The 28th of August marked Arjen Robben's fifth year at Bayern Munich. In those 5 years, he has made 168 appearances, scored 90 goals and won 8 major trophies. Despite the success, his time at Bayern has been filled with ups and downs. He has been plagued by injuries and negative media attention while filling Bayern supporters with doubt over just how important he really is to the overall success of the club. However, over the last five years Robben has proven himself to be indispensable to Bayern. He ranks among the greatest players to ever turn out in red and white.
The 2009-10 season, Robben's first at Bayern, was given the circumstances, nothing short of incredible. The club had undergone several changes the previous year: Ottmar Hitzfeld left for Switzerland, captain Oliver Kahn retired, and Jürgen Klinsmann was hired and eventually fired. Though they finished second, the team struggled in the league, suffering heavy and embarrassing losses to their closest rivals, and their qualification for the Champions League was in jeopardy for the majority of the season.
Bayern began 2009-10 with a new coach, Louis van Gaal, and five new players, but they only managed to collect two points from their first three matches. Following a loss to the newly promoted Mainz and with the transfer window coming to a close, Bayern had to act quickly if they wanted to sign a new player. The day before meeting league title holders Wolfsburg at Allianz, Robben's transfer from Real Madrid was announced. He made an instant impact. The day after he signed, he was brought on as a substitute, scoring twice and securing three points. Robben's partnership with Franck Ribéry contributed to a lengthy streak of undefeated matches and his performances in the Champions League, most notably against Manchester United, sent Bayern to their first final since the win in 2001.
That season was the beginning of a new era for Bayern Munich. Yes, they lost to Inter in Madrid and the only record they achieved that season was related to Mario Gomez's transfer fee, but an important mental shift occurred. Bayern could return to their glory days, and they could be on top in both Germany and in Europe. It doesn't matter whether it was van Gaal's influence or the luck of the draw in the Champions League, one thing was clear - Arjen Robben was going to become a key player for Bayern.
Robben's importance to the squad wouldn't be fully realized until the fall of 2010. Following the World Cup, Robben suffered an injury that kept him out of training and out of contention for the entirety of the Hinrunde. Bayern struggled in the league, only made it to the semifinals of the German cup and were embarrassed, again, in the Champions League by Inter Milan. Robben barely played half a season. His absence was felt. Bayern had no one to cut inside and save the day in the most frustrating of matches.
The 2011-12 season was a nightmare. It was devastating and the memory of it haunted all Bayern fans for months on end. The club had one goal for the entire season: make it to the final of the Champions League at Allianz Arena and lift the trophy for the first time in 11 years. They played a decent season in the league, finishing second behind Dortmund, who would later crush Bayern in the Pokal. But that didn't matter, the Champions League Final was still ahead.
And then May 19th rolled around, a day that - for awhile - it seemed no Bayern fan would ever be able to forget. Robben missed chance after chance, but extra time came and a penalty was called for Bayern. This was the opportunity to win the trophy, at home, and who better to take it than the man who had come to the rescue so many times in the past? And then Robben missed. It was devastating both for the fans and the players. Days later they would have to play a friendly against the Netherlands and the Bayern supporters booed Robben for his performance just days earlier. Heartbreaking.
But, that was an important season for Robben. After that awful night in Munich, everything changed. Robben would be back - and he would be better.
While he was relegated to the substitute's bench for a good chunk of the 2012-13 campaign, Robben did work hard when he came on to the pitch. While he still refused to pass at key moments, he became more of a team player. When the complacency of the other men on the pitch became obvious, Robben was the one working hard, running after the ball and making things happen for the team.
The 25th of May 2013 will live forever in the collective Bayern memory, thanks to Arjen Robben. The night was tense. Losing to Chelsea in Munich was terrible, but the thought of losing to Dortmund, their closest rivals, so soon after the 2012 loss was unbearable. Robben was amazing that night. He was the best player on the pitch by miles, but he still missed so many chances that the memories from the previous year started to resurface. What if he misses again? What if Dortmund pull ahead? What if we lose? We can't lose this!
And then - boom. Mandzukic scores, Robben has the assist. Bayern fans can breathe for a whole 8 minutes until Dortmund tie up the score. The 88th minute rolls around, Robben skips through the Dortmund defense and the ball rolls - as if in slow motion - past Weidenfeller.
Finally, redemption. And tears. A lot of tears.
Arjen Robben is one of the best players to ever wear a Bayern shirt. He is selfish, he does dive and he has missed shots that some fans would consider contributing factors to post-traumatic stress disorder. He's as frustrating to watch as he is to play against. He'll always cut inside and he'll always shoot with his left, but somehow it will always work. He never stops running, never stops asking for the ball. In his time at Bayern, he has transformed from a player who only worked in the final third to a player who will consistently run up and down the length of the pitch, fighting for the ball and fighting for his team. When Robben steps on to the field, a goal is almost guaranteed. He has racked up 90 goals and 60 assists in 168 matches. He turns 31 in January and shows no sign of slowing down. The stadium vibrates when he prepares to step on the field. Small children, dressed in number 10 shirts and seated up high in section 239, point and cheer as he makes his first contact with the ball. Arjen Robben is flawed, but he is a hero. He is our hero. And for that we want to say congratulations and thank you, Arjen, for an incredible five years and we can only hope that the next three (or five) will bring just as much joy and success.