Number 22: Arjen Robben
Position: Wing Forward
Club Team: Bayern Munich
American-Based Professional Sport “Soulmate”: Mark Teixeira, New York Yankees and Robert Horry, retired NBA forward/guard
First let’s get a little background on Mr. Robben before we get down, Dutch, and dirty. You may not know anyone named Arjen, or you may live in Eindhoven and know like 20 Arjen’s; either way, know that it’s pronounced “are-hyen.” I’ll let you figure out “Robben” on your own. Secondly, the dude constantly looks old. His face appears about as weathered as Clint Eastwood’s an hour into The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, and he’s definitely prematurely balding, but the fact is Robben just turned 26 last week. It may seem like he’s been around forever, but that stems from the fact that ever since he turned 17, Robben’s been scoring goals and playing at a consistently world-class level (and being dragged across the desert by “The Ugly”?).
Comparisons between Arjen Robben and New York Yankees slugger Mark Teixeira are almost undeniable; once I noticed one similarity they just kept coming. First off, both of these players are too good to have already moved around so much at this midpoint of their careers. There’s a saying in the front office of most American sports franchises that if a guy is traded or allowed to hit the free agent market there’s something (at least one thing) wrong with him. For the most part this holds true, maybe a guy gets traded because of a salary holdout or is allowed to hit free agency because he underperforms or has an attitude problem. Both Robben and Texeira have been exceptions to this rule multiple times. While it can’t be expected that Robben would play out his career with his small home club of Groningen, it also doesn’t usually happen that a guy who does absolutely everything right plays for five clubs by the time he’s 26. The same can be said for Teixeira who is already on his fourth big league team. Both guys are good teammates by all accounts (a rarity as of late for Dutch attacking players) and tend to say all the right things to the fans and the media. Furthermore, to use a sports fan Americanism, both guys “eat” wherever they go. Teixeira swings the bat with no regard for what uniform he’s got on, and goalkeepers in now four different domestic leagues have found it impossible to keep Arjen Robben from planting the ball in the back of the net.
And both players good enough to constantly garner qualified superlatives; the qualifying factor being the words, “one of.” Mark Texeira is one of the best hitters in baseball. Arjen Robben is one of the best attacking players in all of soccer. These qualifiers may stem from the fact that each player does everything well, but no one things better than everyone else in the world. Arjen takes set pieces well. He’s quick and creative in attack. He has superb touch and ball placement. Teixeira hits for power. He hits for average. He draws walks and doesn’t strike out often. But Kaká is faster than Robben and Cristiano Ronaldo takes better free kicks. Pujols slugs better than Teixeira and Joe Mauer hits for a better average. But while being good at all offensive aspects of their respective games has left Tex and Rob without American League MVPs or FIFA World Player of the Year Awards, it has brought results to their teams, especially in the case of Robben.
Championships. Big Tex just got his first and Arjen’s working on his fifth. This is the only area where the Robben/Texeira comparison breaks down, but don’t worry, Big Shot Bob’s gonna come to the rescue as usual. Robben has won domestic league titles four times in three different leagues, once with PSV Eindhoven, twice with Chelsea, and once with Real Madrid. Not many professional athletes can bang with real money statistics like that, but Robert Horry is up to the task. Horry took home the NBA title seven times and with three different teams, the Rockets, Lakers, and Spurs. And his nickname is well deserved, Bob’s penchant for late-game three-point heroics is stuff of legend in the Association. Our boy Arjen’s no stranger to drama either; he came on as a substitute in his first appearance for Bayern and scored two goals to beat last year’s Bundesliga champs just one day after being unveiled at his new club. He’ll need to do that about ten more times if he wants to be “Big Shot Rob(ben)”, but I wouldn’t bet against Bayern Munich in this year’s German title race.
On a personal and self-aggrandizing note, I consider myself the Robert Horry/Arjen Robben of Beirut Wednesday (not-quite-weekly undergraduate beer pong tournaments of course!). From 2004 to 2007 I took home five or six championships, each time winning the bracket with a different partner. And yes I used to have a flair for hitting the last cup… but sadly like Robert Horry I’ve grown old and been forced into retirement, now serving as an analyst for the four letter network on Beirut2Night.
As a final note on Arjen Robben, he may just be the perfect all-purpose attacking player in the perfect in-their-prime lineup come World Cup 2010 when the Dutch roll into what is essentially their old stomping ground. I’ll be very interested (and scared) to see who marks Arjen when the Yanks come to Amsterdam for the March 3rd friendly.