Last chance for RVP to scale Dutch peak
Robin van Persie is running out of time to achieve super-stardom
HOLLAND v COSTA RICA
(Tomorrow, 4am, SingTel mio TV Ch 141 & StarHub TV Ch 223)
Robin van Persie is a student of football history. He respects pedigree over pay cheques.
Sir Alex Ferguson and the Theatre of Dreams appealed to his sense of sporting heritage more than Manchester City's petrodollars.
Holland are working on the striker's legacy, but at a personal cost. Against Mexico, he played the sacrificial lamb. His country's progress penalised him. He made way for his manager's masterstroke.
Louis van Gaal cast his skipper and occasional sounding board into the shadows as he basked in the spotlight.
Yesterday, van Persie insisted he accepted the reasons for the substitution. "This trainer wants to win. So he makes substitutions. It's simple," he said.
Only it isn't. The contradiction will gnaw away at van Persie's idealism. His legacy is of paramount importance. He has enough money.
He wants to win trophies. Champions League qualification wasn't silverware at Arsenal. The intoxicating glare of United's trophy cabinet guided him north.
Van Gaal is now leading him along the road to Rio, but perhaps not in the way he intended. His legacy endures partly because he played sacrificial lamb against Mexico.
But he's not a lamb easily silenced.
There are extenuating circumstances of courses. Niggling injuries hounded his second season with United and he suffered an insecure manager with an inferiority complex who worried more about pacifying household names than he did the club doctor.
David Moyes persevered with van Persie when he was clearly unfit. Moyes struggled with Step Dad Syndrome, trying far too hard to please someone else's offspring. Their relationship disintegrated after the Newcastle game in December, when the unfit, rapidly declining striker waited for his number to appear on the electronic subs board. And it didn't.
His dignity was lost, along with any remaining respect for Moyes. The cloying coach was damaging both the footballer and the franchise.
Van Gaal makes no concessions to anyone's ego. His decision to replace van Persie with Klass-Jan Huntelaar against Mexico was vindicated, but created a paradox for his skipper to ponder.
History means more to him than hubris, but surely he must be an integral part of it. Salvation is hard to come by from the sidelines.
Huntelaar has arguably earned a chance to start up front against Costa Rica tomorrow morning (Singapore time) and if he doesn't, van Persie is running out of time to work on his latest entry for the football annals.
At 30, this World Cup represents van Persie's last chance to scale a Dutch peak reached only by a few. Johan Cruyff and Marco van Basten are waiting for him when he gets there, but it's a perilous journey to make from the bench.
His diving header against Spain put him within touching distance. Two more against Australia left him peeking through the door of the pantheon.
But a fractured season then finally caught up with him. In a tournament defined by the creative individual, Holland's main man has played an increasingly minor role in the van Gaal collective.
He slunk away to the game's periphery. In the name of Dutch progress, he paid a considerable price.
As tiki-taka gave way to a faster, counter-attacking philosophy dependent on the quick-thinking cerebral qualities of James Rodriguez and Neymar, van Persie fleetingly resembled an older man stuck on a landline while the young kids all played with their smart phones.
There was a failure to communicate. In the last fortnight, van Persie has fallen behind. Like the Mexicans, the World Cup threatens to get away from him.
He is a conflicted by the same principled philosophy that drove him to Old Trafford. He wants to play. He wants to win trophies. But the two may not be entirely compatible.
His three goals already leave him two behind Rodriguez. But Golden Boot winners rarely lift the only trophy that matters, Ronaldo was the last in 2002, emulating Paolo Rossi's feat of 1982.
Holland's hopes do not necessarily rest with van Persie, but van Gaal. His movement on a tactical board trumped van Persie's in the penalty box.
Van Gaal's tinkering from 3-5-2 to 4-4-2 and 4-3-3 against Mexico won the day, but lost his striker.
Van Persie drifted away from the new narrative; a bit part player in an early sub-plot that soon gave away to the coach's suspenseful twist.
In a single game, van Persie went from a Golden Boot contender to a footnote. But he might still end up a World Cup winner. That's the paradox to contend with.
So the quarter-final against Costa Rica realistically offers the last opportunity to achieve both. Goals guarantee Dutch progress and a chance to massage wounded pride.
For van Persie, the road to Rio must also be about the personal journey.
Goals and glory on the pitch will always be more fulfilling than guts and glory from the bench.
his diving header against spain put him within touching distance (of greatness). Two more against australia left him peeking through the door of the pantheon. But a fractured season then finally caught up with him.
- Neil Humphrey