2011 – the year of the Robin

Van Per­sie was des­tined for star­dom from the ear­li­est age Gun­ning for record

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT -

HANG­ING from an An­gle­poise lamp in­side the wa­ter­front stu­dio of Bob van Per­sie is a pair of pale pink bal­let shoes with six studs in each sole.

“There is art in foot­ball, don’t you think?” says Bob. “Foot­ball can be like a bal­let.”

It might seem that way when ev­ery game you see fea­tures Robin van Per­sie and beauty such as the vol­ley against Ever­ton ear­lier this month. Has Bob seen that goal?

“What do you think? Like the one at Charl­ton,” he replies, evok­ing mem­o­ries of an equally stun­ning vol­ley, this one from five years ago.

Bob is chron­i­cling his son’s ca­reer, clip­ping and mount­ing ar­ti­cles and bind­ing them in an al­bum. Vol­ume 37 is open on the sculp­tor’s work bench and may prove the best yet as Robin pur­sues Alan Shearer’s record of 36 Premier League goals in a cal­en­dar year.

The Arse­nal cap­tain has 34, equalling a club record, with one game left. It has been a pro­lific 2011 and his fa­ther is a proud and happy man. He al­ways sus­pected Robin was go­ing to be spe­cial. Af­ter all, he had been warned.

The Van Per­sies had two girls when Bob met a wo­man in an art gallery. She ap­proached him, ex­plained she was a for­tune teller and said his next child would be a boy.

When Robin was two weeks old, his fa­ther tracked down the wo­man to find out more. She said school would not in­ter­est him but, when it came to sport, he would be “a king”, “a Fer­rari”.

He was, she ex­plained, “an ex­tra­or­di­nary boy” who would play foot­ball for the Nether­lands and earn money by the “buck­et­ful”.

Des­tiny? No one who saw the young Van Per­sie with a foot­ball ever doubted his tal­ent. Van Per­sie never doubted it ei­ther. Some­times, this was the prob­lem.

At SBV Ex­cel­sior, Robin’s ev­ery move is still fol­lowed closely. This was his first club and, although he never played be­yond the Un­der 12s, Van Per­sie is an ab­sent hero. A stand is named in his hon­our at the 3,500-ca­pac­ity Sta­dion Woud- Robin van Per­sie needs a hat-trick against QPR to­day to over­take Alan Shearer’s record of 36 Premier League goals in a cal­en­dar year. The Dutch­man has matched Thierry Henry’s Gun­ners record of 34 in a sin­gle year – in four fewer games. es­tein and his im­age dom­i­nates the fans’ bar. He was back last year to un­veil the pho­to­graphic trib­ute and write a per­sonal mes­sage.

“As a lit­tle boy I had a dream of be­ing what I am now and now I try to play foot­ball as if I am still a boy,” he says.

“The pure pas­sion of the game is more to me than win­ning or los­ing.”

At Ex­cel­sior, they adore the sen­ti­ment. They also ap­pre­ci­ate the money. Van Per­sie of­fers fi­nan­cial sup­port to the club’s academy and – through his boot sup­plier – do­nates kit for the teams from Un­der 5s to Un­der 9s. Shirts are em­bla­zoned with his face, an in­spi­ra­tion to those un­der the gaze of Marco van Lochem, Ex­cel­sior’s head of youth.

The academy has been mod­ernised since Bob van Per­sie turned up with his five-year-old son and sug­gested coach Aad Put­ters might want to bend the rules stat­ing chil­dren had to be six or older.

“That’s what they all say,” came the re­ply, but Robin and his fa­ther stuck around. “Ev­ery time the ball went out, he shot it back in a way I had never seen be­fore,” said Put­ters, in a rare in­ter­view for Ex­cel­sior TV, who made a Van Per­sie spe­cial ear­lier this month.

“From the first time I saw him, I knew this would be a Su­per­man. He would run to train­ing from his house, jug­gling the ball all the way,” he adds. “Even when it was rain­ing and train­ing was can­celled, Robin would call and ask if he could come and train with me.”

Put­ters worked hard on Van Per­sie’s right foot and head­ing, nur­tur­ing the skills ac­quired play­ing in the streets of Kralin­gen, the multi-cul­tural neigh­bour­hood in east Rot­ter­dam where he grew up and his fa­ther still lives. For hours he would kick the ball against the wall of the fam­ily home or play in a games court known as “The Cage”. This would ir­ri­tate the coaches at Feyeno­ord who wanted him to rest and bal­ance his life­style.

Van Per­sie and a friend de­vised a game where they would each stand on a line, three yards in front of goal and try to chip shots over each other. Ex­cel­sior’s phi­los­o­phy is to recre­ate street foot­ball.

“We let them play with­out too much in­ter­fer­ence,” said Van Lochem. “It’s im­por­tant they love the game. At a lot of pro­fes­sional clubs it is al­most like a fac­tory – he’s not good enough so send him away and bring in the next one.”

Sonja Lagendijk’s of­fice is dec­o­rated with sports shirts and posters, with a strong Feyeno­ord theme. Her sup­port for Rot­ter­dam’s top club dates back to the years when they ruled Europe (the first Dutch team to win the Euro­pean Cup, in 1970) but she also works at Thor­becke VO, a school for ath­letic prodi­gies.

Olympic swim­ming cham­pion Inge de Bruijn stud­ied here and, since 1995, all the young play­ers from Feyeno­ord’s Academy, Varkeno­ord, have at­tended this school.

Joey Sleegers, the lat­est 17year- old tipped as the next Jo­han Cruyff, is chauf­feur­driven nearly 100 miles to school each day from his home in ru­ral Hol­land.

“If you walk around with your head in the air, we put you down,” said Sonja, but Van Per­sie was not easy to keep down, once re­turn­ing from an U14 game to boast to the school can­teen it was Van Per­sie 2 PSV Eind­hoven 0.”

At 28, he still suf­fers in Hol­land with a rep­u­ta­tion for ar­ro­gance ac­quired as he broke through at Feyeno­ord and won the UEFA Cup in his first sea­son.

“Ev­ery­one is say­ing you will be one of the great­est play­ers of all time and when you put a boy on a pedestal it be­comes tricky,” says teacher Omar Ver­ho­even. “I would say ‘Robin, do your home­work, it is im­por­tant you have your diploma’, but ev­ery­one was say­ing ‘Robin, you’re go­ing to be like Jo­han Cruyff ’. I can’t imag­ine what he was think­ing. It was like ‘Talk to the hand’.

“Some teach­ers had prob­lems with that kind of at­ti­tude. In foot­ball, you can break a leg and it’s over. But, at the mo­ment, he is one of the great­est. When you see that goal against Ever­ton, it is Cruyff ’.

“When you talk about the great Dutch play­ers it is Cruyff and it is Bergkamp but in the fu­ture it will be Van Per­sie. We re­alised this 15 years ago.”

Bob van Per­sie’s art re­flects the two decades he has spent watch­ing his son play foot­ball. He sculpts tiny in­di­vid­ual fig­ures from old news­pa­pers and magazines and cre­ates a crowd at a match. Hang­ing on a wall in his stu­dio is a new work, which in­cludes tiny flash­lights to recre­ate the cam­eras which

‘A la flicker in the crowd when a player nears the touch­line.

“I love the Emi­rates,” he says. “I pre­fer it to High­bury.”

Us­ing pages torn from the Arse­nal Mag­a­zine, Bob cre­ated a work which hangs in­side the Emi­rates. He made an­other in the shape of a num­ber 10 which Robin pre­sented to Dennis Bergkamp when he re­tired. The bal­let shoes were cre­ated as a gift, too. “I made them for a friend,” says Bob. “He was ex­pect­ing a baby; he wanted a boy and out came a girl.”

“Look at the pic­tures of that goal Robin scored against Ever­ton,” says Rene Hes­sel, who coached Van Per­sie at Ex­cel­sior from the age of nine un­til he left at 12. “Look at the shape of his body and look at his hands. He is an artist too and he be­longs in an elite group with Lionel Messi and Cris­tiano Ron­aldo.”

At Arse­nal, Van Per­sie is an icon of the Premier League era, some­one who can stand along­side the goal he­roes like Henry and Ian Wright af­ter 2011, the Year of the Robin. – Daily Mail

STAR TURN: Arse­nal’s Robin van Per­sie has been the player of the year in the Premier League.

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