I understand many people might not have noticed Robin in the Final. He rarely got the ball, hardly got a chance to shoot, and wasn’t directly involved with most of threatening moments. Combined with his previous outings some might write this off as a bad tournament for our star striker.
In previous articles I wrote that Sneijder and Robben weren’t really creating much for Van Persie and his performances have been affected by the individualistic nature of the duo. Sneijder has scored five goals and Robben has had a couple of good moments so they are being regarded as the best Dutch players in the tournament, so much so that they were nominated for the Golden Ball. The facts tell a different story and one that will mostly go unnoticed.
Let’s look at the passing stats. Van Persie made 6 passes to Sneijder and he received 3 from the midfielder. He also made 4 passes to Robben and received 2. These numbers don’t include the completed passes so it’s quite likely that the number of times he received the ball from these two must be less than 5. And this is over 120 minutes of football! To put this in perspective, Villa received 10 passes from Xavi alone in 106 minutes and Xavi obviously completed most of his passes.
Interestingly, Sneijder had five shots on goal with only one on target while Robben had four with two on target. And the stats don’t have a column that says “missed sitters”. Van Persie had a Single shot that wasn’t on target. Clearly, his teammates were more interested in their own glory than finding a teammate in a better position.
From what I’ve said so far it’s probably sounding more like criticism of the two stars from the Champions League final. You might be wondering how does that make Van Persie’s performance a class act.
I say Robin was pure class because at the end of the day he ran close to 14 Km. More than anyone else in the Dutch side and bettered only by Xavi and Iniesta. Some might scoff at that and feel that running on a football pitch doesn’t amount to a brilliant performance. But I feel if you observe the details of the game it really makes a big difference.
Firstly, most strikers would end up sulking and remonstrating on the pitch if they don’t get service. Van Persie didn’t do that.
Secondly, strikers aren’t renowned for their work rate. Normally it’s the central midfielders who do most of the running as we saw with Xavi and Iniesta. So the fact that Van Persie worked his socks off must be acknowledged and respected.
Finally, there is the importance of movement. As I’ve noted in earlier articles, the Dutch team retains possession at the back. Their keeper completed the most passes in the Final!! Robin received as many passes from Stekelenburg and Heitinga as he did from Sneijder! These are staggering facts.
Van Persie’s movement at the top allowed them to play the long balls that moved their play forward because their midfielders were focussed on kicking the opponents rather than the ball. Moreover Robben got through on goal a couple of times when he was playing down the middle. It was due to the movement by Van Persie and for the second chance it was also a direct result of a header won by the Arsenal striker.
I know these are minor details from a very big game. In itself hardly any of them would be considered significant. But when you put it all together the picture is clear. Van Persie was isolated by his glory hunting teammates but he maintained his focus and selflessly worked harder than the others to achieve a dream.
All facts being same, if Robben had converted one chance and if the Dutch had won, it is obvious that Sneijder and Robben would have been considered their star players despite their weaknesses and mistakes. Few would have noted that Sneijder’s goals had a generous dose of freak and Robben missed and messed up a lot more than he scored. Van Persie would have been considered a disappointment. Many probably think that even now.
I’m sure Van Persie knew this will be the case. Unless he scored the winning goal he wasn’t going to get much credit for his performances in this tournament. And since he wasn’t getting the ball in and around the box it was never going to happen for him. Even then he continued to run, played for his team,dropped deep, moved to the flanks, and gave his all till the last moment. I will always remember this game as the one where Van Persie played as well a striker can play football without the ball!