With his penalty miss against Chelsea, Arjen Robben is now being questioned not being good enough to deliver in the big games. His future at Bayern Munich too is undecided. How much of the criticism that is coming Robben’s way is justified?
Few things in the world may be as cruel as football is. From the most esteemed pedestals it may reduce you to the indecorous spheres within no time. One stumble on the field and all your heroics of the past are undone, for this sport only recognizes you for your last piece of action – to put it in a more appropriate perspective, you’re only as good as your last game. You may argue it is unfair on players when one single bad day in office demerits all the fame to glory thoroughly earned with an unyielding resolve but such is the nature of the sport and there is little one could do about it.
The aftermath of an underperformance is terribly unforgiving and the fervour among the confounded fans only adds to the timidity the players face in these situations. Worst hit by this phenomenon are the players enjoying a cult status among fans. The expectation levels that they set over a course of time through an apparent consistency in their performance levels eventually turns against them the day they are unable to match the weight of those expectations, worse so, on a grand occasion.
Arjen Robben is one such player who has always divided opinions and has invariably invited his way, severe criticism for not standing tall on the biggest of games. The flak was only added to the Dutch winger’s share as he once again failed to raise the bar to meet his billing on what is the biggest stage to a football professional – the finals of the UEFA Champions League, a crown that bestows upon a footballer the most elite of laurels.
Robben had the world at his feet when he found himself one penalty kick away from quenching Bayern Munich’s thirst for the highest European title that lasted for eleven long years. Bayern were playing at Allianz Arena and the entire set of fans was behind him but somehow things did not go the way they had wished. However it was not for the first time that the sensational Dutch star disappointed them but it may well have been the last time he did.
Quite unarguably, Arjen Robben will walk into any team in the world today, purely on meritorious grounds. He is perhaps the last man even the most accomplished of full backs may want to see bombarding from the flank they are guarding. Unlike most wingers, Robben’s repertoire does not restrict at his pace and physical strength to outmuscle the defenders coming his way. He is extremely consummate with his abilities to cross, to provide a pass that bisects the defence and to shoot with humongous power from distance while cutting inside.
Over the years during his tenures at different clubs in England, Spain and Germany, the entire range of his skills has always been on exhibition in an abundant manner, but somehow the player, you may feel, has not realized even half his potential. For someone who possesses the pace, the vision and a left foot most would kill for, Robben has certainly failed to actualize what he is capable of doing. That he has lost three major finals in last two years further questions his ability to deal with the pressure of big games.
However, Robben is not the only player in the world to scuffle when he’s most expected to deliver. Ibrahimovic, another gifted footballer, has faced similar accusations his entire career but the Swede somehow guarantees you titles with his characteristic knack to make it big in the league competitions. Robben is not that kind of player. Despite being a mercurial individual himself, he has always played alongside exceptionally talented teammates and that has eased things out for him unlike Ibra who but for a season at Barcelona, has carried the fortunes of his teams on his shoulders.
But Robben’s failure to do justice to his reputation at the big stages hasn’t stopped him from winning. He has won the league titles at all the four clubs he has represented during his ten year long career at senior level – PSV, Chelsea, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. Though his contribution in these titles and his importance to these teams cannot be undermined by any means, they haven’t been significantly great either. At Chelsea, his stay largely remained injury-ridden while at Real Madrid, he was deemed not good enough and was sold off to make way for the likes of Ronaldo and Kaka.
Just when he reclaimed his usual self in his debut season at Bayern Munich, taking an average at best side to the finals of the Champions League with his marvellous performances in the knockout games, he once again failed to win the finals for the Germans against Jose Mourinho’s Inter. Against a highly disciplined defensive display on the left flank by Esteban Cambiasso and Cristian Chivu, Robben’s trickery somehow was easily negated and he could hardly execute anything particularly threatening. His importance to this final was even greater to his side than it usually would have been since Bayern were missing Ribery who was serving a suspension he earned against Lyon.
Within another two months, Robben once again was found blowing away the opportunity that could have sealed the first ever World Cup title for Netherlands. Latching on a wonderful through ball from Sneijder, Robben ran away out of every Spanish player’s reach but failed to put it past a rushing Casillas in a one-to-one. Netherlands could not have asked for a better opportunity to take charge of the game and needless to say, the opportunity did not come knocking another time.
After a relatively indifferent season, Robben came back into being one of the most crucial figures in the Bayern juggernaut that appeared the perfect combination to conquer both Germany and Europe under the experienced customer Jupp Heynckes. After a rampant start to the season, Bayern lost the grip over the proceedings and Dortmund overtook them in the race but the penalty that Robben missed against the eventual champions in the second head-to-head meeting will go down as the moment that decided the title.
However, Robben showed the nerves of steel taking a crucial penalty against Real Madrid which kept Bayern alive in the game and when the moment came he settled the scores against Dortmund too converting from the spot in the DFB Pokal finals. But those efforts that won him accolades shall hold no further relevance with regard to what happened at Allianz Arena on the last day of the European season. Arjen Robben once again did not seem to be the best man Bayern possessed for the job and he failed one more time doing his reputation the maximum possible damage he could have done. The football fans apparently have a very short memory span and what you did last is sadly their only memory about you until you provide them with something that compels them to remember you for something else.
The point to ponder over here is whether Robben is a bad penalty converter or is he just not suited to deliver on the biggest of occasions. Given his recent history, the latter does seem to be a real possibility but even the former may not be completely ruled out. Jupp Heynckes had a reason or two to trust Robben for the job but one must not forget he does have the luxury to choose from a wide range of German players who are believed to be the best in the world in the business of slotting penalties home. In retrospect, Heynckes may have preferred doing a couple of things in a different way but as things stand, Bayern have lost it from the closest possible point and every bit of criticism that comes Robben’s way is not completely unjustified.
This may even lead to Arjen Robben’s end of playing days at Bayern as rumours linking him with a move away from Germany may see some more substance added to them now. Whether he continues to play at Bayern or anywhere else in the world, one thing is for certain. His managers will now have to find another way to take the best out of him. He is not the player who needs much motivation simply for being one of the most gifted footballers on the planet but a different approach in grinding out what he’s capable of doing is certainly the need of the hour.
Bert van Marwijk must have observed his star player enough throughout the season and is likely to have jotted down the important notes that he needs to remember as he leads Netherlands to the Euros. You should be least surprised if the role for Oranje’s number 11 is subdued to considerable levels. This one month of international football may actually go on to decide what kind of Arjen Robben will the football world see for the future.