One-on-one with Iker Casillas in the World Cup final, the scores level at 0-0, Arjen Robben had the chance to establish himself as an immortal figure in Dutch soccer history. It was the scenario all players dream of: a golden chance to net the winning goal on the biggest stage of all.
But the Bayern Munich winger fluffed his lines. His shot was poor and subsequently saved by the Spain goalkeeper; Netherlands eventually went on to lose 1-0. It capped off a miserable end to the season for Robben, who also missed out on glory in the Champions League final with the Bavarians, losing 2-0 to Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan.
Just shy of two years on from the 2010 World Cup final, Robben was afforded another chance to make a career-defining contribution. With the scores level in the UEFA Champions League final between Bayern Munich and Chelsea, the Germans were awarded a penalty. Robben stepped up to take it, but his effort was weak and Petr Cech saved.
Bayern went on to lose on penalties, with the Dutchman deciding against taking a kick in the shootout. “You can understand if he didn’t score the penalty in extra-time that he may have lost some self-confidence to participate in the penalty shoot-out” said his manager Jupp Heynckes in the aftermath, per BBC Sport.
Robben was short of confidence, out of form, out of the Bayern first-team and tagged by some as a bottler at the start of the next campaign. So his emergence as one of the finest players on the planet and the standout man from the group stages of the 2014 World Cup is quite a remarkable story.
At 30-years-old, this looks likely to be his last World Cup and it’s wholly apparent that the former Chelsea and Real Madrid man is doing his utmost to savor every moment of it. He’s been nothing short of scintillating so far in Brazil, making some extraordinary bursts forward with the ball and helping himself to three goals in three Dutch victories.
Robben is a player that has rid of himself of those shackles that temporarily hampered him in Johannesburg four years ago and Munich two years after. At this juncture in his career, he’s a man that relishes those big occasions, flourishing instead of floundering when the pressure is on.
Under the tutelage of Heynckes at Bayern, Robben made some major improvements to his game. His work-rate vastly improved, as did his attitude, demeanor on the pitch and all-round maturity. Instead of sulking when he was left out of the team at the start of the 2012/13 season or pushing for a transfer, Robben got his head down and battled for his place in the team.
Heynckes eventually drafted Robben back into the team and he was sensational during the run-in that campaign, inspiring Bayern to a clean sweep of trophies. The coupe de grace for the Dutchman came when he notched a late winner in the final against Borussia Dortmund, exercising the demons of a year earlier and cementing his place in the vast annals of the European Cup. A bottler no more.