Tag: Bayern Munich

Arjen Robben, from "Loser" to Legend

I remember the little lad making his first steps on the field of FC Groningen. 16 years old. Didn’t look like a football player. More like a chess afficionado or a math expert. In a time when most if not all talents was developed by Ajax and to a lesser extend, PSV or Feyenoord, it was vv Bedum that developed this player. Or should we say that actually no one really developed him?

So much skills and feeling and intuition on that left foot.

A comment Johan Cruyff made, when Robben was still at Groningen, playing as a left winger. “Very talented, but sadly he only uses his left foot. He will never get to the top if he doesn’t learn to utilise the right foot too.”

And indeed, I vividly remember seeing him dribble past opponents to end up in a scoring position… But, what happened? He took the ball, went all the way back to the other side, past flabbergasted opponents, only to enable his left foot to take the shot.

Robben only stayed at Groningen for two years. The fast and highly skillful dribbler was bound for greatness. The headstrong player was invited to come to Amsterdam and Eindhoven many times in his youth, but his dad (and manager) kept the clubs at bay until after he finished high school. He picked PSV as Guus Hiddink was to be his manager there.

In a team with a young Mark van Bommel, Ji Sung Park, Johann Vogel and Mateja Kezman, Robben became the top scorer in the 2003 champions team. Many international clubs were on the prowl and despite a good conversation and contact between the Robbens and Man United Sir Alex Ferguson, Arjen didn’t end up at Old Trafford. ManU only offered 7 Mio euros. The PSV chairman quipped that they could just get a autographed jersey of Robben for that kind of money. When Chelsea interjected with an 18 Mio euros offer, the deal was swiftly closed.

In the summer of 2004, Robben went to Chelsea. Signed by Claudio Ranieri, but never worked with him, as Jose Mourinho made his way into the club that summer too. Robben was part of a squad with the likes of Makalele, Lampard, Terry, Drobga and Joe Cole. His first season there was amazing. He started late due to injury but ended that season as number 2 on the “Young Player of the Year” list, behind Wayne Rooney. Robben won two league titles with Chelsea and there is a tremendous video with highlights of the winger of those Chelsea days. Amazing stuff. The speed, the skill and the courage.

Robben won everything with Chelsea, bar the European title. In 2007, Real Madrid courted him. Coach Schuster actually wanted Michael Ballack, but the Real Madrid chair pushed for Robben. His exit was abrupt at Chelsea and he never got to say farewell to the fans. Real Madrid allegedly paid 35 Mio euros for the former Bedum talent.

At Madrid, his first season won him the Spanish title. He owned the left midfield spot and played 28 games as a starter. He would be instrumental in the 2008-2009 season,playing 25 games and scoring eight goals. At the start of the 2009-10 season however, Real Madrid wanted to sign C Ronaldo and Kaka and needed to free up some cash. Bayern Munich wanted to spend 25 mio euros on the winger and Madrid struck a deal. Robben was pressured to move, against his will. To this day, he claims that life was good for him in Madrid and he never wanted to leave if the club hadn’t forced him to.

Robben started on fire for Munich, wearing the number 10 jersey worn by Roy Makaay before. He would win the title in The Bundesliga too (after Dutch, English and Spanish palmares) and he won Footballer of the Year, in Germany. The first ever Dutch player to do so.

In 2010, after the World Cup, Robben returned injured. According to the Bayern medical staff. This situation resulted in quite an upset, as the Dutch federation didn’t think he was injured and Bert van Marwijk played Robben at the World Cup (where Robben was a key figure for Holland).

It took 6 months for Robben to get back to fitness.

When Oranje came and played Bayern Munich for a friendly, the home fans booed Robben while off the pitch the Bayern management started to comment on his egotistical style of play. All his injuries and these shenanigans had quite an impact on him, and he even tried to change his playing style. Losing the World Cup finals with Oranje and losing two CL finals (one against Mourinho’s Inter and one against his old club Chelsea, with Robben missing a key penalty) gave him the stigma of a loser. How many times does one player have a shot at winning the CL in his career? You’re lucky if it’s once. Robben had three nips at it and eventually got it right.

Jupp Heynckes knew that his counterpart at Dortmund knows everything about Bayern there is to know. So he had to come with a trick. And the tactical trick was: play Robben centrally.

In the first half, most of the Bayern team played too slow and without real drive, allowing Dortmund to dominate proceedings. It was clearly visible however, that Muller was moving from the wing while Robben played in the shadow striker role.

As such, he had two massive opportunities in the first half. In both cases, it was the Dortmund goalie who got the better of him.

In the second half, he was able to escape the offside trap and offered Mandzukic a chance he couldn’t miss (although we have seen them missed…).

And late in the game, at 1-1, it was Robben with his vision, speed, velvet touch and alertness who sealed the deal. He was Man of the Match. He won it for Bayern. And for himself.

Next up, the Super Cup game, against his old chums and his former coach Mourinho. “I already got warm but also taunting texts from JT (John Terry) and Lamps (Frank Lampard)… And we have the Fifa World Cup game too. Life will only get more interesting from now on. As if it will start now.”

Asked if he will stay at Munich, despite his success, Robben is flippant. “I love this club. I love playing at Bayern, we have a lot to win still… I still have a two year deal, so who knows…”

With Pep Guardiola coming in and the likes of Mario Gotze and Lewandowski making the trip from Dortmund to Munich, one wonders….

Johan Cruyff might have some influence on this topic. The Ajax and Barca icon now sees Bayern Munich as a role model club for Ajax, more so than his second love Barcelona. “Bayern has been able for decades to operate financially sustainable and they engage many ex players. That is exactly like I see it for Ajax.” Cruyff highly enjoyed the CL finals and in particular Robben.

“Some months back, when Robben was benched I already predicted that this period of rest would do him and Bayern good. And in the last months, Robben was constantly involved with all chances. He either prepares them, from corner kicks to set pieces or he gives the assist, like with Bayern’s first goal. That last goal was a superb example of his strength: intuition, technical skill and his forward thrust. He is an amazing player!”.

And so the CL party on Wembley (and Dutch grass, for that matter) became Robben’s party. One Marc van Basten had said in 2006, that Robben could turn out to be the planet’s best player ever. And when you score the winning goal in the dying minutes of a game, you are certainly top class.

The player Robben has now thrown off his trauma. His lost finales, his missed opps, the dramatic penalty kicks, the injuries, the unhappy face, the looks at the refs… Robben, the boy with leggings and gloves became a man.

He is typical a star who divides the masses, like C Ronaldo does as well. Some love him, others hate him. The play-acting, the dives, the complaints to the ref, the disappointments when he is not a starter…. Robben is beyond frustration now. He can enjoy, finally.

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Mark van Bommel retires…

Old soldiers never die, they just fade away. Well, Mark van Bommel took his curtain call in the only way fitting for the midfield warrior. Sent off with a red card. Jokingly, he predicted this before the game, says PSV winger Dries Mertens. “I tried to convince him to stay but he said he wanted to retire like Zidane.” (Jan: who played his last game and like Van Bommel was red-carded).

The 36 year old PSV skipper realises he could have gone on for another season. “But I wanted to keep the lead in my farewell. Didn’t want to push on one season too many. The fans made it hard enough but this is how it is. And this red card is probably symbolical for my season.”
The midfielder started his pro career at Fortuna Sittard in 1992. At 16 years old he made his debut and made his move to PSV 7 years later. Van Bommel was always seen as a huge talent. A highly dynamic midfielder, with the passing skills of a playmaker and the physical strength of a destroyer. In his Fortuna days, he scored many a goal penetrating into the opponent’s box.

Van Bommel was partly responsible for the positive surge of Fortuna and the championship in the First Division.
At Fortuna, he played under his future father in law Bert van Marwijk before he made the big move to PSV, in 1999. He won 6 titles at PSV before he made his way to Barcelona. He won the title and the Champions League under Frank Rijkaard but left after one season for Bayern Munich.

“My time at Barcelona was great. I enjoyed Spain as a country and competition but I couldn’t settle in that rotation philosophy. Rijkaard told me he didn’t see me as the starter in the strongest, ideal eleven. I knew I would play enough games anyway, but I need to be important for a team. When Bayern went out their way to sign me, I decided to go.”
Van Bommel played for Munich from 2006 till the winter of 2011. The midfielder became the undisputed leader at Bayern and won two Bundesliga titles and played the CL finals in 2010. He lost, under Van Gaal, against Sneijder’s Inter Milan.

The relationship between Van Gaal and Van Bommel deteroriated and the Bayern skipper decided to move on. At AC Milan, he also won the national title and was able to make himself important for the rossoneri. He became very popular there and could sign a new deal in 2012 but decided to keep his promise to PSV. He returned to Eindhoven to win the title again and break the Ajax hegemony.

But despite the presence of coach Advocaat, players like Strootman, Mertens, Lens and Wijnaldum, Van Bommel wasn’t able to win more than the Johan Cruyff schaal this season. Ajax beat PSV for the title and AZ beat PSV in the national cup final.

Van Bommel: “I played 21 seasons pro football. My family and my friends have suffered from this. All this time, my program and my needs were most important. I was hardly ever home. Always in training camp or traveling and minding my food intake and getting enough rest. It must have been very hard on them. It’s time for me to give back.”

Mark van Bommel will be remembered as one of Holland’s strongest midfielders. He did collect a lot of cards in his career, but he needs to be remembered for his important passing, his blocks and tackles and his thumping pressure play in midfield. In his career, he also scored a number of beautiful and important goals.
His international career was not all one big success story. It was quite clear from the outset that Bommel would one day wear the orange. He made his debut in 2000 under Louis van Gaal but missed the 2002 tournament as Holland didn’t qualify and missed the 2004 EC in Portugal due to injury.

When Marco van Basten took the job in 2004, Van Bommel looked forward to working with his former idol (Van Basten’s poster adorned Mark’s room as a kid) but the two did not get along too well. In a WC qualification game against Romania, won by Holland, van Bommel didn’t execute his tactical role too well (according to Van Basten) and he overlooked the midfielder for a series of qualification games. Van Bommel had the reputation to “let his man get away from him…”.

In the semi finals Champions League in 2005, AC Milan beat PSV thanks to a late Ambrosini goal, who sneaked away from Van Bommel. This further cemented Mark’s bad rep at this aspect of his game.

Despite this, he did get the invite to play at the World Cup 2006 and was yellow- carded in the infamous Battle of Nuremburg, against Portugal. Van Bommel was overlooked again in the first EC qualification games and when he was called up for the Bulgaria game, he stated – with Van Nistelrooy – that he didn’t want to play under Van Basten anymore.
Rumour has it that Johan Cruyff had something to do with Van Bommel’s position in Oranje. Sometime in 2004, Cruyff was in the tv studio with Van Bommel to analyse Oranje under Dick Advocaat. Cruyff was criticising Advocaat’s 4-4-2 system. The master is not used to having people disagree with him, but Van Bommel immediately stated to not agree with Cruyff and that many teams have played great football with the 4-4-2 system. He even mentioned AC Milan in the 1980s, who famously destroyed JC’s Barcelona in the European Cup.
Cruyff, allegedly, exploded after the tv program, stating he would not return for any tv program, if he had to share the screen with that football player. Apparently, Cruyff influenced Van Basten, just like people believe JC was the reason why Mark was not at Barcelona longer than one season.
Other added to that rift, that Van Basten wasn’t equipped to deal with the more mature Oranje players. Van Nistelrooy and Van der Sar were two other players who would open their mouths at tactical talks and make it hard for Van Basten. With regards to the Romania game, in which Van Bommel ruined it for himself, the players now say that Van Bommel asked out loud what he was supposed to do if his Romanian opponent drifted away. Van Basten said: “You can push up, I want Dirk Kuyt to pick up your man.”

But after the game, Van Basten blamed Van Bommel and something snapped…

Van Nistelrooy decided to return for the EC2008. Van Bommel made his comeback in Oranje under his father in law Van Marwijk and had a series of great games under him. Van Bommel’s highlight in Oranje was the finals against Spain, at the World Cup 2010.

Sadly for him, it was Van Bommel (with Nigel de Jong) who got the blame for the mess in midfield during the 2012 EC debacle, although the whole team dynamic was a mess, but it simply looked as if Van Bommel/De Jong simply couldn’t manage the space anymore. Optical illusion for sure.

After coming out of the dressing room for the last time, this season, he said “the beautiful memories are the ones that last…” Only to add: “Don’t forget, I had 20 minutes extra to think up this comment.”
Van Bommel is happy to have made the choice to return to his club. “PSV is in my blood and I made this deal with the supporters and I wanted to stick to it. Now, I will start my trainer course and will start my career at PSV. We haven’t decided exactly what I will be doing. But I’ll find something. 

Mark’s farewell game is already planed. On July 19, he will have former colleagues like Ribery, Ibrahimovic, Robben, Thomas Muller, Badstuber and Schweinsteiger in his farewell team, most likely to play against either PSV or a group of Dutch internationals. Van Bommel said these players will all come, unless they have a game planned, of course. Duty always before pleasure…

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And we have a new king…

With a little wink to that other Oranje news that dominated the media ( another clueless person can now dress up for all sorts of festivities and wear a crown and wave at the masses, thinking “what have I done to deserve this??” ), I am of course referring to Bayern Munich taking the crown from Barcelona as the team to beat.

For a decade almost, Spanish football but in particular Barcelona dominated the football pitches with their skillful play, their artistic abilities, their winning ways and their magic.

Football analysts drooled over one another to explain how great it all is and clubs from all over the world (in Australia even) tried to emulate the Barca way.

But yesterday night, in the Camp Nou, the fabulous football machine got a second dressing down within 7 days. Football lessons, the Dutch newspapers called it…

And the club that has been so tremendously influenced by Johan Cruyff ( as Pep Guardiola this week again confirmed in an interview with Spanish paper “Sport”: “We owe Cruyff our eternal gratitude”) has been kicked off the throne of Europe (although Dortmund won’t agree with me yet) by a club that was influenced tremendously by….eh…well….actually Johan Cruyff again….

It does seem that the somewhat one-sided game play of Barca has finally been countered in the right way by the South Germans. Mourinho did it earlier on with Inter Milan (and Sneijder), in 2010, but he did it in a fairly unattractive, destructive manner. Jupp Heynckes and his team have done it in a way that even led the Barca socios to applaude them. With passionate forward pressing, with impressive individual play (Robben, Ribery, Lahm) and with tactical prowess and leadership ( Schweinsteiger, Muller).

The Kings are Dead (for now) and Viva the new King. Sehr geil.

I have never been a Bayern fan. And I have always been a huge Barca-man.

And I still am, but this Bayern is something else. Since the Louis van Gaal days, Bayern has impressed me. With good football, sure, but also with the way the club is managed. I still don’t like the numerous attacks on Robben/Van Gaal/Van Bommel etc by icons like Hoeness, Rummenigge and Beckenbauer. But… Bayern is a tremendously run club.

And this is what I like most about this upsurge of German club football (I really don’t like their national team, so lets hope they keep on sucking like they do for decades now….). They play positive football, with good attacking style, on great pitches in fab venues and they are able to do this while balancing the books!

Something they can’t do in Spain or England (yet!!). Yes, I’m talking to you too, Barcelona!!

It is always easier to sign big name players if you do not have any financial regulations to take into account. “Sure, let’s get C Ronaldo, Kaka, Benzema and Modric in. Who cares…?”.

Well, I care!!

So I was delighted to see how CR7 choked again in a big match and to see Ozil miss face to face with the (excellent) Dortmund goalie. I was also delighted to hear Mourinho say that he will move on. I think his three years at Madrid can be seen as disappointing.

I won’t mention the Dortmund – Real game too much in this post. I think Borussia deserved it though, and I really like their team too. But fair is fair, with some more killers up front, Real Madrid could have been up 2-0 in the first 15 minutes and I think they would have exited the Germans in that case, with a vengeance. Somehow, Real switched off aftter 60 minutes of play and almost handed the game to Dortmund. Who also were not sharp enough in front of goal, thinking the tie was theirs already.

But Madrid will be back, as long as they can spend spend spend.

Barcelona will most definitely be back. Because with or without financial fair play, they have football in their dna. They have the youth academy, the charisma and the vision.

Valdez, Puyol, Villa and who knows who else might move on to other clubs, Barca will return. Neymar is rumoured to sign for Barca, just like Hummels might join them and Vorm is on the short list to succeed Victor Valdez. THere is certainly still a lot of life in this Barca team. I can see a Paul Scholes sort of career ahead for Xavi for instance. But Barca will have to diversify a bit. Bring some more game play options to the pitch. Maybe that Dortmund striker would be a good signing for Barca too??

I can see Bayern win the DFB Pokal and the CL trophy. I think they earned it. Their loss against Inter was deserved. Inter was the better team on the night. But the finals against Chelsea last year should have been won by the Germans. A certain Arjen Robben will remember that night…

And then next season, with Pep Guardiola, who knows what will happen?

I can see Gomez moving on and Ribery might be making his big move to Real Madrid finally.

With Gotze coming in, I can see Pep moulding the Munich team like the Barca he brought to domination. The main thing he did, was to eliminate the static central striker and place Messi as a Cruyff like roaming center forward/playmaker into the team. Something Gotze and Arjen Robben can easily do.

Robben, who impressed immensely in the two Barca CL games, might be on his way out though, as Galatasaray apparently are prepping a mega offer for him, to reunite him with his buddy Sneijder.

But whatever happens with Robben, the Bundesliga and German football in general took notice of what happened in Holland, around the 2000 Euro tournament and realised they needed a shift in vision.

Since 2000, the German youth system delivered exciting players ( Schweini, Muller, Kroos, Reuss, Hummels, Gotze, Gundogan, Ozil, Draxler, Hunt) and exciting coaches too… And all that, while carefully managing their finances as well.

I noticed that with more Dutch players now active in Germany (Van der Vaart, Robben, Huntelaar, Afellay, Dost, Luuk de Jong, Elia), I am watching the Bundesliga more and more and I do like what I see….

A quick word on Robben…. He played tremendous for Bayern every time he came on and with Kroos sidelines, Robben again is a mainstay and powerhouse for the Bavarians. It does feel like he has changed his game a bit. He plays from the right for his club while LVG uses him preferable on the left, so at Bayern he does come inside a lot, allowing Lahm the right flank and as Robben’s first goal showed, he comes inside with great effect.

It seems like he is a bit less selfish though. He is quick to pass (as he did on that opportunity when it was 0-1 and Ribery crossed the ball to Robben, it seemed Arjen wanted to flick it on to the striker. But like Ribery, he puts in a lot of work. He seems to be playing smarter and more like a team player. Less speed, for sure, less trickery but more a team player. I think Robben could be a great playmaker as well ( in the second half, Muller played from the right a lot, and Robben drifted more).

Whatever people say: to me Robben is in the top 5 of best players in the world, with Messi, CRonaldo and RVP. Who is number 5…? Yaya Toure? Zlatan? Bale? Rooney? Something for another post topic :-).

Lets hail the new Kings, and mark my words: this year, a German club will win the Champions League!!

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