after all of the adversity that has come their way in the course of the season, Van Persie still finds the fire in his belly to step out on to that pitch and give a damn about what the outcome is. He hasn’t thrown in the towel and, because of that, neither have the club’s players or fans. When they see RVP carrying on like a high school kid on the playground at break time, they see a man who is so overcome with a love for his team that he cannot contain himself.

Roy Keane, Gary Neville and Eric Cantona have their names etched in history as three of the greatest club captains Manchester United have ever seen. Keane broke legs, Neville slapped opponents and Cantona fly-kicked fans.

Why? Because the love and pride for the club in all three of these instances were far greater than any logical emotion. If it’s true that you can never be remembered as a great leader unless you wear your heart on your sleeve at all times, then RVP is on the right track to take over from Tony Adams as the Gunners’ greatest captain ever.

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