Netherlands: Arjen Robben


Written by Michael Reintgen in 2013

Edited by Kurt Kessler in 2015

Forward/Winger, #11, 29 Years Old




Robben was born January 23rd 1984 in Bedum, Netherlands and has been playing football since he could stand on two feet. His earliest club involvement goes back to 2000 when he played for a small Dutch side called FC Groningen for two years [1]. From there, he moved to the much more storied Dutch club PSV from 2002-04 where he scored 17 goals in 56 matches. His play at PSV got him noticed by Chelsea, where he played for three years and won two English Premier League titles as well as an FA Cup trophy and two League Cups. From Chelsea Robben moved to Real Madrid for a fee of €35 million. He had a largely successful stint at the Spanish capitol and helped Real Madrid to secure the La Liga title in his first year there. In 2009, Robben was sold to Bayern Munich for €25 million where he continued his high level of play. In his first season (2009-10) with the Bavarians, he helped the team to win the league and cup double, and was also a large factor in Bayern finishing runners-up in the Champions League. The 2010-11 and 2011-12 campaigns were quite seasons with no major titles, though Robben and Bayern did make another Champions League final appearance only to lose to Chelsea in penalties. The 2013 season, however, was a historic one as Bayern became the first ever German club to secure the treble, winning the league title, league cup, and the Champions League trophy thanks to an 88th minute goal by Robben. Robben was argueably their best player during this campaign along with France international Franck Ribéry.


Robben married Bernadien Eillert in June 2007. He and his wife were high school sweethearts at Kamerlingh Onnes. He has two sons, Luka born in 2008 and Kai born in 2012, as well as one daughter, Lynn, born in 2012. Robben’s father has been his agent throughout his career [2,3]. Former youth coach Barend Beltman remembers when Robben first met Bernadien:


‘Arjen was driven and determined at a young age. He was always on time, never late. But one Friday afternoon he showed up 15 minutes past the start of practice. I asked him what was going on. “We were at the market square, having fun”, he said. There were some girls with him and his friends, so I asked, “Was she worth it?” “Yes, trainer, she was”, he told me. I told him to get his gear and join the training session. At his wedding, I heard the woman he met that day was now his wife and mother of his children. Bernadien is her name. [4]



Previous involvement with the National side


Robben got his first experience with the youth teams of the Dutch National team while playing for the U17’s. He joined the first team in 2003 after many veterans from the successful teams of the 90’s retired, like Frank and Ronald de Boer, Edgar Davids, Clarence Seedorf, and striker Patrick Kluivert. Robben has been a catalyst of the Dutch side since his arrival. He has appeared in all major competitions for the Dutch since that time, including Euro 2004, the 2006 World Cup, Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup, and Euro 2012.


In Euro 2004, his first major tournament with the National team, he was consistently prolific in the final third. Late in the group stage against Czech Republic, Robben assisted both goals for the Netherlands, giving them a 2-0 lead early on. The Czechs soon pulled one back, and the match went back and forth for a good stretch of time. Then, for some reason unbeknownst to everyone watching the game, the Dutch manager Dick Advocaat substituted him near the 60th minute, which seemed to give the Czechs the spark they needed, and the Czechs won the match 3-2. This withdrawal of Robben was seen as such a grave tactical error that it soon cost Advocaat his job, and was forever known to the Dutch fans as “the substitution”. Robben also scored the decisive penalty in a shootout against Sweden. The Dutch would go on to lose to Portugal in the semifinals [6]. In the 2006 World Cup, Netherlands lost to Portugal in the round of 16 in a match that is referred to as “The battle of Nuremberg” by the press for its 16 yellow cards and 4 red cards (a world cup record) [5]. Robben scored only goal in group stage win over Serbia & Montenegro in which he was named man of the match. He was also voted Man of the Match against Cote d’Ivoire.


In Euro 2008, the Dutch dominated the “Group of Death” with Italy, France, and Romania winning every game by a comfortable margin. They lost in the first round of knockout stages to Russia 3-1, a result that still haunts Dutch hearts.


In the 2010 World Cup, Robben scored in the quarterfinal against Slovakia as well as the semifinal against Uruguay to book the Dutch a trip to the finals. He played the entire match against Spain, which the Netherlands lost 0-1 to a goal in the dying minutes of extra time. He had a golden opportunity to put Netherlands up, but was denied by Iker Casillas.  Robben was nominated for the 2010 World Cup Golden ball, though Diego Forlan was the eventual winner.


In Euro 2012, the Dutch had a very unsuccessful tournament in which they finished the group stage without a single point.

While not necessarily dealing with his past experience with the national side, it is important to note that Arjen has previous experience with Dutch manager Louis Van Gaal, as it was Van Gaal that brought Arjen Robben to Bayern Munich and launched him on the path to super-stardom.



Going into Brazil 2014


The national team relies on Robben for his blistering pace and power down the wing. He is exceptional at taking on defenders, beating them down the line, and putting in a great cross. Also, Robben is notorious for his hammer of a left foot. In Brazil 2014, you are almost guaranteed to see Robben streak down the right side of the pitch, cut to the inside to leave his defender in the dust, and unleash a devastating laser shot to the bottom of the near post or a beautiful curling effort to the back. Robben is an adept passer of the ball on the ground, too. He can break defenses apart with a quick one-two with a teammate, as well as put a perfectly weighted through ball onto the foot of an advancing forward. He has also recently transformed his game to become a more complete and team-oriented player. It is not uncommon to see Robben tracking back from the opponents half of the field to mark a man and put some defensive pressure on the ball, a sight that would have been jaw-dropping a few years ago. Much of this change can be attributed to former Bayern manager Jupp Heynckes who led Robben and co. to Champions League glory in 2013. That year was a turning point from Robben, who had expereinced intense disappointment after missing a key penalty in extra time of the 2012 Champions League “Hoamfinal” in Munich and failing to perform in Euro 2012. He was even left on the bench for much of the first half of the 2012-2013 season, with rumors that he would be departing from Munich. However, in the second half of the season, he came on strong, leading Bayern to Champions League demolitions of Juventus and Barcelona before eventually assisting a goal and scoring the winner in the final on the way to securing Bayern’s treble.

His club form in the season prior to the World Cup was perhaps his best to date, totaling 21 goals and 17 assists in 45 games for Bayern [7]. He led Bayern to a legendary domestic campaign, becoming champions in record time and defeating competitive rival Borussia Dortmund in the DFB-Pokal Finale, scoring the winner in extra time. He was even named Bayern’s player of the year for the 2013-2014 season, beating out other stalwarts such as Phillip Lahm and Manuel Neuer. Perhaps most importantly, however, he has remained completely healthy in the lead up to the World Cup. The medical team at Bayern, led by the legendary Hans-Wilhelm Müller-Wohlfahrt has managed to keep him on the teamsheet consistently.

Weaknesses: Robben has been battling the reputation for being a diver throughout his career, as he has a tendency to go down rather easily when inside the penalty box. He must not do this in Brazil to avoid controversy and criticism. Robben is also known as a very injury prone player, and has even been called “The man of glass” as a result. His most striking weakness, however, is his right foot. His finishing and crossing with his weak right foot usually leave something to be desired. In addition, his lack of a right foot has also given him a reputation as a “one-trick pony”. However, despite these criticisms, his one-trick is next to impossible to stop. Everybody knows that he is going to cut inside onto his left foot, but nobody is able to stop him.

Arjen Robben performing his trick at the Camp Nou in 2013



The expectations on Robben in this World Cup will be higher than ever. He has finally shaken his old reputation for choking in the biggest games after he delivered the deciding goal in the 88th minute of the Champions League Final that sealed the victory for Bayern. This was Robben and Bayern’s third time in the final in 4 years, and they finally completed that eternally important last step to bring the title to Munich. Fans of the Dutch national team will be wondering if he can keep the ice water running through his veins throughout the World Cup in Brazil. Let’s not forget, Robben missed a few open opportunities in the 90 minutes regular time in the 2010 World Cup that could have gave the Netherlands their first World Cup title. This included a failure to convert in a one-on-one with Spanish Goalkeeper Iker Casillas.



The pressure will be on Robben to show that he is truly one of the greatest footballers of his generation by proving his worth on the world’s biggest stage. For the Netherlands team in general, it is a bit more difficult to say where expectations lie. They are often referred to as “the greatest team never to win a world cup”, as teams are consistently made up of top European talents but fail to gel together into a cohesive unit. The two last major tournaments Le Oranje competed in shows the mercurial performances they are capable of. In the 2010 World Cup, they made it to the final by defeating the likes of Brazil, Uruguay, and Slovakia only to lose by one goal to the Spaniards. During this run, despite excellent results, Bert van Marwijk’s side played a style that did not endear itself to a country that revere’s Johan Cruyff’s total football. In Euro 2012, with vastly the same group of players, they failed to win a single game and crashed out of the competition in the group stages. So, it seems how the Netherlands will perform depends on the day and the mood of its players, though the capability for greatness is always there.


With the injury to Dutch central midfielder Kevin Strootman, who Louis Van Gaal had planned on building his team around, the pressure on Robben will be even greater. He is now expected to be the main cog in Van Gaal’s system, and is the only attacker that is coming into any real form, with Robin Van Persie and Wesley Sneijder having disappointing club seasons.


A success in the 2014 World Cup would be monumental for the Netherlands. For a team that has been runners-up on 3 different occasions, the final faithful victory would take the weight of the world off the Netherlands’ shoulders and allow them to take a deserved place among the other great national teams in history. Another failure would simply be the old story repeated over again with new characters, a story that surely must be weighing on the confidence of the Dutch nation. However, the specter of success no longer hangs over Arjen Robben’s heads, as he exorcised his demons from 2010 and 2012 by scoring the winner in the 2013 Champions League Final. He has finally shown himself as being able to handle the pressure, a quality that he hopefully will be able to impart on the Dutch squad.


Why watch Robben?

Simply, one should watch Robben if they enjoy players that have the potential to utterly change a game at a moments notice. If the other team gives Robben even a centimeter of extra space, he can utilize it to perform one of his, at this point, legendary cuts inside and score a wonder goal. He is a player that is tireless, and, despite being in his 30s, is one of the fastest players that will be featuring in Brazil. In addition,  he has the ability to lift the quality of players around him strictly through his own determination to win. Robben inspires his teammates through example on the pitch. He has transformed himself into a tireless worker and an addict for victories, an attitude that surely rubs off on those around him. He has the power to decide a match all on his own, whether it be from constantly attacking the by-line until he sets up a goal, or by dribbling through the defensive back line to have a go himself. Robben is guaranteed to inspire fear in any defensive unit from the moment he arrives in Brazil to the day of his exit. One thing is for certain, if Robben is playing at his best, the Dutch national team has a chance to finally bring home World Cup glory.

An underrated reason to keep an eye on Robben is his penchant for drama. Controversy seems to constantly follow Robben wherever he goes, and, given that the World Cup is the biggest stage for the sport, the controversy is sure to follow.


Click here to return to the Players to Watch home page.

Continue on to Group B – Spain: Sergio Busquets

Group B – Australia: Tim Cahill

Group B – Chile: Alexis Sánchez

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Learn about the Netherland’s National Anthem


How to cite this article: “Netherlands: Arjen Robben,” Written by Michael Reintgen (2013), World Cup 2014, Soccer Politics Blog, Duke University, (accessed on (date)).


Works Cited:

[1] “Arjen Robben Football Blog” Written June 2nd, 2009 (Accessed on Nov. 17th 2013)

[2] Translated by Michael J. O’Donnel. “We want to win a title” Interview conducted Dec. 26th, 2008. (Accessed on Nov. 17th 2013)

[3] “FC Bayern” Arjen Robben: Midfield. (Accessed on Nov. 17th 2013)

[4] Interviews by Andy Hunter, Sid Lowe, Marcela Mora y Araujo, Fernando Duarte,Raphael Honigstein and Maarten and Sander Kolsloot. “World Cup 2010: 7 of the best players going to South Africa” The Guardian,

[5] “Match Report: Portugal defeats Holland at the Battle of Nuremberg” Written June 26th, 2006. Spiegel Online International (Accessed on Nov. 17th 2013)

[6] “Memories of the EC2004…” Written May 20th, 2012. World Cup Blog. (Accessed on Nov. 17th 2013)

[7] “Arjen Robben – Perforamance Data – Transfermarkt” (Accessed on March 2, 2014)


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  1. Pingback: Players to Watch at the 2014 World Cup | Nepali Paan

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