Influential Dutchmen are nothing new at Bayern Munich. Jan Wouters, Roy Makaay, Mark van Bommel, Arjen Robben and coach Louis van Gaal to name but a few have all left their mark on the German record champions over the years.
“The fact that Bayern are one of the best teams in Europe definitely has something to do with it,” Makaay told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview. “Every player wants to play at the highest level and you can do that at Bayern. I had no hesitation in signing. I had many great years there, not only professionally, but personally too,” added the former striker, who joined the Bavarians for a then club record fee of almost €19m from Deportivo La Coruna in 2003. Despite leaving in 2007, Makaay is still in regular contact with former team-mate and current vice-captain Bastian Schweinsteiger.
During his time in Munich, Makaay played in Bayern’s only two games to date against Chelsea, in the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League 2004/05. “We lost 4-2 away and won 3-2 at home,” he said. “In the end we only needed one more goal. That was really disappointing.”
Familiar faces for Robben
Seven years later, the Bavarians will line-up in their own stadium for what club president Uli Hoeness has described as the “highlight of Bayern’s history”. The 2010 runners-up are the first team ever to reach a Champions League final in their own ground. “It’s unbelievable, it never happens,” Makaay said of his former employers’ historical achievement. “They have a great chance to win the title. Having home advantage is certainly an extra motivation.”
On Saturday Arjen Robben will be the focus of attention and not only for his dazzling wing play. The 28-year-old’s past has caught up with him in this season’s tournament, as Bayern knocked-out his previous club Real Madrid in the semi-finals, where he played from 2007-2009. And now the winger is preparing to face more former team-mates against Chelsea, where he made 106 appearances (scoring 19 goals) between 2004 and 2007.
“Of course it’s something very special,” said Robben. “They’re two former clubs. First we got past Madrid and now we have to do the same against Chelsea. I had a great time with them and I still follow them. It makes me happy whenever they do well because I know how much it means to the fans there. I always had a good relationship with the supporters. I’m delighted when they are successful, but this final is a little bit different of course.”
Robben’s fond memories of the London club are hardly surprising. He picked up six trophies in three years, including back-to-back Premier League titles (2005, 2006) and the FA Cup (2007). “What most impressed me was the passion of the English players. Five or ten minutes before kick-off they were relaxed and making jokes. But when it was time to leave the dressing room they were completely different people. That passion and the way football is so ingrained in English culture in general is great to see.”
On Saturday evening the Dutchman will be fully focused on Bayern, who will need him to continue his excellent form in Europe this season, where he has hit four goals and two assists in seven matches. “You can’t say it’ll be an easy game. It’s the Champions League final. They knocked out Barcelona and played really well against Napoli. A lot of people are saying we’re slight favourites because we’re playing in our own stadium. But that’s dangerous, we need to be careful.”
In tandem with Franck Ribery on the left, Robben’s task will be to cause problems down the right wing. Speed, extraordinary technique and an eye for goal are some of the qualities that make 'Robbery' one of the most feared wing duos in the world game. “We need to play as a team,” said Robben. “If we do, then players like Franck or myself can decide a match like this. It’s good that he can play this time, he’s very important for us.” The Frenchman was suspended for the 2010 final after being sent off in the semi-finals against Lyon. Bayern went on to lose 2-0 to Inter Milan.
Robben is determined things will be different this time. “It’s high time [we won it]. You have to win the Champions League once in your career. This season we’ve shown that we’re one of the best in Europe. Hopefully on Saturday we’ll be able to say we are the best in Europe. That would be incredible.”