Man on a Mission

Robben's a Man on a Mission (Simon Kuper, Mio Stadium)
Robben isn’t really a “Dutch” footballer. He was born in Bedum in the windswept north of the Netherlands, 60 kilometres from the German border. No great Dutch footballer had come from the north since the Koeman brothers 25 years early, and none has ever come from Bedum.


But while the others learned the complex geometric exercises that constitute total football, the villager for years just dribbled down the wing. The typical great Dutch footballer is a western boy, who joined Ajax while at primary school, enjoyed the best coaching in football history, became a cog in a passing machine and has an arrogance known as "Amsterdam bluff". But whereas Sneijder et al are products of Dutch football, Robben is a natural, as if he were born on Mars rather than in Bedum. Nobody taught him. Even when kicking a balloon before he could walk, he always hit it just so.

Soon afterwards he revealed a gift that would have been coached out of him at Ajax: the dribble. "I grew up playing football in the Netherlands, and still remember the cry that used to rise when any kid dared to run with the ball: “Niet pingelen!”, “Don’t dribble!” Dutch football has always been about the geometric beauty of triangles. Even Dutch eight-year-olds know that the ball moves faster than the man. As an untutored genius from the sticks, Robben missed out on all that.
I'm sure I'm not the only one who finds it impossible to be indifferent where Robben is concerned. For every despairing groan when he has the blinders on and head down, there is a matching gasp of astonishment as he does something marvelous with the ball, be it mazy dribbling run or immaculate finish. The piece could have used more thorough (or any!) proofreading, but it's still an excellent insight into a divisive figure.

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