Through Gritted Teeth #2: Arjen Robben

April 28, 2011 § 2 Comments

Arjen Robben, of Chelsea, sits on the floor, pouting. Didier Drogba ostentatiously holds back two Porto players, while the referee approaches.

by Ethan Dean-Richards

I’m a half-hearted fan of West Bromwich Albion: a half-hearted football fan, in fact. Synthetic club rivalries don’t wake me up from my apathy and my contempt for all players is shared out more or less equally. Roman Abramovich’s takeover of Chelsea managed to make me care though: one billionaire artificially stimulating a club’s success made football seem arbitrary and insignificant, and that pissed me off. From there, Chelsea have always been the enemy for me. Two men have proved exceptions to that rule, but I’ll only be talking about one of them here because the other is Jose Mourinho and that’s all been said (by Paul Hayward, largely).

Arjen Robben spent three seasons at Chelsea, winning two league titles, an FA Cup and two league cups, but his time with them will be put down as a bit of a letdown. Injuries stepped in too often for him to be considered a crucial element of any of Chelsea’s successes and a falling out with Mourinho saw him leave before he’d really had time to show what he could do. Arjen Robben, then, has to be the player I’ve admired most “through gritted teeth” (I’ve gone and used the title, in the piece, like a pro).

Robben’s failings drew me to him more than any success could. Unfulfilled talent will always be something I’ll empathise with more than a perpetual winner and his maximised potential. Amongst a brutally efficient team, Robben was brilliantly unreliable, and ultimately a failure. With that, Robben was the closest player I could find to myself. I couldn’t help but take him on as a favourite.

His injuries, though, were a secondary consideration. His pace and directness made him stand out before anything else. Defenders backed off Robben: you can see from this goal against Newcastle that they were scared of him – properly scared of what he was capable of. I liked that: I loved that. Seeing how glimpses of immense raw talent could scare the middle-of-the-road plodders gave me a cheap thrill.

He wasn’t like anything else Chelsea had in their squad at the time. He wasn’t a consistent performer; he was about pace, not power; sometimes there was an end product, sometimes there wasn’t. He was the enigma: was he a genius or actually a complete waste of time? You couldn’t tell what he was going to do next and I loved that.

Of course, people said that about Joe Cole, but I was always pretty sure he was just shit.

I liked Robben at Chelsea because he was everything that his team wasn’t: I liked him because he was weak. Numerous psychiatrists will most likely go on to describe this admiration as the displacement of an obsessive neurotic, but before it comes to that I’d like to express some regret at having tried to burn his house down.

I have also drawn a picture for Arjen, if he is out there.

Arjen Robben stands while Ethan Dean-Richards burns.

Ethan Dean-Richards loves the world and everything in it, except you. He is also editor-in-chief of Surreal Football, has written for ESPN Soccernet and Gaffer’s Corner. He once interviewed Roy Hodgson. It went well. Follow him on Twitter @surrealfootball.

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§ 2 Responses to Through Gritted Teeth #2: Arjen Robben

  • Indisputably excellent – Robben in that first half season after joining the club (I think it’s still shrouded in mystery whether Ranieri or Mourinho signed him) was incredible – such pace and directness and he was also brilliant in the World Cup – he was the main creative force in that Dutch side.

    Bit o the diving – please, please – I know he’s not the only one but I don’t think I have ever seen a player tumble to the turf more in a single game – not to mention the bawling out of opponents who don’t pass to him (admittedly partially excused by the fact that the man in quetsion is often the equally objectionable Robin van Persie). In short, Robben is Machiavellian beyond description – as was his boss featured in the next “Through Gritted Teeth” profile.

  • D. Devil's Advocate says:

    There is no argument available that will make Robben seem to be anything but the utterly annoying crybaby twat that he is. Even if they proved beyond a doubt that he is our lord and savior come again, he will still be a worthy recipient of the hatred directed at him.

    The fact that he manages to be King Asshat on some of the most asshat-clogged teams in existence (Chelsea, Bayern, Holland) is all the proof you need of his complete loathability (perhaps not a real word, but rather apt).

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