Arjen Robben has retired. He has hung that left boot of his on a hook (the right boot was never that important). He won his 12th national title (!) and the domestic cup and that was it. No more adventures in the sand pit, or in China, the US or even Eindhoven and Groningen.
How did you experience those last days at Bayern?
“It was bizar… That farewell was edging closer and it made me more and more emotional. Too many moments where I had to swallow the tears away, hahaha. I noticed it with Robin’s farewell at Feyenoord. That really grabbed me. It was good to see how Robin really enjoyed it all and then you sort of project this onto your own farewell. And its all so close suddenly. Chapters are being closed, and actually, the book is almost finished. Not almost… It’s simply finished. Done. Over. I have so many great chapters, and particularly here. I had intens moments here. Assistant coach Gerland, for instance, he is here for decades, he teared up in front of me when he told me that he couldn’t say goodbye… Club people, people with whom you shared so much. His emotions, this was not just for what I meant for Bayern as a player, but also what I meant to him as a human being. Beautiful!”
We saw you in tears when warming up for the title decider, last month. We saw your tears when you played your last cap for Holland, during the anthem. You are not that ice cold northerner, are you?
“Certainly not. I’m quite emotional, particularly with those big moments which impact me and my family. I was very aware that I was playing my last match for Holland, vs Sweden. I was packed with adrenaline. I wanted to show everyone what I could do, one last time. Even though we lost our chance to go to the World Cup, I wanted to eat up the pitch and do all I could. And I think personally, I was able to say farewell with grace. I played well and scored two goals. The challenge is to park your emotions once the match starts. And I can do that. I can focus fully on my performance, this is a skill I mastered at the start of my career and helped me a lot!”
What does that mean, in terms of preparation?
“Van Gaal called it visualising. It’s a way to start programming your body on what it needs to do and to show it a way to success. I hoped to start vs Eintracht, our title match. I did experience not being picked as a hit on the head. I really wanted to show the fans that I still have it and say farewell in style. That was the ultimate. But, I got my sub turn and got my goals, so that is great. We won the title and the cup, so that is a top notch end for me.”
You now have 12 titles to your name. No other Dutch player has done it more. Not even a certain Johan Cruyff. Do statistics like this mean anything to you?
“Some stats I don’t care about, some stats I do. This one is absolutely a big one. This is a confirmation of your career. I don’t really linger too long, but personally, I think this one is very meaninful. Because Cruyff. The biggest player we ever had and I took him over on this list. That is a special milestone, no?”
It feels as if it’s 30 years ago when you left PSV for Chelsea. Do you feel that like this as well?
“I do know what you mean. It’s been a long career. I made my debut at 16 and after two years PSV I left for England. I’ve been gone for 15 years. And you do experience so many things while not having time to really process it all. And there are moments when you can appreciate it, but mostly it is a day-by-day routine. Living in the here and now.”
Do you remember your debut at Bayern still?
“I remember everything. I had the best entry one could wish. Bayern had started the season badly. Two draws and a defeat. And we had to play the 4th game vs the title holder, Wolfsburg. I had just made my entry on Thursday. I had my medical on Thursday and my first practice on Friday. Louis van Gaal had me starting from the bench. In the second half I came on, and scored twice. The German commentator said “the circus has arrived into town!” when I scored the second :-). That afternoon was a start of a long and tremendous period in my life.”
In 2012 you were booed in your own Allianz Arena home when you played there with Oranje, and a year later you were the hero when you scored the winner in the Champions League finals. Was that the toughest year at Bayern?
“That was an extraordinary story. The one year, you lose out on everything and all the disappointment is aimed at you. The next season, you win the treble. A lot of people tend to want to pick that period as the story for me at Bayern, but I look at it in a much broader perspective. I was here 10 years, and you have so many ups and downs, including the injuries of course. And I was down a lot of times, but I came back up. Every drama was followed with a victory. That is the overarching feeling for me. We had a lot of successes. I also enjoyed the time under Guardiola, for instance. I don’t want to speak negatively about other coaches, but Pep was the best I ever worked with. It was so good to play in his structure and vision.”
What makes him special?
“The way he sees the game and the way he translates it to the players. That was really quite incredible. And with every club where he worked, the Guardiola DNA remains. He will always leave his mark. He develops players and he is able to let them play as a team. Look at Raheem Sterling at Man City. Three years ago Sterling vs Sterling now. Unbelievable!And I experienced this too. When Guardiola came to Bayern, I was 30 years old. Normally, you won’t develop too much anymore. But I think I did make some key steps under him. I played on different positions under him: right wing, but also as central striker and as #10. I also covered the whole flank under him. That variance was amazing, challenging, educational and super fun!”
It is no coincidence that pros like Van Persie, Kuyt and yourself are able to play at top level until well into your 30s. Is that the results of taking good care of body and mind?
“I suppose so. It’s about understanding what top football demands, both physically and mentally. You are basically constantly preparing yourself for a peak performance. It must be a way of life. With as much focus on career and as little distraction as possible. It’s wonderful once you can reap the benefits.”
You always challenged the laws of match fitness. How is that after an injury spell you could return immediately to top level?
“That was always a huge benefit I had. I think it has to do with my way of recovering from injuries. I always worked at the highest intensity, and the result is that once you are ready to return, you’re immediately top fit. And then it’s a mental thing. Once the first match works out, the confidence and faith will boost the performance even more. I always studied what it takes to return from injury, because I was injured so often. Remember the World Cup in South Africa and that hamstring? I did an intense revalidation project and was able to play the World Cup and reach a decent level. By the way, ask people about that tournament and they’ll say “Robben and the toe of Casillas” and that is normal, I guess. But for me, the World Cup 2010 theme was the miracle of me being able to play in the first place. And I had a contribution in even reaching that finals and that is the special memory for me.”
How do you experience the revival of this new Oranje?
“That is great to watch. And we have delivered another bunch of exceptional talents, who give football a lot of positive impulses. We saw it with Ajax and now with Oranje as well. And I’m keen to see how this develops. Some lads have the ability to become world class!”
Which players do you see in that category?
‘Frenkie de Jong is a super talent of course, but I’ll limit myself here to players I played with: Matthijs de Ligt and Donny van de Beek. Talent and quality enough but it will be key to see what kind of character they have, their personality. I have seen a lot of young players come through in my career and I can really judge the type of personality they have. And I’ve seen top talents fail. But about De Ligt and Van de Beek I have zero doubts. These kids are top notch in personality and mentality and I can see these two make it big. I could see how they prepared and how they live for the sports and that will pay dividends.”
You had a 5 month injury spell this last season. Did you ever think: lets forget about it all, and throw the towel?
“At times it crossed my mind. I was getting to the finish line with my recovery and then I had a set back… I was banging on a door which seemed locked. I did get some sense of depression of it all, hahaha, but that feeling disappeared really quickly. I didn’t want to end my career like that. So I kept fighting. The problem was that for a long time, the medical peeps didn’t know what it was. Their was no diagnosis to work with. Where was the pain coming from? When you tear a muscle, it’s at least clear! Anyway, once you can work with the group and the ball again on the pitch, I feel like a kid, like a school boy playing. And the level at Bayern is very high, so it’s like you’re suddenly in Disneyworld, you know?”
Do you see yourself in a role here, now your career as a player is over, at Bayern?
“The door will probably always be open for me, here. Bayern is now my club, it’s part of my life. I had sensational times everywhere, but this bond with this club… But I haven’t thought about life after… I think I’ll take a long break first. I’ll take my distance and re-order my life.”
Robben scoring his first goal for Bayern Munich
Is your family excited about you finally retiring?
“I think so. I am a weirdo. My mindset and mood is determined by my sports life. When things go well, I’m relaxed and happy go lucky. But when I’m injured, I’m a bit of a dickhead. I am really intens with my emotions and my wife and kids are used to this by now. They know what exquisite joy football brought us and also what I had to give for it. That rollercoaster ride of emotions is now over. I can re-establish my self as a husband, partner, parent, etc.”
Arjen Robben Stats:
19 seasons pro football
12 domestic titles
96 international games
206 club goals
Robben is the Dutch top scorer of the Bundesliga with 99 goals, with Willy Lippens (92), Roy Makaay (78), Klaas Jan Huntelaar (82) and Rafa van der Vaart (45) completing the top 5.
He is also the Dutch Assist King of the Bundesliga, with 53 assists (Rafa van der Vaart is second with 38).
Robben scored 84 goals of the 99 with his left.
And the Robben trick is always, threatening to go outside, cutting inside, a quick burst of acceleration and a curler in the corner. Goal!
Why is this so hard to defend?
“I think it’s about the fact that defenders cannot be 100% certain I cut inside. I do have the ability to the other way and they will always leave me that split second to take advantage of. So I use that to quickly accelerate slightly and I always had more touches in my dribbles than most players… Not as many as Messi, though, hahahaha. But that gives me a little window to finish and then it’s all about the finish, the quality of the shot.”
When comparing Robben’s stats with other top attackers from the past 10 years, he is the most prolific of all, bar Neymar.
Robben is involved with 1 goal every 101 minutes.
# of minutes per goal:
Di Maria: 115