In the 89th minute of Saturday’s Champions League final against Dortmund, Bayern Munich’s Arjen Robben, the star-crossed Dutch striker with unlimited and dazzling talent who has oscillated between spectacular brilliance and devastating failures while coming back from multiple debilitating injuries, deftly put in the game winner to give Bayern the Champions League crown in England when they defeated Dortmund 2-1 at Wembley Stadium.
Redemption. For Robben–and Bayern.
Robben had delivered on the biggest stage. His potential finally met–and immortalized.
Robben let out a primal scream after the goal that erased some of his most gut-wrenching–and public–failures, like last year’s penalty kick he missed in the Champions League final in his home stadium against Chelsea. Bayern eventually lost to Chelsea on Didier Drogba’s out-of-this-world heroics.
He scowls and snarls like Jon Gruden, and the diving, temperamental, headstrong, often enigmatic but undoubtedly brilliant and skilled striker who is a force of nature often plays like he has the weight of the world on his shoulders.
And the 29-year-old has often frustrated even his teammates by going outside the team structure and game plan when he gets frustrated at some of his less talented teammates. Sometimes, he seems to be battling his own demons, especially after injury upon injury would not let his body do what his mind knew it could when healthy.
But for all of his drama, Robben showed why he is one of the world’s best on Saturday, taking over the game with every touch. His teammates sensed he was “in the zone” and kept feeding the beast, knowing it was only time before something magical would happen. And they were right, as the man who seemed to be on a one-man redemption tour this year after becoming healthy again ended Champions League play with a thunderous roar.
Robben was responsible for Bayern’s first goal. He harnessed a pass from Frank Ribery and deftly passed the ball to Mario Mandzukic, who put it in the back of the net to give Bayern a 1-0 lead.
Bayern’s Dante then let Dortmund back into the game when he kicked Marco Reus in the stomach in the box, and Dortmund got a penalty kick to try and tie the game. Gundogan pounded the kick home, and the game was tied.
Robben looked like he could be the hero soon after when it looked like he would be on the receiving end of a pass this time. But in one of the most dramatic defensive plays in Champions League play, Dortmund’s Neven Subotic made an incredible clearance, diving feet first and swiping the ball away inches from the goal line and seconds before Robben could flick it home.
But Robben, who was also ridiculed by even his home fans in Munich after he missed a penalty kick against Dortmund to lose the Bundesliga title last season before his devastating miss against Chelsea, would not be denied this time even when it seemed like he was scripted to fail yet again.
The relentless striker who scored twice against Lionel Messi’s FC Barca in the semifinals was a one-man force of nature, slicing and dicing through Dortmund’s defense. He ran down the pitch like a possessed man, took a back-heeled pass attempt by Ribery that deflected off a Dortmund defender, and zig-zagged toward the goal and calmly flicked the ball into back of the net.
Bayern, which had lost two of the last three Champions League finals, finally won the big one in what was manager Jupp Heynckes’s final game. Chaos ensued. Like Robben’s often out-of-control and unpredictable game, the moment was perfect.
After he missed three chances in the first half that left everyone wondering if Robben would again collapse under the brightest klieg lights, Robben, who has often tried to will his teams to wins like a bull in a china shop with his power, won with the type of finesse–by letting the game come to him a bit more–that is associated with players who play like they are playing with house money. Or with those whose newfound physical limitations force them to do so.
Robben has admitted that he thought about quitting the game, broken physically and spiritually after devastating injuries and spectacular failures on the pitch.
But those injuries that have made him less dynamic than he was five years ago may have ultimately unbroken him.