The stage was set.
Bayern Munich was awarded a penalty in the opening minutes of extra time, after Didier Drogba committed a clumsy challenge on Franck Ribery. It wasn’t the first time Drogba had conceded a penalty while tracking back to complete his defensive duties.
Robben stepped up to the spot – he was presented another opportunity to end his Champions League curse, this time against his former employers. In the second leg of Bayern’s semi-final against Real Madrid, the Dutch winger snuck his penalty past Iker Casillas. That was the vital away goal at the Santiago Bernabeu, which pushed the game to extra-time, allowing Bayern Munich to win in a penalty shootout. The Bayern winger was this time denied by Petr Cech, as the Chelsea goalkeeper stopped Robben’s poor penalty. Ironically, Drogba caused the penalty, but then converted his own in the shoot-out, to hand Chelsea their first Champions League crown.
Bayern Munich had lost in the finals of all three major competitions last season, and Robben missed two penalties at critical moments in those matches – he actually went to the same side for both penalties against Borussia Dortmund and Chelsea, as they were both stopped comfortably. More heartbreak had been added to the Dutch winger’s career as two years prior, not only did he lose another European final against Inter Milan, but he squandered two glorious chances against Spain, which could have won Holland the World Cup.
Bayern Munich manager Jupp Heynckes disappointedly provided an excellent analysis on his team’s performance against Chelsea.
“We wasted far too many chances. Over long stretches of the match we played really well and had a lot more possession. We just weren’t able to exploit the chances we created,” Heynckes said.
“You have to make use of them otherwise you’ll be punished. However, after we took the lead we had to bring the result home.”
In Bayern’s only loss of the knockout round against Arsenal, we witnessed a similar performance – albeit the tie was virtually won in the first leg.
Bayern dominated possession and outshot the Gunners, yet they failed to convert their chances – while their London opponents did.
Many were skeptical on whether they would see the Robben of old, or Robben in general, if Bayern went deep in the competition – the Dutch striker is known for his obstinate shooting, one-dimensional play, and his patent left foot. These features elevated Robben into a world-class player in the past, but it never proved to be a pivotal feat in cup finals.
The emergence of Toni Kroos towards the end of last year’s campaign pushed Robben to the bench this season. Kroos, Thomas Muller and Ribery played behind the striker, as they provided a balanced front three. Kroos is the playmaker that plays incisive passes, creates overloads on the flanks and can drop deep to become a midfielder. Ribery is the direct winger that thrives in 1v1 situations – while Muller is a tactically disciplined attacking player that attacks/finds space, but can also produce goals. It was simple – Robben had no place in the starting lineup, but he provided great depth, and played great football when he featured in the side. Most notably, he scored a fantastic goal against Borussia Dortmund in the DFB-Pokal quarter-finals to knock them out of the competition.
Robben’s fortune changed in the opening 20 minutes of Bayern’s Champions League quarter-final match against Juventus. Kroos had suffered an injury and limped off the field – this forced Heynckes to introduce Robben, and shift Muller behind Mandzukic. Kroos’ absence surprisingly didn’t harm Bayern like many predicted – they possessed two direct wingers on the flank against teams who were vulnerable in that area.
Robben relished his role, as he was often left unmarked in advanced positions, which allowed him to engage in 1v1 battles with Juventus defenders.
He also helped Mandzukic and Muller press the Juventus wingers and his understanding with Phillip Lahm saw them create several overloads.
Robben once again played a key role in dispatching Spanish champions Barcelona. Barcelona has faced a serious issue this season defensively – injuries have played a factor, but their fullbacks create a defensive imbalance.
Both Dani Alves and Jordi Alba surge forward into advanced positions, which leaves Barcelona vulnerable against quick counter-attacks.
Robben did a great job tracking Alba’s runs throughout the tie, and he was a main threat going forward, thriving in 1v1 battles against Jordi Alba – he also produced a vintage Robben goal that decided the tie at the Camp Nou.
The Dutch winger’s experience and good form were key factors in his anomalous performance at Wembley. He was ridiculed for wasting several chances in the first half, yet he was Bayern’s most influential player going forward. Robben drifted centrally, making diagonal runs behind Dortmund’s narrow high line.
Heynckes made a tactical alteration at half time playing Robben behind Mandzukic as a second striker. Robben was familiar with the role, as he played as a second striker in the World Cup final against Spain in 2010. With Dortmund legs tiring, along with their tactical naivety to abandon a high line, Bayern took control of the match allowing Robben to prosper. Although Robben squandered his chances in the first half, there were warning signs that Dortmund overlooked. Robben was involved in both goals, and they were reminiscent of his missed opportunities in the first half – Robben making a run behind Subotic to provide an assist and a long ball that the Dortmund defence couldn’t cope with, allowing Robben to skip past Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic to net the winner.
It’s been a wacky 12 months for Robben – he went from being a zero, to an impact sub, and he’s ended the season as a hero.
In the last few weeks, I have been very aware of Arjen, very conscious of how I train with him, taking care of his fitness to make sure he didn’t get injured,” Heynckes said.
“I’m particularly pleased for him; last year we were all tragic figures, not just Arjen, but today he was crucial.”
The Dutch winger played a key role on Bayern’s road to lifting their first Champions League title since 2001 – it took three finals in four years to achieve this feat, but they are now winners. After claiming domestic trophies in four different countries, Robben can now add European silverware to his collection.
“That’s three finals, and of course you don’t want the stamp of a loser. You don’t want that tag,” Robben said.
“For a footballer this is the peak, the greatest you can achieve. The whistle from the referee, knowing you have won the Champions League, it was the only thing missing in my life.”
Unfortunately, Robben’s future with Bayern Munich is still in doubt, as he doesn’t fit the mold of a Pep Guardiola player.
Since the Guardiola news broke earlier this year, the Dutch winger has raised the level of his performances, and has shown his tactical awareness, along with his ability to be a top winger offensively and defensively.
Robben’s road at Bayern may come to an end at the tender age of 29, if so, it’ll be as a European champion.