VAN FOR HIRE (ALBEIT NOT AS A CHILD MINDER)
To be a top manager is to be a top actor, the sort that would terrify even the most ferocious hybrid from Greek mythology: half Al Pacino from Any Given Sunday, half Barbara Windsor from EastEnders. On one hand, the successful gaffer must inspire players to commit to excellence, to fight for it inch by inch, play by play, to tear themselves to pieces to climb out of hell, to believe that being an also-ran is more despicable than being in the section of prison reserved for criminals so despised that all the other inmates want to tear them to pieces and thrash them into hell. On the other hand, managers such as Arsene Wenger must convince players that, hey ho, being an also-ran isn't so bad, so long as the family stick together.
Alas, Arsene's acting skills appear to be on the wane, his increasingly impressive portrayals of Basil Fawlty notwithstanding. In the wake of recent failures to make convincing representations to Thierry Henry, Cesc Fabregas, Gael Clichy and Samir Nasri, the Gooner-in-chief has now flopped in his bid to make it seem plausible to Robin van Persie, unless, perhaps, Wenger was seeking to impersonate the Wizard of Oz after Toto pulled back the curtain and, for good measure, took a chomp out of his leg.
"As announced earlier this year I had a meeting with the boss and [Arsenal archbishop] Mr [Ivan] Gazidis after the season," trilled Van Persie on his website. "Out of my huge respect for Mr Wenger, the players and the fans I don't want to go into any details, but unfortunately in this meeting it has again become clear to me that we in many aspects disagree on the way Arsenal should move forward," continued the Dutchman, doing as much damage to the image of the Arsenal hierarchy as he usually does to Premier League defences before unloading his bombshell: "I've thought long and hard about it, but I have decided not to extend my contract."
Van Persie's announcement has provoked Arsenal's second-biggest shareholders, Alisher Ismanov and Farhad Moshiri, who have been prevented from joining the club's board, to write to owner Stan Kroenke and express "deep reservations" about how the American is running the club, wailing that "we are faced with losing our true marquee player" because the club cannot "give confidence that we can win trophies", asking "where are the safeguards to ensure that this doesn't happen again and again?"
While Van Persie's explanation for his refusal to sign a new deal sounds remarkably similar to the pious cant that Wayne Rooney spouted when announcing his desire to leave Manchester United in October 2010, moments before clasping the club to his bosom following a fat pay hike, Van Persie's hints that he is disenchanted by a lack of investment in the squad rather than in his own pocket ring slightly truer than Rooney's spurious claims. Rooney, after all, already had a cabinet full of trophies and had ample reason to be confident of adding to that collection, whereas Van Persie has exactly as many Premier League and Big Cup medals as Barbara Windsor and, in football terms, is approaching the same age.
Van Persie will be 29 when next season starts and if his chats with Wenger and co have convinced him that Arsenal are not going to strengthen significantly beyond the signings of Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski, then the Dutchman is right to believe that his best chance of getting a roll of honour even half as long as his list of injuries is to hightail it to more extravagant spenders. Perhaps, in fairness, such a move would show how well Wenger has inspired his players. After all, no one has done more than the Frenchman to sow the idea that players start to go downhill at 30.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
"I'll be forever grateful but I feel empty and I cannot give any more … I cannot play at only half-capacity. I've been playing for 16 years but I have nothing left to give the club. Now I just want to go home, hug my kids and eat asado with my friends" – Juan Roman Riquelme calls time on his career with Boca Juniors in favour of having more barbeques. Fair enough.
"As we are sadly lacking in football during the summer, perhaps the Fiver can become a sort of job-related agony uncle. For instance: HR-related advice. The guy next to me in the office has the theme tune to The Fall Guy as his ringtone. Am I allowed to punch him or do I have to have a committee meeting (agenda, minutes, etc) and do a PowerPoint presentation on the projected benefits of switching to Airwolf/Littlest Hobo?" – Noble Francis [we'll open this one to the floor – Fiver Ed].
"Re: Alec Cochrane's comments about rolling subs (yesterday's letters). It's been in place for a few years in Sydney's Eastern Suburbs Football Association, and as someone whose days of playing 90 minutes, or even 45, without a break are behind him, I must say it's a godsend for old codgers the world over. Which may make it an attractive proposition for England if EBJT, Mbe, Cole, Lampard and Parker are still playing at the next World Cup" – Dave Rooney.
"Rolling substitutes? Surely these have been in use for years already? John O'Pies? Charlie Adam?" – Phil Williams.
"OK, I give up, which member of Team Fiver was on That's Life in 1989 (Tuesday's last line)? Is it that dog that used to go on about the sausages?" – Martin Perks [one of this shambles – Fiver Ed]
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BITS AND BOBS
The Fiver can exclusively reveal which Premier League games Big Website will be minute-by-minuting live over the coming months. Coincidentally, they are the exact same games that Sky and ESPN have decided to show on the telly, starting with Tottenham's trip to Newcastle on Saturday 18 August.
The Queen's Celtic have confirmed a pre-season friendly against Inter as part of their 125th anniversary celebrations.
The Pope's Newc O'Rangers have been left without any warm-up matches after organisers of their summer tour of Germany cancelled the trip.
New Tottenham signing Gylfi Sigurdsson has revealed the reasons he chose White Hart Lane over Liverpool. "I didn't want to just stand around while $tevie Mbe pinged 40-yard passes over my head into touch," he might have said but didn't. "[Tottenham] has world-class players in their ranks and they play good football, which I like," were his actual words, which is more or less the same thing.
Perhaps somewhat worryingly for her husband, Ludivine Sagna, wife of Arsenal full-back Bacary, has urged Lyon goalkeeper Hugo Lloris to move to the Emirates.
Apropos of nothing (yes, apropos) Paolo Di Canio has hit out at Mario Balotelli. "He is an egotist, who thinks the world revolves around him. Guys like Balotelli deserve lots of slaps rather than pats on the shoulder," pot-kettled Di Canio.
And Rosenborg striker Steffen Iversen has been fined around £800 for giving Valerenga fans the finger during a match in May. "The committee noted he had been provoked but as a role model to younger players he had a responsibility to act in a professional manner," trilled the Norwegian FA.
STILL WANT MORE?
Strange things happened in the Copa Libertadores final: there was no post-match punch-up; Juan Roman Riquelme retired and Corinthians won for the first time in their history. Thankfully Jonathan Wilson recovered from shock in time to write this.
Ever wanted to see a football pitch marked to like a carpet at a 1970s swingers party? Well this week's Classic YouTube is for you.
And could Futsal make England as good at football as Spain and Brazil? Probably not, but Jamie Fahey makes a convincing case all the same. And anyway, England are No4 in the world! Where are Brazil?
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