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.