Robin van Persie: "Still too emotional
Sunday, 8 June 2008
Loneliness in London one day led
Robin van Persie to a big decision: ban the wrong distractions
from his life, full focus on football.
How that came about?
"I'm from a pretty fun city,
Rotterdam. Friends around me. Family around me. Shoot
some pool. A bit of this, a bit of that. And then you
come to England, and there is no shooting pool, no table
tennis. Of course you can shoot pool, but not with your
friends. So all of a sudden you're lonely and you are
faced with only yourself. Then you think: I shall be
the best at football."
Van Persie, at Feyenoord the unruly
talent that sometimes needed to be put in his place,
ended up between the earth's greats: Henry, Bergkamp.
In his first months at Arsenal
he sometimes thought about stepping up to manager Arsene
Wenger and ask for an explanation on a substitution.
He asked Bergkamp for advise.
The Iceman said to not ever do
Now he is the new Dutch master
of Arsenal, although because of injuries he did not
play as much as he should have and the much praised
style of Arsenal did not get them any silverware.
Only when Holland boss Marco van
Basten feels he has gained enough rhythm will he start
in today's opener against Italy.
Denis Bergkamp is Van Persie's metaphor for professionalism.
"I considered it an honor to play with him. He
was unique in all he did. The man just couldn't take
easy, not one single time. He was so focussed. Just
looking at these guys, how they prepare for important
matches, it's crucial for me."
On an earlier occasion Van Persie
said in a sloganesque way: "I think, drink and
That was before he was able to
separate essentials from matters of secondary importance.
"Everything that has nothing
to do with football has become secondary. Football is
my passion, my love, at which I want to become as good
as is possible. With Bergkamp it had become part of
his whole being."
Van Persie (24) remembers sitting
in a Jacuzzi after a recuperation training.
Looking to the left he could see
the training ground through the window, where Bergkamp
was training with a few youth players.
"In 45 minutes he did not
make a single mistake. And no one was watching. Only
a fitness coach and some youths were there. I thought:
that man is so unique. Purely for his own sake he does
not want to make any mistakes. That is what I wanted
as well. As a youngster you need answers. These don't
always come in the form of words."
Van Persie is the perfectionist who could endlessly
watch a Maradonna video. Relishing the man's solo runs,
although knowing the outcome of them.
Together with Arsenal's head of
scouting, Steve Rowley he analyses DVD's with his actions
after the match.
The boy who would kick a ball in
the school yard until his groins hurt, the boy who would
be the only white kid among blacks and Arabs now is
an eye-catcher for an Adidas campaign.
The Hollander (Dutchman)
they used to call him on the square, despite his swift,
slightly Arab tongue.
Whether he is an idol?
For who, he asks.
"I know I have a lot of fans
and that I am often addressed by people who say they
are happy with me. Or not. But I do realize that I am
a role model."
He was a willful kid. Had always been the best in the
youth ranks of his club Feyenoord, where talents needed
to remain down to earth, where they said arrogance belonged
in Amsterdam at Ajax.
Partly out of cussedness he would
challenge the authority of his manager Bert van Marwijk,
of the almighty Van Hooydonk and sometimes also of Foppe
de Haan at the Dutch U-21.
"I don't want to hit back
at Feyenoord, because it's a beautiful club. But I had
to deal with a number of players of whom I know think:
'That's just not the way.' Belittling people, it's just
not enjoyable. That's not the way to help a talented
youngster on his way. That is not cooperation."
"I couldn't deal with that.
It was then that I made the decision to do the opposite.
I decided: when I am older I don't want to be like that.
I want to help people. That has shaped me. I have seen
bad examples. And the way it went at Feyenoord didn't
help. At the end of the day you are part of a team and
you have to achieve things together."
"When you are told constantly
that it's not good what you're doing you start to become
obstinate. That is a logical, human reaction. I don't
want to make excuses for myself, because I did make
some real mistakes. But that was mainly because of the
emotions, because I did not have the self-control and
could not control the situation. But I turned a negative
situation into a positive one."
Van Persie learned to fathom the game of life and to
constrain his emotions where possible.
"When you write a bad piece
about me, you're in title to do so, but that piece gets
read and people adopt it. I have seen how that thing
works and why people think certain things. It used to
bother me more than it does now. I used to think: why
does he do that to me? It's not such a big deal when
people are negative about me, as long as it's based
Only when people cross a line,
Van Persie will react.
Three years ago he was in prison
for two weeks for suspected rape.
The case was dismissed, but he
knows that rehabilitation takes a long time.
He sued glossy magazine Cosmopolitan,
for calling him 'a sort of convict'.
"Then you have crossed the
"I have learned that the world
is rough. Yo must focus only on things that are important
to you. That is crucial. And with all due respect: there
is not a lot of things that are important. My family
is. Besides that there are many who jump the bandwagon.
Once you realize that not everything is nice and friendly,
you'll become a lot calmer."
"Whenever I can make somebody
happy I will. I used to try and keep everybody happy.
But I can not change the world. That has been a turning
point. I have started to focus on my job and my family.
After the first day of training with the national team
in Katwijk he surprised people by after running a few
laps said to a radio reporter:"The clue of life
is to see the relativeness of things".
How did he come to be such a thoughtful
"Some say 'he's changed'.
But I prefer: developed. Every player has a chance to
develop to a high level, both as a human and as a player.
Not everyone takes that chance."
"Coincidence has it that was
talking to a friend the other day about a guy who was
in my U-18 team. He was really good, but now he plays
in a lower division. How is it possible that he did
not make it while at the basis he is truly great? He
has missed a number of steps. At crucial moments he
didn't go forward. That is the core of my story."
He wears a silver necklace with
an inscripted silver plate with pride.
He wears it over his shirt on purpose.
Van Persie got it from his wife
Bouchra, for their fourth wedding anniversary.
"She is critical towards me
in a positive way. And she is blunt. That provides me
with a mirror. You must be open to that and be honest."
"I so often see people making
excuses. Making something up when it is not working
out. It's the manager's fault or the players aren't
good enough. Blablabla. But you must hold yourself accountable
for what is going on around you."
"At times when things are
not going the way you want them to, you start to think.
Then it turns out that in more than half the cases you
can only hold yourself responsible, and that you can
actually influence that."
9 June, Italy
He decided himself to start again - too early - after
a previous injury and felt the pain in a hamstring.
He was eager and emotionally involved.
"I should have been honest
and indicated that I wasn't 100% fit yet. You react
emotionally or rationally. I always try to think, but
sometimes I still react to emotionally. Yet I am making
He wanted to save his European
Championships and asked Arsene Wenger if he could skip
the last two league matches.
He was not afraid that things wouldn't
be all right with his fitness, even though he joined
the rest of the team a week late.
"The only date we had in mind
was 9 June."
Van Basten will never say it out loud, but Van der Vaart,
Sneijder and Van Persie are his favorites.
"I feel the boss really appreciates
me, as a player and as a person. He stood up for me
when I was in trouble. He really chose my side. That
was the foundation for a good cooperation."
It's a totally different story
than that of Van Bommel, Seedorf and in a way of Van
Nistelrooy, who felt no confidence and left.
Only Van Nistelrooy returned.
Van Persie feels no need to get
philosophical about the matter.
"I can see the headlines:
'Van Persie understands Seedorf'. I don't need that.
All I want to say is that I regret that he's not there,
because I have great respect for Seedorf, both as a
player and as a person."
Seedorf is an example, off and on the pitch.
"One day I would want to organize
a big Van Persie Tournament in Rotterdam. I feel it's
important to be a good man, to take that as a starting
point to develop myself and to help people. When yo
help people that will be good for your heart."
"Sometimes I hear colleagues
shout something for their good names, or because it
is good for their foundations. Help should come from
the heart, not from your ego."
Van Persie doesn't need religion
"I believe in myself. When
you are a good bloke that will bring positivity to the
society. A better world starts at home, they say. No?"
His wife is a Muslim.
And on certain websites it reads
that Van Persie has also converted to Islam.
So what's the story?
"It's not true. I am not a
Muslim, nor a Christian or a Jew. I have been raised
liberally. If you want to become a Muslim it should
come from the heart. I would not do it just to please
my wife. To believe for me is a quest for being a good