How brilliant was Bayern and the Netherlands' Arjen Robben?
‘Mr Cut-Inside’ according to football folklore, Arjen Robben drove UEFA Champions League defences to distraction since 2002; UEFA.com honours his sparkliness on the day he called time on his career.
What they say
“As a coach, if I could choose Messi, Ronaldo or Robben, I’d choose Robben. Of the three players, he’s the most complete.”
Bert van Marwijk, former Netherlands coach
“Our strikers Thomas Müller and Robert Lewandowski look so good because we have a 1v1 specialist like him. Whenever Bayern were at their best in recent years, Robben was on the pitch. Whenever he dribbles past an opponent, the whole defensive structure of the opposing team gets shaken up. “
Josep Guardiola, former Bayern coach
“Things were a bit difficult between me and Robben at first, but look at how things are now. We only need to look at each other to know what the other is going to do. That is an amazing feeling on the pitch. He knows what I want and vice versa. Arjen is a great player and a very nice guy.”
Robert Lewandowski, Bayern forward
“I vividly remember a game in Enschede, played on 13 May 2000. By half-time [Robben] had scored six or seven and he said to me: ‘Coach, I’ve never scored ten in a game.’ I told him: ‘Go ahead and do it.’ After he’d scored his ninth, he zipped past a couple of players, and headed for goal, but all of a sudden passed to a player who had almost never scored. That exemplified his true character: a sweet, nice boy and a team player. When he next came to the touchline I told him: ‘Now go for a tenth.’ Of course, he got it.”
Barend Beltman, former Groningen youth coach
International: 96 appearances, 37 goals
UEFA club competition: 114 appearances, 32 goals
Domestic competition: 490 appearances, 177 goals
Claims to fame
• Born in nearby Bedum, Robben came through the ranks at Groningen, where the Coerver Method – a coaching style pioneered by Wiel Coerver, geared towards perfecting individual skills – helped him graduate to the first team quickly.
• Groningen’s young player of the 2000/01 season, his first senior campaign, he switched to PSV after his second but retains strong connections with his first club. He is not, however, sold on the idea of coaching them one day, aiming for something less stressful after retiring.
• Won the 2002/03 Dutch title in his first term at PSV, yet had to share the league’s young player of the season award with strike partner Mateja Kežman. Their double act earned the nickname ‘Batman and Robben’ among Dutch fans.
• Was courted by Manchester United during his second PSV campaign, though a move was refused, with club president Harry van Raiij unimpressed by the Red Devils’ offer. “Manchester United could buy his signed shirt for that amount, nothing more,” he said. Chelsea made a more acceptable offer.
• Injury and a testicular cancer scare delayed his Chelsea debut until 23 October 2004. “It’s good to talk about it and put it out in the public domain. Why would you be embarrassed about it?” he said. “It can happen to any man at any time and can lead to terrible consequences. Now I’m completely healthy, I’m very comfortable talking about it.”
• Lifted league titles in his first two seasons at Chelsea, and – having also landed two League Cups – completed his set of major English trophies when the Londoners beat Manchester United in the 2007 FA Cup final (his last game for them). “In my three years I won all the prizes there are to win in England.”
• Loved playing under José Mourinho – “the man is an absolute giant” – but said Chelsea’s change to a wing-less diamond formation persuaded him to join Real Madrid: “The system changed a bit so I made my decision and left.”
• Linked up with fellow Dutchmen Wesley Sneijder, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Royston Drenthe at Real Madrid in 2007, with Rafael van der Vaart and Klaas Jan Huntelaar following the next summer.
• Helped Madrid cruise to the 2007/08 championship in the first of two seasons with the Merengues, but while he was a regular, he did not remember his Spanish stay fondly. “Leaving Madrid was the best decision I ever made,” he said in 2014.
• Bagged his first career hat-trick in a 7-0 mauling of Hannover on 17 April 2010; indeed, spring seemed to be his peak scoring season – all three of his subsequent trebles (v Hamburg 2011, v Hertha 2012 and v Schalke 2014) came in March.
• Was Bayern’s leading scorer (16 in the Bundesliga, 23 in all competitions) as Louis van Gaal’s side won the Bundesliga in that 2009/10 campaign, continuing his record of winning every top league he has played in.
• Featured as Bayern lost the 2009/10 UEFA Champions League final to Mourinho’s Inter; then had an extra-time penalty saved as they succumbed to Chelsea on penalties in the 2012 decider in Munich. Didier Drogba claimed he and Frank Lampard had put Robben off, saying: “Arjen, you’re a Chelsea player, you can’t do this.” Drogba added: “We got inside his head, definitely, because his kick was weak.”
• Made amends with a man of the match display as Bayern beat Dortmund in the 2013 final, setting up Mario Mandžukić for the opener and later scoring the winner himself. “You don’t want to be remembered as someone who always reached a final and was at such a good level but never won it,” he said. “You need to win it at least once, so that was of course a big relief.”
• Reached 100 appearances in UEFA club competition in the UEFA Champions League quarter-final first leg against Real Madrid in April 2017. His former club would win that tie and their semi-final showdown the following season. He did at least go out of the competition in style, scoring twice on his final appearance against Benfica in November 2018.
• His final appearance for Bayern spawned more silverware courtesy of a 3-0 win against Leipzig in the 2019 DFB-Pokal final. His final trophy tally at the club? Eight Bundesliga titles, five German Cups, five German Super Cups, one UEFA Champions League and a UEFA Super Cup.
• Capped at Under-16, U19 and U21 levels, Robben made his senior debut at 19 in a friendly against Portugal in April 2003. Went to UEFA EURO 2004 – the first of three successive UEFA European Championships – the following year.
• Converted the winning kick in the Netherlands’ first-ever penalty shoot-out success, the UEFA EURO 2004 quarter-final victory over Sweden ending a run of five straight penalties defeats for the Oranje.
• Picked up two man of the match awards at the 2006 FIFA World Cup, and reached the final of the 2010 competition, passing up perhaps the Oranje’s best chance in a 1-0 loss to Spain.
• Helped the Dutch win bronze at the 2014 World Cup, notably praising coach Louis van Gaal’s midas touch with substitutes as he received the man of the match award – wearing just his boxer shorts – after a 2-0 triumph over Chile. “Maybe Louis does have a golden willy,” he joked; “I don’t know – Truus [his wife] has never told me that,” Van Gaal replied.
• Retired from international football on 10 October 2017 as the Oranje failed to reach the World Cup finals despite beating Sweden 2-0 in their final qualifier – Robben scoring both goals.
What you might not know
• Regarded by some as a bit petulant as an adult, he was admittedly a “very bad loser” as a child, bursting into tears if results did not go his way.
• Was not always a left-footed right-winger. In his youth he played in central midfield, and he only switched from left flank to right in his second year at Madrid, under Juande Ramos.
• Has two sons and a daughter with childhood sweetheart Bernadien Eillert, whom he married in 2007. Groningen youth coach Barend Beltman remembered: “One Friday Robben was 15 minutes late for training. I asked him what he was up to. He said they had been having fun in town with some girls. I wanted to know if the girl was worth it and he said yes. They later got married.”
• Is a keen tennis player. Ahead of the 2014 World Cup, he said: “I love playing tennis. It’s one of my favourite hobbies. If I need to let off steam at the World Cup, I might find a tennis court and have a couple of rallies.”
• Of his future post-retirement, he has said: “[My family] have followed me around Europe and always supported me, so when I stop playing, it’s family at No1. Right now I don’t have any great ambition to become a manager, but sometimes you feel that after all the experiences, and the privilege of working with these great coaches, you must share this knowledge.”
What he says
“You have to surprise opponents – keep them guessing. Doing the same thing over and over again without variation will not work. We’re always looking to come up with different solutions up front, by taking up different positions or making different runs. If you never pass or dribble or go on the outside, cutting inside will stop working.”
“You need to be very critical of yourself. There are a few very good managers who can make players better individually. Most managers think about the team, so you have to improve things on your own.”
“[On the many injuries that have hampered his career] I love football and it hurts brutally when I can’t play and have to watch from the stands.”
“When the situation demands, I use my right [foot], but the left has helped me out in so many big games, I can’t abandon it. My right foot certainly isn’t just for standing on, but when there is serious work to be done, the left rarely lets me down.”