We Need To Talk About Arjen…

As I get on in years, I find it increasingly difficult to write. Anything. Emails at work, blogs, song lyrics, stories; I just seem to end up staring at a blinking cursor

Sorry, where was I? Yes, writing. Difficult. Finding a theme, an armature, and elaborating on it before summing things up concisely with a neat conclusion. It’s just not something I’m good at. And tonight I find myself struggling again. I’ve just watched all 120 minutes and ten penalties of the European Champions League final, and only one thought is reverberating inside my skull. I’ve carried out a feasibility study to see if I can tease a structured, reasoned blog piece out of it, but I can’t. The thought is too primal to pontificate upon. It needs verbalised as quickly and as bluntly as possible. So without further ado;


Including Bayern Munich’s penalty shoot-out victory over Real Madrid in the Champions League semi-final, I’ve had to endure FOUR HOURS of this over-paid dunderheid cutting inside the left-back, ignoring his team-mates’ pleas for passes and either whalloping his shot into the body of the nearest opponent of ballooning the ball high over the crossbar. I don’t know what managers see in him; he’s played for three of the biggest teams in the world. He earns millions of Euros a year. He’s played at the very highest level, in World Cup and Champions League finals, but he doesn’t appear to have the ability to complete even the simplest pass. After the Real game, a tweet appeared on my timeline wondering if Robben ever looked up and wondered why there were nine other men on the pitch dressed exactly like him.

He has played for Bayern for three seasons now. After tonight’s result, this is apparently the first time the club have gone two seasons without winning a trophy for twenty years. But is it just Robben’s fault? I’d argue his partner in crime, Franck Ribery should also be apportioned at least part of the blame. For the last three seasons, Bayern have adopted a tactic of lining up with the left-footed Robben on the right and the right-footed Ribery on the left; each inverted winger then runs at their full back before cutting inside and…oh, you know the rest.

Given that Bayern have failed to win a single domestic trophy in the last two seasons, and they were unable to beat a Chelsea side that barely ventured out of their own half, it’s unclear as to how successful this approach has been. I know my own club and international side have adopted the concept of inverted wingers on occasion. Typically, being Scottish, they both pick dead slow carthorses and end up turning the midfield into a quagmire of barely animated corpses. Robben and Ribery at least have pace, which at least has the benefit of frightening opponents into making mistakes.

This is something of a hallmark of contemporary football though, a pig-headed intransigent belief in some computer programme or modern coaching manual that insists having shitloads of possession and 147 shots on goal is a better percentage than, say, a guy that can cross to another bloke that can score. Chelsea have won the Champions League after spending hundreds of millions of pounds on players and then parking the bus against Barcelona and Bayern. Let us not forget that it was Chelsea’s former manager Jose Mourinho that introduced that phrase to Britain. Chelsea weren’t afraid to mix things up (though it’s a definite advantage when you bring on a guy you paid £50m for as an impact sub), and they ended up prevailing. Their last two European opponents didn’t appear to have a plan B.

It appears that Bayern have offered Robben a new three year contract. If he continues to play for them, I doubt I’ll be able to watch another of their games, despite my lingering 20+ year soft spot for them. Robben’s greediness and profligacy are just too painful to watch; his final ball is on par with some of the middle-aged crocks I play 5-a-side with on a Tuesday afternoon. His reluctance to pass marginalises his attacking team-mates and creates extra obstacles for Bayern to negotiate. If this is modern football at the highest level, then you can keep it.