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Arjen Robben’s no good, very bad international break

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As he trains under Niko Kovac in Munich with the handful of players not on international duty, the veteran winger’s frustration has caught the attention of the local press.

MUNICH, GERMANY - OCTOBER 11: Arjen Robben of FC Bayern during Bayern Muenchen training at Saebener Strasse training ground on October 11, 2018 in Munich, Germany.
MUNICH, GERMANY - OCTOBER 11: Arjen Robben of FC Bayern during Bayern Muenchen training at Saebener Strasse training ground on October 11, 2018 in Munich, Germany.
Photo by Adam Pretty/Bongarts/Getty Images

The October international break came both as a blessing and a curse for Niko Kovac: on the one hand, it afforded the coach a reprieve from the series of disappointing results that abruptly derailed an extremely promising start to his tenure at Bayern. On the other, though, the break left Kovac with a skeleton crew of a team, thus leaving him in limbo until the full team returns.

At least one of the first-team players left behind would undoubtedly call the break a curse: Arjen Robben. The Dutchman’s mood this week has been so bad that his antics have caught the eye of local journalists covering Bayern’s open training sessions.

According to TZ, when Kovac ended Thursday’s training session, Robben angrily stripped off his pinnie and threw it to the ground, putting his finger to his lips — as if to hold something back? Robben then grumbled something in the direction of the coaching team and reluctantly joined his teammates to hear Kovac’s concluding team address before briefly signing autographs for the fans.

It wasn’t the only tantrum Robben has thrown this week: Bild describes how on Tuesday he stomped off toward the locker room immediately after his side lost the concluding scrimmage, pausing only sign a Dutch flag for fans before disappearing. He likewise threw his pinnie to the ground and was the first to stomp off to the locker room on Wednesday, again after his side lost the scrimmage.

It is an open question whether Robben is unhappy with Kovac. During Bayern’s four-game skid, Robben has been one of Bayern’s only sparks on offense, scoring Bayern’s lone goal against Augsburg and providing an assist for the team’s lone goal against Ajax. But Robben has also seen his playing time significantly diminished. After playing the full 90 minutes against Augsburg, he was replaced in the 52nd minute against Hertha, the 62nd against Ajax, and at halftime against ‘Gladbach. He played poorly in both Bayern’s losses.

How Kovac adjusts once the season recommences, as he shuttles Serge Gnabry between the left and right flank in an effort to keep his three remaining wingers fit, remains to be seen. For now, there is little he can do directly with the team.

The other first-team members left in Munich are Javi Martinez, Rafinha (now nearly fully recovered), Franck Ribéry, Sven Ulreich, and Sandro Wagner. Only Ribéry and Martinez have seen significant playing time this season. Given the small numbers available, Kovac has supplemented practice with youth players. A total of fourteen players were on the pitch Thursday.