Polarising Robben will forge van Gaal’s, Netherlands World Cup fate

The man once derided as a choker and still jeered as a diver will nonetheless put his prodigious talents to use as Louis van Gaal's Netherlands side seek success at the 2014 World Cup.
Arjen Robben shown during World Cup qualifying for the Netherlands against Estonia in 2013. Liis Treimann / AP / September 6, 2013
Arjen Robben shown during World Cup qualifying for the Netherlands against Estonia in 2013. Liis Treimann / AP / September 6, 2013

Arjen Robben’s ability as a footballer has never been in doubt but it is the ease with which the Dutch winger falls that makes many reluctant to adorn him with the ‘legend’ epithet.

The 30–year–old began his career with local club Groningen, but has since starred at Chelsea, Real Madrid and the side where he has really flourished, German giants Bayern Munich.

It is this form that has made him indispensable to Dutch coach Louis van Gaal as he prepares for a tough Group B at the World Cup against holders Spain, Chile and Australia.

Van Gaal, who signed Robben when he was coach of Bayern Munich for 25 million euros (Dh126m) from Real Madrid in 2009, will be hoping he brings this form to Brazil.

While van Gaal has complete faith in Robben, managers such as Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger have been driven to distraction by a side of Robben’s game that many find unattractive and potentially controversial with so much focus on refereeing at the World Cup.

“He is a very good diver, but that is the way it goes. It is the referee – Robben is a fantastic player, but he doesn’t need to do it.”

“If the referee gives him a yellow card he won’t do it again,” Wenger griped after Bayern eliminated Arsenal from the Champions League in the last 16 this season.

However, Robben is a hardheaded character. His unsmiling exterior and habit of wagging his finger at referees as if they are always in the wrong has not endeared him to many fans. And he has shown real steel to prove his detractors wrong.

He arrived at Bayern in 2009 after a troubled spell at Real despite having accrued league title winners medals in the Netherlands – with PSV Eindhoven – two with Chelsea in England and a Primera Liga crown with Real Madrid. But the Spanish fans dubbed him ‘crystal man’ because he spent more time injured than on the pitch.

Robben, married to his childhood sweetheart Bernadien with whom he has two sons and a daughter, had until last season been regarded as a bit of a choker when it came to the big matches.

Guilty of two dreadful misses against Spain in the 2010 World Cup final, he compounded that image when he missed a penalty in extra–time for Bayern against Chelsea in the 2012 Champions League final – Bayern went on to lose the game, played at their own Allianz Arena, in a shoot–out. He also had a poor Euro 2012 finals.

However, he set things right the following season, producing memorable performances as Bayern swept the domestic double and the Champions League under Jupp Heynckes.

“Arjen was very motivated after the European Championship,” said Heynckes in May last year.

“He is still driven by ambition. He has a professional approach.

“He has learned to take on defensive roles. That makes him a lot stronger than he has been in the past.”

Robben has had a trickier time with Pep Guardiola in charge.

Rumours abounded that the Spaniard wanted Robben to leave with their relations deteriorating last November when the Dutchman went into a sulk over the coach preferring Thomas Muller to take a penalty in a league match.

However, peace has been restored and Robben signed an extension to his contract in March which will take him up to 2017. And he is already eyeing what comes after he hangs up his boots.

“I often talk about it with my wife, we have bought a house in Holland and we’re looking for a piece of land to buy another one,” he said.

“We want to live a normal, free life and do things like go on ski holidays, accept birthday invitations, join a tennis club and I want to be the normal Arjen, a normal person, not a footballer.”

With his success at Bayern, by then he may well have become a legend.

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Published: May 19, 2014 04:00 AM


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