Arjen Robben is injured. This is not news. And it will also not be the last time. But Robben is feeling good. He seems to be on top of things. The time of weird and unexplainable injuries is behind him. Robben is happy, in Munich and in the Dutch team.
He is happy to look back at his weird year behind him.
“I am often wondering which was the hardest blow: the missed penalty against Dortmund, the missed penalty in the CL finals or the drama that was our EK campaign. I took a number of blows full on the chin and they all hit home. It took quite some time to get over all this, but once the pre-season in Munich started I sort of had put it all in its place. Time to look ahead.”
Robben worked with Van Gaal at Bayern Munich and he worked with the coach in the beginning of his career when he was in Young Oranje. “Van Gaal is probably always the same Van Gaal. He is who he is. He has this distinct style. As a kid, I was super impressed with him. Now, it’s almost normal, but he definitely is one of the best ever.”
Robben thinks back at those days and realises he is now quickly becoming one of the old hands in Oranje. “Haha, yes.. I’m in Oranje nine seasons… That probably makes me a veteran, haha. It’s fun. When I was young, I was totally focused on me, me, me. When you are in the mid twenties, you become more aware of team tactics and now I guess I am seen as a potential leader. I am totally cool with that. All the players of my age are happy to be mentoring the young lads. It’s important that we do, as we are all the same team.”
Was the shift from the typical Bert van Marwijk squad to the refreshed group a big one?
“Well, it was a bit . But no problem really. It’s normal that with new lads, the so-called automatisms are gone and you need to communicate more but what can you say? All the youngsters have done really well in the first games and I think we are in great shape with these players.”
During the EC you had a fall out with Van Marwijk and you even yelled at him? Was the bottom reached?
“Huh? No… That story, that I yelled “Shut up!” to him? That is fabricated… He was instructing me to track back and I was yelling something back at him… But certainly not shut up… I had a good relationship with Bert. I wanted to perform with him, get results. But in sports, you sometime lose your head. He shouted at me, I shout back…it happens all the time. At the end of the game, it’s all forgotten. But the media wanted to have a go at this one. But the lipreaders had it all wrong.”
It’s interesting how the youngsters easily fit in while the more experienced players like Van der Vaart, Sneijder, De Jong and Kuyt seem to struggle to keep up? Van der Vaart injured, Sneijder not playing, you are injured now… Only Van Persie is killing it week in week out…
“Yes and Robin used to be the one who never had a full season free of injuries… I think if you look at someone’s career you will find periods where his body doesn’t cope and periods where you can do everything. Sneijder had a killer year in 2010…. But we will come back… Don’t worry. I love playing with Wesley behind me, of course. His passing, his vision… I have never seen anyone better.”
Do you see disadvantages in Van Gaal’s wish to play with only one defensive midfielder?
“Theoretically, you could become more exposed, but you don’t have to. I don’t believe in those “systems discussions”. We need to make sure that the right type of players play. If we can use a penetration midfielder with good lungs, that player can assist the defensive mid and he can assist the strikers. Someone like Strootman, or Fer or that new kid Van Ginkel.”
At the Euro, the space the team left in midfield was outrageous. And was the death for the team. No midfielder was able to cover that. How can you remedy that?
“Well, our intentions do not change with our system. We still want to play dominant, press up the park and play high paced. We can not allow that space like that appears. If it does, we are not executing it correctly. And we need to work on this.Compact play is key! We need to learn from the mistakes and make sure everyone understands what is required. And we now have to focus on regaining respect. From fans and media and from opponents.”
What was the most important lesson of the EK?
“I wish we could stop looking back. I think it looked worse than it was. If we would have scored three of the many goal opportunities we got against Denmark, the whole tournament would have been different. Football is a game of little details. A ball just a bit more to the right and it’s 1-0 for us. Etc etc… We had chances against Germany to make it 2-2 and we even started with 1-0 against Portugal. But it wasn’t to be.”
“He did so right after the Portugal game. That is something he shouldn’t have done. I won’t comment or react. I will keep my comments for internally. Our meeting right after the Euros with Van Gaal was good. We could say what we wanted. And it is supposed to be like that. You should be able to have a go at the coach or team members behind closed doors. As long as it’s not going against the groups process.”
Did you have specific method to let the disappointments slide off you?
“It was not the best summer holiday ever. But…it was a long one, thanks to our early exit of the EC, haha. But seriously, kids are the best distraction. When I look back on this in 10 years time, when I’ve retired, I’m sure I will hit myself in the head… We shouldn’t have let this EC go like this. All of us. The quality we have… This can never happen again!”
It was a hefty season for you and when you played with Oranje against your club your own fans booed you? How hard was that for you?
“That was ok. That is how it works with fans. On my first practice day, the fans were warm and fine. I really enjoyed the support from Bayern’s management. It’s a warm club. And listen, no one really wanted that game. Everyone was a bit awkward about it.”
In Munich you play on the right, in Oranje suddenly you are back to the left wing. Surprised?
“I didn’t see it coming but it’s not a shock for me. Or a big deal. I can use my best leg for crossing and passing… Louis wants me to keep the field wide so I won’t be in a position to shoot on goal that often. I think it will work out fine. I’m sure I can keep changing position as Robin likes to drift a bit too. Variance is important and with our squad I’m sure we can keep surprising opponents.”
People think the right wing is not working out anymore as opponents tend to prepare well for your signature moves?
“I think that is not the case. Everyone knows what Rooney does… Or Van Persie, Messi or C Ronaldo. And still they do it. Because they are in form. I simply wasn’t good enough last year. I didn’t bring my normal level. I don’t think it is the position I’m in. The year before, every second ball I shot on goal was a goal. The last season, I couldn’t score from the spot. That was not the “fault” of my position. But simply me. The first season’s half was a drama. I had that horrible groin injury. It took me months to come back. But at the start of the EC I was topfit. But simply missed the super form. I was close, but not good enough. The ball on the post, against Denmark being a typical example of a couple of percentage points “off”….”
And the reason being….?
“Simply not free in my head. I was working on getting fit and dealing with the injuries. I had stuff happening at Bayern… Some board members criticising me for being too egotistical. I started to think too much on the pitch. Allowed that stuff to get into my head. My strength is playing purely on intuition. Once I desert that, I become less threatening, less unique, more predictable…”
What have your learned from that period?
“I have talked about it with people close to me. I need to go back to my foundations. My fundamentals. I need to do what I’m good at. Playing with pleasure and it might sound weird, but I need to become more egotistical. Make my actions. Go for it. I still haven’t reached my top. There is still much upswing in me… I want to be the best I can be. That is still ahead of me.”
Robben being rolled up as a ball has become a funny image in many Photoshop attempts.
Here are a couple: