‘Made of glass’ in an injury-hit spell at Chelsea, being forced out of Real Madrid before firing Bayern Munich to trophies galore with THAT left foot… Arjen Robben will be remembered as one of Europe’s great wingers after retiring for second time
- Bayern Munich icon Arjen Robben retired for the second time earlier this week
- He had an injury-hit season for Groningen, having joined the club last year
- Robben impressed with Chelsea and Real Madrid too during his club career
- Sportsmail takes a look at one of the deadliest wingers Europe has produced
Arjen Robben announced his retirement for the second time this week after struggling with injuries having re-joined boyhood club Groningen.
The 37-year-old originally hung up his boots in 2019 after leaving Bayern Munich only to return to the game in June 2020 for a 12-month period with the Eredivisie side.
But the former Holland winger made his name with Chelsea, Real Madrid and most famously with Bundesliga giants Bayern, winning a colossal 28 trophies in his career.
However, Robben often suffered with serious knee injuries and it certainly left some wondering what might have been despite the obvious ability and talent he demonstrated when he was terrorising defences around Europe.
Here, Sportsmail takes a look at the peaks of troughs in the career of one of the most deadly left-footers Europe has ever produced.
Arjen Robben has retired from the game for a second time after an injury-hit season with Groningen
Robben enjoyed the majority of his success at Bayern Munich where he terrorised defences
Robben made incredible strides well before he was picked up by any of the elite European clubs he would go on to represent.
Having been named player of the season in 2000-01 – his first campaign as a member of Groningen’s first-team squad – PSV Eindhoven made their move a year later having scored 12 goals in 52 games.
There he would link up with and form an excellent attacking partnership with Mateja Kezman, with Robben providing the Serbian with a constant supply of chances.
The duo became known by the ephithet ‘Batman and Robben’, a pun on Batman and Robin and the theme tune from that show would often play when Kezman scored on home soil.
Robben had impressed for Groningen and PSV before starring for Holland at Euro 2004
But after spending two seasons with the Dutch giants and winning one Eredivisie title, the winger would draw the gaze of Europe’s elite after a stunning Euro 2004 campaign.
Robben – then just 20 – was part of a vibrant Netherlands set-up and starred in a number of wonderful performances, most notably their group-stage clash with Czech Republic.
His side would go on to lose the game 3-2, but only after he had been substituted having set up the Netherlands’ opening two goals from Wilfred Bouma and Ruud van Nistelrooy.
The winger buried a decisive spot kick during the Netherlands’ quarter-final penalty shootout victory over Sweden, and although their run ended against Portugal in the semi-finals, the Premier League appeared to be his most likely next destination.
He and Mateja Kezman earned the nickname ‘Batman and Robben’ at PSV and would link up again at Chelsea
Reported negotiations between PSV and Manchester United would rumble on throughout the summer but his next home would in fact be Chelsea.
Former Red Devils centre-back Rio Ferdinand claimed last year the Dutchman turned down a move to Old Trafford in part because of the ‘smell’ of the Carrington training ground.
But the more substantial reason behind his failure to play under Sir Alex Ferguson was that, in his own words, United never offered him a deal.
‘I had a very good conversation with him [Ferguson] over dinner in Manchester and we spoke about football and life,’ Robben told FourFourTwo magazine in 2018.
‘I also went and had a good look around the training ground and everything was good, but after I went back to PSV nothing happened. There was no real contact and the deal didn’t happen.
Robben won the Premier League, League Cup, FA Cup and Community Shield at the Blues
‘PSV were also negotiating with Chelsea at that time, so maybe they offered PSV more money? I don’t really know. 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.’
As he mentioned, he did not rue his decision to move to Stamford Bridge, even though he may have slightly questioned it when Claudio Ranieri departed shortly after the Italian had signed him.
Those doubts could have increased when he was injured in a pre-season friendly by Roma’s Olivier Dacourt on a tour of the US, and the Blues’ hopes of him combining with Kezman – who had joined him in west London – from the off were dashed.
But comments that were made about his body then were what angered him the most.
‘At the time, you hear people say you are made from glass,’ he told Sportsmail back in 2015. ‘I was angry because I felt like I was always having to defend myself. I know now something was wrong with my body.’
Yet those three months out of action did little harm to his chances of succeeding at Chelsea though, as he shone on his return under Ranieri’s successor Jose Mourinho in November to win the Premier League Player of the Month award.
He was a key part of Jose Mourinho’s side that won back-to-back Premier League titles
Another three months down the line though and the praise of Robben had turned to extreme concern after he suffered a damaged foot against Blackburn in February, causing him to miss the League Cup final win against Liverpool and their run to the semi-finals of the Champions League.
But collective success did come at the end of the season with the Blues’ first Premier League title in May 2005, but the Dutchman was pipped to the PFA Young Player of the Year by Wayne Rooney at United.
A second straight title followed for the Blues in 2005-06, with Robben contributing six goals in 28 games, and his ceiling consequently appeared to be increasing by the game. But as his own misfortune would have it, injuries played another devastating role.
After coming back from international duty in March 2007, Robben decided to have knee surgery which ruled him out for much of the remainder of the season, much to the annoyance of Mourinho.
The Dutchman would only play two more games for the Blues – his last the 2007 FA Cup final win against United – and having suffered another injury blow in January of that year, concerns were really beginning to mount as to whether Robben would ever experience an injury-free period in England.
Despite suffering injuries at Chelsea, Robben would move on and join Real Madrid in 2007
But he was moved out two years later following the arrivals of Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka
LaLiga giants Real Madrid – and then president Ramon Calderon – however had not been dissuaded and signed the left-footed maestro for a fee of around £24million in 2007.
But unlike his stint in west London, his spell in Spanish capital would prove to be less fruitful. And his comparatively short spell at Madrid had nothing to do with issues over his body breaking down.
The Dutch star scored five goals in 28 appearances and eight goals in 35 appearances during his two LaLiga campaigns with Madrid, with the former representing a contribution in a title-winning season.
Yet despite cementing his place down the left-hand side, Florentino Perez – back as president after a three-year absence – was planning ‘Galactico’ signings. Those stellar names duly arrived in the form of Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka from Manchester United and AC Milan.
Real Madrid politics, Robben claimed, then saw the threat of being replaced by the Portuguese or Brazil star transform into a departure for Bayern Munich to make way for their shiny new arrivals.
‘They spent so much money and told us they needed to make some money with sales,’ he told AS in 2019. ‘For me it was a shame because I had a very good relationship with [former coach] Manuel Pellegrini, and maybe I had the best pre-season of my career.
‘I found it difficult because of the change of president in Madrid – I really felt very comfortable there and played very well, but when politics comes into play and you don’t have a real chance, you must decide if you want to keep fighting or continue your career elsewhere.’
Robben developed his trademark move at Bayern Munich, cutting inside and scoring with his left
He did so against Barcelona in 2013 and against Arsenal (above) in 2017 in the Champions League
Once again, Robben’s decision making was vindicated, joining the side where he would enjoy the majority of his success and where his trademark move cutting in from the left and arrowing an effort into the corner really came to light.
Whether it be the long-range effort against Fiorentina, the curler in 2013 against Barcelona in a 3-0 win at Camp Nou, or the simply mesmerising piece of individual skill against Arsenal in 2017, Robben always had that signature move right in his pocket, and was second to none at picking his moments to unleash it.
That wand of a left foot had brought about memorable – and then forgettable – moments on the international stage too.
At Euro 2008, he created a piece of individual brilliance against 2006 World Cup finalists France, shuffling into the box and somehow forcing the ball into the roof of the net past Gregory Coupet from an extremely acute angle in a 4-1 win for his side.
It was considered one of his best performances in a Netherlands shirt having also set up Robin van Persie in that game, but two years later at the World Cup, that left foot would – on this rare occasion – fail him.
Robben was injured in the lead-up to the finals in South Africa but ended up playing a crucial role – scoring in the round of 16 against Slovakia and the semi-final against Uruguay – in their run to the final.
His left foot also saw him score brilliant goals for his country, namely against France at Euro 2008
But it let him down in the 2010 World Cup final, when he had a huge chance saved by Iker Casillas
But in a tense showdown with Spain, he was presented with a golden opportunity to give the Netherlands the lead when he ran clean through in the 62nd minute.
Gerard Pique was never going to catch him and it appeared a mere formality he would slide the ball past Iker Casillas. Yet his former team-mate guessed right and managed to divert the ball safely behind. Andres Iniesta did the rest in extra time.
‘It is part of sport, just a moment, a snapshot,’ Robben said in an interview given a few days before he would exact revenge by scoring twice in a drubbing of Spain in their 2014 World Cup opener, a tournament in which he was a contender for the Golden Ball.
‘But it will be part of me and part of my career for all of my life.’
What will also be part of a his 21-year career however is the incredible success he enjoyed under Pep Guardiola in Germany.
Robben and team-mate Franck Ribery would be glowingly referred to as ‘Robbery’ and the duo firmly established themselves as among the greatest wingers of their generation, stealing the show in the Bundesliga for a decade.
Robben admitted the missed chance will always haunt him as Spain ended up winning
But he was a huge success at Bayern Munich, playing alongside Franck Ribery as the duo earned the ‘Robbery’ tag
The early part of that decade saw Bayern miss out on the title to Jurgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund on a couple of occasions, but the duo played a critical role in what later became further dominance from Germany’s most successful club.
In tandem on the left and right, the duo terrorised Bundesliga and European defences, as Manchester United found out with his sumptuous volley from a corner in their two-legged victory against Ferguson’s men in the Champions League.
He was not only instrumental as Bayern won eight league titles in 10 seasons, but also helped deliver their first Champions League title since 2001-02 at Wembley with an 89th winner against Borussia Dortmund in 2013.
Merciless along with the Bayern team in the semi-final against Barcelona with an 7-0, aggregate scoreline, Robben more than atoned for a miss in the previous season’s showpiece on home soil against Chelsea with an all-important finish past Roman Weidenfeller to secure a 2-1 victory.
Robben was well on his way to scoring 99 Bundesliga goals, more than any other player from the Netherlands. With 31 goals also in the Champions League, he is the country’s second-most prolific marksman in Europe’s premier club competition.
He won eight league titles in 10 seasons at Bayern as well as the 2012-13 Champions League
Robben won eight Bundesliga titles in 10 seasons and was a five-time winner of the Pokal
Injuries, as ever though, were never too far away. Transfermarkt suggests that Robben missed 186 games due to various fitness issues during his decade-long stay at the club. International success had started to peter out too, and he quit Netherlands duty after their failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
An emotional farewell came in 2019 as Bayern prepared to give priority to the next generation in Serge Gnabry and Kingsley Coman, which no doubt played a role alongside the repetition of injuries in his decision to quit the game.
A decision from the heart saw him come out of retirement a year later with Groningen, adding: ‘If anything, this is because of my love for the club. If I can do something for the club, I think that where I can be most useful is on the pitch.’
The brutal truth was that Robben could not even manage any substantial amount of games in 2020-21, appearing just seven times back at the club where it all began.
And while the on-field send-off may have been unbecoming for a player of his stature, the images he has left in the minds of supporters all around the globe of mesmerising strikes with that left foot means he will always be remembered as one of the continent’s great wingers.
He bid an emotional farewell to the Bundesliga giants in 2019 along with Ribery
Transfermarkt estimate, however, he missed 186 matches for Bayern due to various injuries
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