Tom English: Robben redeemed as Bayern triumph

Arjen Robben beats Mats Hummels to score the winner. Picture: Getty
Arjen Robben beats Mats Hummels to score the winner. Picture: Getty
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IT WAS the kind of soothsaying tale that you only get to hear about when the prediction has come true, a forecast made by Jupp Heynckes on Friday evening that looked like an epiphany come Saturday night.

Borussia Dortmund - Gundogan 67; Bayern Munich - Mandzukic 60, Robben 89

Referee: Nicola Rizzoli (Italy)

Attendance: 86,298

As the newly crowned champion manager of Europe, Heynckes was talking about Arjen Robben and how life had changed so dramatically for the winger in the 12 months since his penalty miss in last year’s Champions League final helped deliver the trophy to an inferior Chelsea. Robben, said Heynckes, was a “tragic figure” after that dramatic defeat on their own pitch in front of their own people, “but, then, we were all tragic figures that night, it wasn’t Arjen.” He then went on to eulogise the player’s performances this season; his work ethic, his fitness and his form, which has been consistently high, not always a compliment you could pay this talented, but frail, footballer.

“I’m pleased for all of the players,” said Heynckes, name-checking the veterans, Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Daniel van Buyten, Claudio Pizarro and Anatoliy Tymoshchuk. “But I’m particularly pleased for Arjen. On Friday night (at their training session at Wembley) I spoke to Arjen and said ‘Look, you’re in really good form and tomorrow that’s going to be one of the crucial factors’.”

And it was. On a night bursting with renaissance stories – not least Heynckes’ own victory after two failed semi-finals and one failed final in this competition as Bayern manager in different periods at the club – the stand-out was Robben, the tragic figure of 2012 now transformed into something entirely different.

Robben was, indeed, crucial. Mentally, he was more robust than ever before. When Thomas Muller played him in one-on-one with Roman Weidenfeller just after the half-hour it was no surprise that Robben failed to convert. Credit the goalkeeper for making the save, but nobody ever got rich by backing the Dutchman in such moments. Not long after, there was another case study of Robben’s complicated psyche. A hoof downfield and Robben got the better of Mats Hummels to set himself up for another duel with Weidenfeller – another that he lost, driving his shot at the goalkeeper’s head instead of into the yawning space either side of him. Up in the stands, Mark van Bommel, a former international team-mate of Robben, is said to have sighed heavily. “Just like 2010 again,” he said.

It was a reference to one of the landmark disappointments in Robben’s career, another of the giant letdowns, the psychological weaknesses. The World Cup final of 2010 between Holland play Spain included an unforgettable moment when Robben went one-on-one with Iker Casillas, a head-to-head that brought a resounding victory for the goalkeeper and served as a catalyst for their glory. The moment has never quite left Robben. Neither has the Champions League campaign of 2010. Robben had been brilliant up until the final, whereupon he was bullied and rendered irrelevant as Inter stormed on to win.

Last year’s final brought up the hat-trick of disappointments, the penalty miss and the petulance. Before the meeting with Chelsea he was said to have fallen out with Thomas Muller and Franck Ribery, he was accused of not being a team player, the beating heart of Bayern, Franz Beckenbauer, called him selfish – tantamount to a death sentence in Munich. The DerSpiegel newspaper called him “The Insufferable Arjen Robben”. Sections of the Bayern support took to booing him. At one point during all of this, Van Bommel offered his younger countryman some advice. “It’s a disgrace (the booing) when you look what Robben has achieved in his career.” Van Bommel said that if he was Robben he would think about leaving the club, but he never did. He stayed and Saturday night was his redemption song.

The missed opportunities earlier in the match looked like they could be ominous for Bayern, looked like history repeating itself in some senses. Dortmund had begun the final magnificently. Before Bayern had created one goalscoring opportunity, Dortmund had created four and had it not been for the excellence of Manuel Neuer the underdogs would have the lead.

For 25 minutes they made light of the loss of their finest player, Mario Gotze, and instead at their heart they had the marvellous Marco Reus, playing more centrally and causing more trouble to Bayern than they could possibly have expected. It was Reus who whipped in a cross for Jakub Blaszczykowski to turn it on goal, his low effort kicked away by the razor-sharp Neuer. Minutes later, a Reus shot tested Neuer again. Bayern were being tormented out there, but this is a team with all the answers and so when Dortmund’s frenetic pace began to ease, Bayern emerged big and strong.

Their opening goal was all about Robben’s persistence and Mario Mandzukic’s positioning, an explosion down the left by the Dutchman and a sympathetic chip to the Croat who put it away.

Dortmund being Dortmund, they found themselves in quick order, picked up the pieces and went at Bayern anew. They were driven on by the remarkable presence of Jurgen Klopp on the touchline, a man whose emotional torture was visible in the aftermath even when pausing at his press conference to try and find the right words to express his disappointment. He didn’t need to. The angst was all there on his face and part of it had to do with what came next in this compelling, classy final.

Dortmund got their leveller when Dante, with a clumsy challenge on Reus, kicked the midfielder in the stomach having already been booked for an earlier foul on the same man, Reus. Ilkay Gundogan converted the penalty, but where was Dante’s red card? Asked later if he thought that the Brazilian should have been sent-off, Klopp turned the question back on the questioner.

“Do you think it was a red card?” Klopp asked of the journalist.

“I’d rather hear what you think?”

“But you have an opinion?” Klopp wondered.

“I think it was a red card.”

“Then we have the same opinion,” replied Klopp. ”I saw first and I thought it was a penalty, then I saw on television and thought it has to happen.”

There was no question that Dante should have walked and Dortmund will also believe that Franck Ribery should have also gone earlier in the game when he swung an arm at Robert Lewandowski. There wasn’t, if any, contact, but the arm was swung, no question.

At 1-1, Bayern turned on the power again. Neven Subotic had to make a magnificent goalline clearance to deny the increasingly influential Muller and there were shots by others, there was pressure, there was the unmistakable sight and sound of a vast machine roaring.

The winner was a delight, the ball being flicked into Robben’s path by the player he was once rumoured to be fighting with, Ribery, with the artist formerly known as the insufferable one doing the rest. He was cool and clinical, just as Heynckes predicted he would be. He was a winner, at last.

When the ceremony had passed and the talking began, Klopp spoke of his pride in his players. “The pride comes up and the sadness goes away,” he said. But not just. What next? “We need to buy some players because we need some players because others want our players.”

Bayern have already got the best of them for next year, Gotze. And Heynckes suggested strongly that they are taking Lewandowski, too. Not content to beat Dortmund, they are now pillaging them as well. Insult added to injury. With Europe’s most monied clubs circling like vultures, Klopp will do well to bring his team back to this stage any time soon.

For Munich, that job will soon be tasked to Pep Guardiola, not Heynckes, who has the German Cup final to come this weekend and then retirement thereafter. Two trophies and any number of records already set in this storied season, the treble is surely not far away.

Heynckes can leave the stage in the knowledge that he has created something immense. In their five knockout games against the champions of Italy, the champions of Spain and Dortmund, twice the champions of Germany before being usurped a few weeks ago, the European champions scored 13 goals and conceded only one – a penalty.

In defence and attack they are the complete team. “The golden generation” as their captain, Lahm, described them yesterday. Indeed. Bayern Uber Alles.

Borussia Dortmund: Weidenfeller, Piszczek, Subotic, Hummels, Schmelzer, Bender (Sahin 90), Gundogan, Blaszczykowski (Schieber 90), Reus, Grosskreutz, Lewandowski. Subs not used: Langerak, Kehl, Leitner, Kirch, Felipe Santana.

Bayern Munich: Neuer, Lahm, Boateng, Dante, Alaba, Javi Martinez, Schweinsteiger, Robben, Muller, Ribery (Gustavo 90), Mandzukic (Gomez 90). Subs not used: Starke, Van Buyten, Shaqiri, Pizarro, Tymoschuk.