2011 – the year of the Robin
Van Persie was destined for stardom from the earliest age Gunning for record
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.