Robben sets out to prove his point
Jose Mourinho is not used to being questioned by players. He usually sets the tone of the media agenda with a string of bombastic quotes, front foot firmly forward as he prepares to lead his teams into battle. Players like his style and the success that comes with it, but not every one of his former charges is completely enamoured.
Arjen Robben, the Bayern Munich winger who played under the Portuguese coach for three seasons at Chelsea, knew he would get under Mourinho's skin when he said the Inter Milan coach had a win-at-all-costs philosophy to football. He said that Mourinho would put out a team to win at the expense of playing attractive football. This, he said, was in stark contrast to Louis van Gaal, his coach at Bayern, who wanted to be successful by playing "nice" football.
Robben said this was important to players as they needed to enjoy the way they were told to play and entertainment was an important part of the game. Robben was a key factor in Chelsea's title successes of 2005 and 2006. And while he compliments his former manager for his ability to work with big stars and claims that he "had the respect of every single player", the Dutchman takes issue with Mourinho's altered strategy at Stamford Bridge.
He said Mourinho started to play a diamond formation without wingers, so he decided to leave. He moved to Real Madrid in 2007 after starting just 21 of Chelsea's league games the previous season. The 26-year-old arrived in Spain at the same time as two other hugely gifted Dutchmen, Wesley Sneijder and Royston Drenthe. Ruud van Nistelrooy, another Holland international, was already at the club, and Rafael van der Vaart and Jan- Klaas Huntelaar would follow.
Robben and Sneijder will be on opposing sides tonight, but they took to life in Madrid differently. Robben remained the consummate professional, while Sneijder saw a little too much of Madrid's nightlife for the club's liking. He was disciplined over his conduct and his marriage collapsed (he will wed again this summer), but Sneijder appears to have reformed under Mourinho's tutelage at Inter. Robben was Real's best player in 2008/09. He was the most consistent performer under Juande Ramos and, thanks to his key goals and quality performances as their first choice midfielder, Real stayed in contention with Barcelona for much of the season.
Despite signing Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo, Robben stood out in their 2009/10 preseason. Real fans liked him, but the expensive new signings were purchased to play. Robben's position became untenable - despite his willingness to fight for his place. So desperate were the Spaniards to get Robben off the payroll, they only recouped ?25 million (Dh115m) of the ?35m they had paid Chelsea two years earlier.
"I did not want to go," a disgruntled Robben told reporters soon after joining Bayern Munich, "but the club wanted me to leave." The move has been a success, with Robben finishing the season as Bayern's top scorer. Robben's volley at Old Trafford sent Munich into the semi-finals and he is on top form ahead of the World Cup with Holland. Tonight will be the biggest game of his career so far, the perfect stage to show his former manager and fans at his former club what they have lost.
For Mourinho and Real it might not be comfortable viewing. firstname.lastname@example.org
Published: May 22, 2010 04:00 AM