This is hard for me, but I’m just going to come out and say it: I don’t like Arjen Robben. As a Dutchman, it’s a truth I keep hidden – my deepest, darkest, ugliest secret. This confession is me at my most raw; my most monstrous. I’ve struggled with it almost my entire my life.
Now, this is me speaking out exclusively to Soccer Gods, though I imagine this piece will spawn a cottage industry of spin-offs – hot takes, counter-hot takes, think pieces, tell-all memoirs. Probably a 30 For 30. But I wanted you to hear it from me directly, so I could control the message. So I could finally move on with my life. So that my children wouldn’t have to deal with this burden.
I really don’t like Arjen Robben. And nobody who takes pride in Dutch soccer should.
I can’t help it. He bugs the crap out of me. He’s my fellow countryman, so I should be grateful, I know. I should thank the sweet baby Messi on my bare knees each morning that Robben was born in puny Bedum, out in the Dutch countryside. Thank Him for sending us a prematurely balding country boy with brittle legs – a mole-person who can run circles around better-looking people when he has a ball at his feet.
Off the field, Robben’s supposed to be very nice in person, and I recognize that he played a huge part in pushing an unfancied Netherlands side into the 2010 World Cup final. (Although, truth be told, if he wasn’t one of soccer elite’s worst one-on-one finishers, we’d have probably been world champions.) He was also the driving force in willing an even less fancied team to third place in 2014. For that, I really am grateful.
But I just can’t stand him, and I’ve felt this way for as long as I can remember, from my first sight of him scampering up the flanks for FC Groningen to my first vivid memory of him taking a dramatic tumble in a PSV jersey – which, being an Ajax fan, didn’t help. There’s probably some grand Freudian theory to be gleaned from some long-forgotten episode of my childhood that explains all this, but it would take the thousands of dollars in therapy it would take to unearth those psychiatric pearls.
Instead, let me lay out my case for my Robben revulsion.
Firstly, he’s dribbly. Way too dribbly.
“Niet pingelen!” is probably the most common admonishment in Dutch youth soccer. Don’t dribble. It may be an expression of youthful creativity that no self-respecting American parents would ever stifle, but in Dutch soccer, dribbling’s considered gauche. You pass and move. Pass and move. Pass and move until there’s no more room for passing or moving. Then it’s time to shoot.
Robben is almost always dribbling, and when he’s not, he usually isn’t passing the ball. I can’t help myself from screaming “Niet pingelen” at my television whenever he goes off on some long run with the ball. When he scores at the end of it, as he often does, I get even more annoyed, because my argument has been thwarted by reality once again.
It all makes for a selfish player. Not enough passing. Not enough moving. Share the ball with the 99 percent, Arjen.
Secondly, he’s floppy. Way, way too floppy.
This absolutely was a penalty — sorry, Mexico, but deal with it — but Robben dramatized his fall by very many tads. Often, though, the penalties he gets are not penalties. He spends a lot of effort trying to draw them, going down at the slightest contact, or total lack of it. But unless you’re a bricklayer, leveraging gravity for your own personal gains is not cool.
Which leads us to my third issue: he’s whiny.
We don’t easily tolerate whining in the Netherlands. Call it Calvinism. Call it the surly stoicism of a country that’s been invaded far too many times, both by neighbors and by the sea. Call it whatever you like, but in the Netherlands, the only acceptable answer to the question ‘How are you?’ is ‘Good.’
And Robben whines. He whines to the ref. He whines to his teammates. He whines to his coaches. We Dutch tend to play as cleanly as possible, part of the reason Dutch teams are always in the top of UEFA’s Fair Play rankings, but Robben is not about Fair Play. Robben, when he’s not exaggerating and dramatizing every touch, bitches and moans.
(Also: he’s injury prone. Courtesy of what has officially been diagnosed as a flawed walking and running technique, he’s forever suffering leg injuries. But that’s probably not really his fault. So I won’t hold it against him.)
Selfish, floppy and whiney, Robben is, basically, the antithesis of the values and ethics we espouse in Dutch soccer. And we take that shit seriously. We think there’s some kind of socceristic morality to adhere to, part of the reason Bert van Marwijk’s stodgy 2010 team that Robben helped to the World Cup final was never fully embraced at home.
We think there’s a distinctly right and a repugnantly wrong way of doing things. We think our way is more pure and wholesome and right (probably why we’ve never won the World Cup, in spite of making five semifinals and three finals), and Robben is demonstrably wrong.
As an evolved soccer being, of sound mind and stout heart, I don’t like wrong. Therefore, I don’t like Robben.
I’m sorry for letting my country down.