The Bayern Munich end of Wembley stadium erupted in a blaze of ecstasy, and the man who caused it was on his knees in front of the euphoric supporters. Arjen Robben had just made the score 2-1 to Bayern after 89 minutes of a high-paced, absorbing and ultimately dramatic UEFA Champions League final against Borussia Dortmund at Wembley. The 29-year-old Netherlands international screamed, principally for joy. But he was also releasing pent-up frustration, even anger. He cried tears, because this was purely and simply a moment of redemption for Robben.
The global footballing family saw the oft-maligned player turn match-winner, this after a season spent shouldering the heavy burden of a missed penalty in extra time during last year’s prestige European final, when Bayern played Chelsea on their own Munich turf. “It means a huge amount to me, but it hasn’t really sunk in yet. There are so many emotions,” said the patently relieved wide player after Munich’s triumph in the all-German showdown. “But lots of people said to me beforehand I’d be the one to score this goal,” he revealed. A burning desire to make amends was fulfilled, and a wheel turned full circle.
Match-winning moments of magic
For a long spell of Saturday evening’s encounter in north London, the gifted individual appeared true to his undeserved reputation as a big match choker. Robben worked his way clear on several occasions only to be thwarted by Dortmund's aggressive defending and Roman Weidenfeller's brave keeping. Did the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ Final at Soccer City flash before the Dutchman's eyes? Back then, with the clock ticking down and the match still goalless, Robben was clean through on Iker Casillas but failed to beat the Spain keeper. Same old story thought some cynical observers at Wembley.
But the 29-year-old composed himself at half-time and produced two match-winning moments of magic. On the hour, Robben combined superbly with Franck Ribery and unselfishly set up Mario Mandzukic for the opening goal. And in the final minute of normal time, with the 86,298 crowd preparing for an extra half-hour, he was quickest to react when the Dortmund defence momentarily lost concentration, swaying past two challenges before coolly slipping the ball beyond Weidenfeller and over the line.
It could well be a pivotal moment in the career of the man capped 66 times by his country. From now on, he will not only rate as a player who might have made the difference but came up short. He will instead feature as a winner, one of the best players of his generation.
“I had a point to prove today. I'd visualised this game in my head from start to finish a few times," the player revealed at the post-match press conference. “It's a dream for me, and I'm still finding it hard to believe."
Bayern honorary president Franz Beckenbauer enjoyed the storyline. “Dortmund refused to allow Bayern to play their football, and Bayern were out of ideas. But the fact they still won speaks volumes for their class. Robben failed to put away three clear-cut chances. I was beginning to have my doubts, but fate decided he'd go on and score the goal!"
The Munich number ten has his share of critics, voluble at times. On the one hand, he is accused of putting his ego above the team, and of selfishness in front of goal. On the other, he has always been injury prone. And at the moments that really matter, he had been unable to deliver the knockout punch. But no more: Robben is Bayern’s latest hero.
Heynckes and a golden generation
The Netherlands star has also helped two of the figureheads at his club finally win honours outside Germany. As Bayern captain Philipp Lahm noted: “I've always said if you want to be known as the golden generation, you have to win trophies. Bastian Schweinsteiger and I have played together for 16 years, starting in the youth section. It's wonderful to celebrate winning this trophy together."
However, Robben and company’s greatest gift was to their coach. Jupp Heynckes has not only guided Bayern to their fifth triumph in Europe's senior club competition, where they are now level in the all-time roll of honour with Liverpool in third, behind only Real Madrid (nine) and AC Milan (seven), but he is also only the fourth coach to lead two different clubs to the continental crown.
Only Ernst Happel, with Feyenoord in 1970 and Hamburg in 1983, Ottmar Hitzfeld with Dortmund in 1997 and Bayern in 2001, and Jose Mourinho with Porto in 2004 and Inter in 2010, had previously achieved the feat. Back in 1998, Heynckes was in charge when Real beat Juventus to win the Champions League. On Saturday, even the losing coach graciously and emotionally acknowledged his 68-year-old counterpart’s achievement. “I'm made up for Jupp, from the bottom of my heart!" said Dortmund boss Juergen Klopp.