“Whatever the world says about him, or thinks about him – he delivers.” – Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, on Arjen Robben.
From winning the Champions League final with Bayern Munich to suffering heartbreak at the ultimate stage of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, Arjen Robben is a man who has seen it all.
But it has never been plain sailing for the Dutch maestro, as injury issues have been a constant roadblock in his quest for success. Today, at the age of 34, the Dutchman is still gunning for glory with Bayern Munich and is an integral part in coach Niko Kovac’s search for silverware.
He’s announced that he’ll be leaving the Allianz Arena at the end of the 2018/19 season, but his contributions will be valued as Bayern attempt to climb into contention for silverware after an uncertain start to the season.
Born in Bedum, in the north eastern region of the Netherlands, Arjen Robben took to football at an early age. Robben’s tactical ability and dribbling skills on the ball defied his youth, and he was quickly snapped up by regional club FC Groningen.
He was an integral part of his home club’s starting line-up in the 2000-01 season, and the youngster caught attention when he was named Player of the Year in his first season with the club.
Arjen continued his stellar form in the second season as he scored six goals in 28 games. It was here that Robben first developed his trademark technique of cutting in from the right and scoring with a curling finish.
Bigger clubs were bound to take notice, and they did, with PSV Eindhoven signing him for €3.9 million. The sum might have seemed excessive at the time, but it did pay dividends.
Robben made an instant impact at PSV with 12 goals from 33 matches in only his first season for the club. He helped PSV win their 17th Dutch League title and was also bestowed with the Talented Player of the Year Award. He also formed a formidable strike partnership with Mateja Kezman, the fan-favourite duo being referred to as “Batman and Robben” by the PSV faithful.
However, PSV’s fortunes dwindled rapidly, and they could not keep up with rivals Ajax in the title challenge and slipped to third in the Eredivisie table. It was no surprise that the club’s dismal run of form coincided with a controversial offer from Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson for Arjen Robben, with PSV chairman Harry van Raaij having famously told Manchester United that all their €7 million offer would buy them was a shirt with Robben’s autograph.
Manchester United were thus forced to back off as they were unwilling to risk more money on a player still finding his feet in the football world.
Injury Troubles and Move to Chelsea
After the failed bid from Manchester United, Robben disappointed for PSV and his poor form and subsequent injury issues significantly affected his global appeal. However, Chelsea were willing to risk cashing in on the talented youngster, and their €18 million offer was accepted by PSV. As the season reached its end, Robben was mostly seen on the bench nursing his hamstring injuries and he ended the season with five goals in 23 appearances.
“I spoke to Chelsea, and I liked their plans. We had one meeting, and everything was done pretty quickly. Had Manchester United offered me a deal straight after I met them, I would have signed there, but it didn’t happen, and I’ve got no regrets.”
Robben’s start to life at Stamford Bridge couldn’t have been worse as he broke a metatarsal bone in his right foot in a friendly against AS Roma. The injury sidelined him for several months, and Robben’s bad luck continued with a testicular cancer scare; however, he was soon given the all-clear by doctors. After coming back from injury, Robben’s fortunes rapidly improved as he played an integral part in the 2004-05 season for Chelsea.
Despite being plagued by injuries, Robben managed to score seven league goals in his first season in London. His technical prowess on the wings enabled him to be nominated for the PFA Young Player of the Year Award; however, an in-form Wayne Rooney beat him to the prize.
Robben was also selected in the Netherlands squad for Euro 2004 after making his international debut in April 2003. He scored the decisive spot-kick to guide the Dutch into the semi-finals; however, they succumbed to elimination at the hands of a Portugal side inspired by Cristiano Ronaldo.
Despite heartbreak at the international stage, Robben continued to impress at club level as he won back-to-back Premier League titles with Chelsea in 2005-06.
Injuries came back to haunt him in 2007 as he had to undergo a knee operation which again sidelined him for several months. Regardless of his frequent injuries, Robben’s quality was unquestionable. Speculation about interest from Spanish giants Real Madrid evolved, and as always, Madrid did get their man as Robben signed for Real Madrid in August 2007 on a five-year deal.
“If I have one day off I would want to come back and say goodbye because to the fans I owe a big thank you because they were always good to me. In my three years I won all the prizes there are to win in England.”
Life in Madrid and Move to Munich
Robben sprung into life at Real Madrid as he quickly became a first choice for the left midfield position, scoring five goals in 28 games in his debut season in the Spanish capital. His famous runs down the left wing became a nightmare for defenders in Spain as Real Madrid won the La Liga title with several games to spare.
Even arch-rivals Barcelona gave the Madrid players a guard of honour in the El Clasico, a match which Real won 4-1 with Robben scoring the second goal. Robben retained his crucial role on Madrid’s left flank for a couple of years; however, the signing of Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka provided stiff competition for a place in the starting line-up, and Robben was visibly unsettled. Real accepted a €25 million bid from German giants Bayern Munich for Robben, and the move was secured in August 2009.
Robben quickly adapted to life in Munich scoring a whopping 16 goals and delivering six assists in his first season for the club in their run to the semi-finals of the Champions League and the summit of the Bundesliga table. He even scored in the final of the DFB Pokal to guide Bayern to a 4-0 win against Werden Bremen, in the process adding yet another piece of silverware to his enviable trophy cabinet. His exploits in Germany enabled him to be named Footballer of the Year in Germany for 2010, becoming the first Dutch player ever to win the award.
He continued his fine form in the next couple of seasons, scoring 19 goals in 36 appearances in the 2011-12 season. At club level, his quality was most evident when he guided Bayern to the final of the 2012 UEFA Champions League, scoring four goals and assisting two more in the process. At international level, he was on the forefront of the Dutch attack that demolished several opponents en route to the final of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, where they suffered heartbreak at the hands of the Spanish.
“The final defeat from 2010 still hurts – it’s not something you just get over.”– Robben before the 2014 World Cup.
Robben’s career reached its zenith in the 2012-13 season as Bayern comprehensively beat their opponents to win the UEFA Champions League. After demolishing Barcelona 7-0 on aggregate, Bayern faced rivals Dortmund in the final. This time, Robben was determined not to fall at the final hurdle as he scored the winning goal and was named Man of the Match in the process. In the next few seasons, Robben was an integral part of the Bayern squad that dominated the Bundesliga as rivals Dortmund faltered. He created an almost-telepathic partnership with vetran French winger Frank Ribery, the two are still referred to by many of the fans as “Robbery”.