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IN GOOD CONSCIENCE

Barca looms as likely option for devalued van Persie

Robin van Persie is in no-man's land.

Last year, he scored perhaps the most elegantly swooping flying header in World Cup history, and the Royal Dutch Mint issued a commemorative coin that sold out in a day.

This week, he scored another header. Again it was beautiful to behold, but into the wrong net. No coin for RvP this time. And no medal for his Dutch team-mates, only a global viral outburst of ridicule on (anti-) social media.

Poor Robin. In 2014, his graceful swallow dive to score the opening goal of the World Cup - against the defending world champions Spain - combined such ability, such timing, such predatory excellence that the Dutch treasury back home immediately commissioned the special coin.

It cost €9.95 (about S$15.60) and all 6,000 coins that were struck sold out within hours.

The word is that, at 32, van Persie might be rescued from the retirement yard of Istanbul for one glorious swan-song at Barcelona. The Spanish side need cover for the Messi-Suarez-Neymar trident.

Spin on one year, however, and RvP has descended from World Cup Superman to the lowest figure of cartoon ridicule that the troll merchants can think up.

One thing the goal and the own goal had in common was that neither a Spaniard nor a Czech stood within two metres of the Flying Dutchman as he soared and scored.

A tiny part of me wonders if van Persie, and maybe those opponents who left him all alone to strike in both nets, are lucky guys not to have been visited by the fraud squad.

What makes a man so outstanding of movement and co-ordination score so memorably in one match, and produce such a self-wounding goal in another?

And what makes international defenders stand off him as if he is a pariah on both occasions?

I'm playing devil's advocate here.

But until the past 12 months during which Fifa has made itself the great untouchable in terms of corruption, there was a contract between football's world governing body and Interpol that might have put suspect goals under the microscope.

That shiny blue and grey building in Singapore, housing state-of-the-art capability to spot cyber crime was to have been paid for, in part, by the Fifa/Interpol contract to track down questionable movement and betting patterns.

Interpol dropped the agreement once it realised the extent to which Fifa has corrupted itself. But up to that point, the international police were focusing on the betting cartels (some of them operating out of China) whose deadly and pervasive match-fixing sometimes involved players betraying their own sport.

I do not have any reason to think that van Persie, or his opponents in the games against Spain and the Czech Republic, acted with one iota of impropriety.

But I am bewildered, like everyone else, by van Persie's rapid decline.

Two years ago, he was scoring for fun the goals that helped Manchester United win the EPL title. He is from an artistic family, and has sometimes seemed to have an artistic temperament.

His touch and his instinct to strike have sometimes depended upon his moods, and upon how different managers have handled him. But 50 goals in 101 games for the Oranje bears its own testimony.

RvP led the Dutch at the World Cup (though Arjen Robben surpassed him as a match winner there), yet Louis van Gaal, his manager at that tournament and then at United, dropped him and sold him a year later.

By all accounts, van Persie made a monumental mistake in moving to the Istanbul club Fenerbahce (a club rebuilding, incidentally, after being dismantled following a match-fixing scandal).

A temperamental Dutchman in Turkish football is not a match made in heaven. And van Persie's troubles spilled over into the Dutch camp, where he reportedly had a bust-up with Memphis Depay in the build-up to the Czech game.

Van Persie, deemed by van Gaal to be a United has-been, rowed with Depay, purchased as the new wave for United by the same team manager.

Their contretemps on the training ground might be seen as the fissure within the camp - one player of the old, possibly spent generation and the other from the brash new generation.

The Dutch, third at the 2014 World Cup, failed to finish even third in a Euro qualifying group where the Czechs, Iceland and Turkey finished above them.

This is the first time in 31 years that the Netherlands have not been at the Euro party, and rather than minting coins, the Royal Dutch Football Association will be counting its losses in millions.

Assessing the cost of failure must include forensically examining how and why the team of 2014 fell apart so dramatically over the following 15 months.

The transition of managers has not helped. Van Gaal possibly over-achieved with what he had at the World Cup - and critics say that his successor Danny Blind made the error of believing that the old Dutch system of an attacking 4-3-3 could flower again.

Blind is Old School in harking back to the way things were when Rinus Michels was coach and Johan Cruyff was genius on the pitch.

Van Gaal is much more pragmatic, and before him Holland at times kicked opponents to reach the 2010 World Cup final.

The romantic in me is with Blind, and in the inquest now under way he will have to search to see if there is any justification in attempting to pursue Total Football.

What, meantime, happens to van Persie?

The word is that, at 32, he might be rescued from the retirement yard of Istanbul for one glorious swan-song at Barcelona. The Spanish side need cover for the Messi-Suarez-Neymar trident.

Messi's current injury, and the fact that Barcelona will be free in January of a Fifa ban on them signing players, means it could be looking for someone of high quality who is prepared to sit on the bench until needed.

Another new RvP caricature suggests itself: Honoured by a special World Cup coin, ridiculed as a Euro flop, and soon to be super sub for the best club side on earth?

Don't bet against it.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 17, 2015, with the headline 'Barca looms as likely option for devalued van Persie'. Print Edition | Subscribe