How it could have gone differently. You could say 2012 was Arjen Robben heading towards the twilight of his career.
Not only did he miss crucial penalties in the finals of the German Cup and the Champions League which Bayern Munich went on to lose but it only added to the disappointment of 2010 where Robben went missing in another Champions League final while he also missed a golden opportunity to help Holland win the World Cup in the final.
The scene of him moodily leaving the pitch during Germany’s eventual 2-1 win over Holland in Euro 2012 was symbolic as his own fans were wondering what had happened to the enigmatic Dutchman who simply couldn’t perform when it mattered the most. 1990 World Cup winner, Thomas Berthold even said at the time that he ‘feared for Robben’s state of mind, where things are decided in the subconscious.’
The 2012/2013 season saw Robben relegated to the Bayern bench, confined to cameo appearances. While Robben started games in the dugout, the likes of Toni Kroos and Thomas Muller were having outstanding seasons while Franck Ribery had his personal best season where he eventually got nominated in the top three for the Ballon d’Or. It had seemed the mentally frail Dutchman was only going to decline from here on out.
That was until opportunity knocked. In April 2013, Kroos suffered a season ending injury in the quarterfinals against Juventus. By that time, the Bundesliga was virtually wrapped up so the Bavarians were fully focused on the German Cup and the Champions League. Was Robben going to redeem himself? You bet.
Looking revitalized, it was Robben’s performances which played a key role in Bayern securing the treble in 2013. With a goal and two assists in the German Cup 6-1 semifinal win over Wolfsburg, Robben went on to score two goals in the semifinal legs over Barcelona – a resounding 7-0 win on aggregate.
But it was in the final of the Champions League where Robben would finally exorcise his demons. After providing the assist for Mario Mandzukic’s opener, Robben went on to score the winner in the 90th minute and with that, ecstasy and tears of joy followed.
“You don’t want the stamp of a loser. There was all the disappointment of last year but I personally also had the World Cup. That was three finals. Tonight I scored the goal. We did it and we can forget about the other things,” Robben said after the final.
Robben continued his fine form into the 2013/2014 season, scoring 21 goals in 45 games as Bayern went on to win the double as well as the UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup.
It wasn’t going to end there – while the Dutchman couldn’t help his country win the 2014 World Cup, he certainly proved many people wrong as Holland finished 3rd in Brazil. Robben was a key man with 3 goals, an assist, 3 man of the match awards and scoring twice in two penalty shootouts.
After a dreadful 2012, Robben has now won the elusive Champions League and is an undisputed starter for club and country – the story of his redemption is a remarkable one.