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"The intellectualisation
of football has
always foundered
on a simple problem-
-the players. Doing
all your most
rewarding thinking
with your feet seems
to dull the philo-
sophical impulse.
Unless, of course,
you are Dutch.
According to legend,
Europeans played
a moronic, muscular
version of the world's
game, until Holland
proclaimed its vision
of total football in the
1974 World Cup,
and enlightenment
dawned."

From:
Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football
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Robin van Persie: "Still too emotional at times"

Willem Vissers
De Volkskrant
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 that.

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.

Bergkamp
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 eat football"

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."

The Hollander
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."

Belittled
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."

Convicted
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 on something."

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 line."

"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. That's it."

Development
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 man?

"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 progress."

He wanted to save his European Championships and asked Arsene Wenger if he could skip the last two league matches.

He could.

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."

Seedorf
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."

Good man
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 for that.

"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 man."

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