He collects the ball just inside the opponent’s half, roams down the right flank straight into the attacking third, stops at the edge of the box, cuts to his left and faces the defender(s).
It’s an acknowledgement.
The defenders know what he’s going to do. The goalkeeper knows what he’s going to do. You know what he’s going to do. And most importantly, he knows what he’s going to do.
Then, he does it.
He brushes the ball with his right foot so that it moves across his body as he shuffles across the penalty area. He creates just enough space, and fires a rocket with his left foot. It goes through the defenders, past the goalkeeper, and it hits the back of the net hard enough to make it unfurl like a bedsheet being fluffed.
It’s Arjen Robben. Again, and again.
He does this all the time, and the fact that he continues to find success with the maneuver despite everyone being fully aware of his method is testament to his immense talent. It’s also the reason why you hate him, and I love him.
Yes, Robben falls down a lot on the pitch. Yes, it’s often an exaggeration. And yes, we often refer to it as diving. There was a moment in the Group B finale between the Netherlands and Chile, when Robben moving up the pitch found himself between two defenders on the right flank, he pushed the ball forward, and began to run between his two guards, but after the slightest bit of impediment against him, he dropped to his knees evincing a mixture of outrage and pain that only soccer players seem to feign.
Most believe that this play would be the perfect representation of why they hate Robben. However, there are few professional football players in the year 2014 that don’t embellish fouls against them. Diving, simulation, embellishing, exaggeration is just as much a part of the game as the non-fouling physical contact between defender and possessor. This isn’t the reason why you hate Robben. Otherwise, you’d hate almost everyone.
You hate Arjen Robben because his success renders everything you believe about the qualities of the human spirit false. It doesn’t matter how hard you try, how long you train, how big your heart, how much grit you possess, how often you watch video, Arjen Robben will move through you, and score against you.
His approach is perfectly mechanical. He’s a computer who exploits human nature. All of the movies, novels and even pop songs we’ve watched suggest the greatest thing about being human is our ability to adapt, to work together and overcome. Arjen Robben says no, it can’t be done. Everything you believe about your species is trash.
Making matters even worse is that deep inside Robben exists not a battery or an engine connected to pistons. No, he’s made of flesh and blood, his heart pumps oxygen to the rest of his body just like all of us. It’s the ugliest of human qualities that drives Robben: Arrogance.
If it’s insanity to do the same thing over and over again while expecting a different outcome, the definition of arrogance is Arjen Robben. Through what other attribute does one attempt to do what everyone expects you to do — and what everyone attempts to stop you from doing — while still anticipating success?
It takes an unforgivable amount of arrogance to do what Robben does, and it makes it impossible to accept him in the same terms of other superstars who exhibit such a wonderful array of skills on their path to success.
Robben beats his opponents and he beats you. The way he does so is cynical enough to be robotic. Nonetheless, he’s human, and so, he’s thought of in treacherous terms each time he exploits other humans with every goal he scores, every pass he makes.
So, how can such a creature be loved by anyone?
Robben happens to be Dutch. He belongs to a people who have celebrated the busting of myths long before cable television deemed such practices broadcast worthy — as long as they’re the ones dismissing the fantasies. In this sense, the skilled Robben is a greater destroyer than Nigel de Jong.
He destroys the myth that he can be beaten, that anything can be overcome by the indomitable human spirit. To Dutch fans, he destroys our ability to cheer for anyone else.
Feature photo courtesy of REUTERS