Arjen Robben retires: 'They called me the "man of glass" – but I had the last laugh'
Photography: Stefan Hobmaier
What’s your earliest football memory? Did you like going in the ‘cages’ that are so popular with young people in the Netherlands?
Henk van der Voort, The Hague
I guess my earliest football memories are of playing in the street and also the little pitches at school. I joined the local football team in my village when I was small, but we would play only once or twice a week. I honed my skills just by playing for fun with friends after school.
- 2000-02 Groningen
- 2002-04 PSV
- 2004-07 Chelsea
- 2007-09 Real Madrid
- 2009- Bayern Munich
Speed has always been one of your trademarks – were you any good at athletics as a kid?
Simon Christie, via Facebook
At school I did a bit of athletics and the pace was always there, although it was never something I really considered as a professional career path. It’s strange because my parents were not that fast – my mum is quicker than my dad! It’s been a great weapon for me, however, and a lucky one, too – you either have it or you don’t.
You were still studying at school when you made your debut for Groningen – your mates must have been jealous...
Rudy Schmidt, Rotterdam
I remember my mum called me two or three times while I was in class. When I rang her back she told me Groningen had called and that I was in the squad that weekend. It came out of the blue and I wasn't expecting it. I'd never even trained with the first team but the coach put me on the substitutes’ bench. My friends were really happy for me. It was also quite strange for them to see me playing on the television and then read about me in all the newspapers.
You suffered with numerous injuries early in your career. Did you fear that you wouldn’t fulfil your potential because of them?
Oliver Weinhardt, via Twitter
I never had problems with injuries as a kid or in the youth team. My injuries started at Chelsea, when I broke my foot during a pre-season game. That was just pure bad luck, but after that I had some muscular injuries too, so I had to get to know my body better. I tried to find out how to take care of it, to avoid breaking down all the time. Some players never have any injuries and others, like me, have to do more specific things to ensure they stay fit.
PSV’s fans labelled you and Mateja Kezman ‘Batman and Robben’ due to your understanding on the pitch. What made your relationship with him special, and why didn’t it work out at Chelsea?
Roland Smith, Worcester
We had a brilliant team at PSV at that time and my job was simply to set him up as much as possible. There was also Dennis Rommedahl on the right wing, who was very, very fast, so we created a lot of opportunites for Mateja and he scored a lot of goals. Unfortunately he didn’t play too much when we were at Chelsea, so we weren’t able to have the same success on the pitch together as we did at PSV.
- 2003-17 Netherlands
You’ve scored so many goals in your career by cutting inside on your left foot before bending the ball into the far corner. How did this become your most dangerous weapon?
Ryan Smith, Glasgow
In my youth-team days, I was always a left-winger who would stay close to the byline and put crosses in the box, so I could never cut inside and shoot. It was only when I joined Real Madrid and started playing in a more central position, and then on the right wing, that I suddenly realised I had a really dangerous weapon. I’d say the most important thing is always retaining an element of surprise, so I can carry on scoring goals like that.
Johan Cruyff once said about you: “He’s got tremendous talent and a beautiful left foot, but his right leg is made of chocolate.” Did you ever get to talk to him about that?
Simon Crown, Middlesbrough
Never – but he’s not the only person who’s said that! I can’t do anything with my right foot but I’ve made it to the top. Modern coaches want young players to work on both feet, but I’m not so sure that's a good thing. Some players have got one very good foot, so you then have a question: Do you make that foot exceptional, or work on both and maybe just have two very good feet? Maybe players should focus on maximising the potential of their strongest foot?