THERE is a market stall here at Cape Town waterfront that will take a headshot of any potential customer and superimpose it on to a giant picture of a player lifting the World Cup aloft; a perfect memento of South Africa 2010.
It is exactly the vision Robin van Persie has been carrying in his head, ever since he bought a framed print of Maradona being carried shoulder-high by his Argentina team-mates following the World Cup final in 1986.
That iconic image has been driving the Netherlands and Arsenal striker on in this World Cup and, if all goes well in Sunday’s final, his replica picture should look a whole lot more convincing than those taken 1500km away in Cape Town.
“I don’t know what it would feel like to win it but I have dreamt of it,” the striker admitted. “I have a really big picture in my room back home in England of Maradona holding the World Cup.
“It’s an unbelievable picture, he is on the top of people’s shoulders, of his team-mates, and he is holding it with all the passion. If we go for it, if we win, I want that picture – but with me in it!”
It’s interesting that van Persie, who so often during his career has been seen as an individualist, maybe even as a troublemaker, is attracted to that iconic picture of Maradona not just because of the fact he is holding a trophy but because he is also surrounded by his team-mates – lauded as a hero but part of a bigger team.
It encapsulates why Argentina were able to take advantage of Maradona’s talismanic skills to win in 1986 but the Netherlands, with so many great players of their own over the years, have never lifted the trophy and so often see their dreams ended by in-fighting and disharmony.
Not this time, however. The current Dutch team may not play the Total Football of the World Cup finalists of 1974 and 1978 but their spirit and togetherness has seen them last the distance off the field as well as on it in South Africa under pragmatic coach Bert van Marwijk.
“I don’t know if are different this time because I wasn’t there when people said things about the former teams,” said van Persie. “But I know about this team – and it is unbelievable. If you put a camera inside our hotel we are playing table-tennis, we are making jokes, everyone is playing cards and talking to each other, which is important to achieve things.
“When you have a team in which half of the team is not talking to the other half you are not going anywhere.
“And what I really like about this team is our spirit on the pitch as well. For instance when Uruguay scored their second goal a few minutes from time in the semi-final everyone came back, no-one told each other, everyone just did it. That shows mental strength – we really, really go for it.
“It’s always been difficult for Holland because you have to fight against the generation of ‘74 and ‘78 which were unbelievable, they were such great players. But they didn’t do it somehow, they didn’t win it, and we have the chance now. If we can do it then it is for the first time and it’s going to be unbelievable because basically we did better than them!
“That’s amazing because those players are legends; Neeskens, Jansen and so on. You grow up with them because when these people are talking, everyone listens because of what they achieved. Maybe one day they will listen to me, eh!”
For van Persie to achieve that part of the equation he will probably have to play a lot better in the final than he has managed so far this tournament.
There have been no goals so far for the Arsenal striker and instead it has been team-mates such as Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben who have been the creative forces driving them to the last game of the tournament.
“I’ll do my best,” said van Persie. “You never know what to expect before any game, you just give your best and it depends how a team defends. I feel the semi-final game was my best game by far and I’m happy with everything. Of course I want to score, I want to score 10 every game! But I’m not really disappointed about that, I’m happy about getting to the final and now I want to help us win it.
“It would mean so much for us to do it. I spoke to friends of mine in Rotterdam and they said ‘man, you just don’t understand how it’s like here’. Holland is just upside down, it’s unbelievable. People are having fun, singing, swimming, everyone is so happy. And that’s something I think is really nice as well with the game we all love – you can make people so happy, you know. So it’s just for us to push on one more time.”
He’s right of course; one more time, one more victory. Just enough to complete the picture.
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