- Pep Guardiola will leave Bayern Munich to become Manchester City boss
- Holland winger Arjen Robben insists Spaniard will improve Man City
- Dutchman has also worked under Jose Mourinho and Louis van Gaal
Rob Draper for The Mail on Sunday
16:01 EST, 2 April 2016
16:36 EST, 2 April 2016
Arjen Robben assumed there was not so much more to learn about the game. After all, he has won eight league titles in his career, scored the winner in the Champions League final and appeared in a World Cup final. Then came Pep Guardiola.
Robben, then 29, was one of Bayern Munich’s most senior players when Guardiola arrived at the club. What followed was probably the best period of Robben’s career, which saw him challenging for the player of the tournament at the 2014 World Cup finals.
‘Normally they say it’s when you’re young that you develop,’ says Robben, reflecting on a man who is, for two months at least, still his manager. ‘But working with him it’s like, still at my age, I can improve and become . . . “better” is maybe not the word — more flexible, different.’
Holland winger Arjen Robben is convinced that Pep Guardiola will make Manchester City a better team
Robben feels that playing under the Spaniard at Bayern Munich has improved his ‘flexibility’
Robben speaks to Sportsmail’s Rob Draper during an exclusive interview for Mail on Sunday
It is an odd situation. Bayern are on course for a fourth successive Bundesliga title, Guardiola’s third; they have a Champions League quarter-final against Benfica this week; they are still in the German Cup; and Guardiola is, for now, the current Bayern manager rather than the next at Manchester City.
‘We are already talking in the past when we are still enjoying him!’ says the Dutchman, now 32, who is hoping to return to the team this week after a period out with injury. ‘Overall it is just a great experience to work with him because with him, it’s football 24-7. He thinks constantly about how to make the team better and how to improve players.
‘He’ll get some players to play in a different position not just because he thinks that better for the team but also because he thinks the qualities of the player can be used better. These little changes are quite interesting; this flexibility. Normally I played on the wing but under him I’ve played in midfield, I’ve played behind the striker, I’ve played as a striker on the right side.
‘He’s always challenging the team. He talks a lot about football and tactics and you have to go with him and have to start thinking yourself and constantly think about what you’re doing on the pitch.’
Arjen is on course to win a third consecutive Bundesliga while playing under the world’s most wanted manager
Guardiola critics claim that he inherited a treble winning team and has not yet won another Champions League
Manuel Pellegrini is playing out the season in the knowledge he will be replaced by Guardiola in the summer
ROBBEN LEAGUE STATS 2015/16
Shooting accuracy: 43%
Chances created: 26
Passing accuracy: 80%
Duels won: 57%
Yellow/red cards: 1/0
Of course, there are naysayers when it comes to Guardiola. Those who say he inherited a team who won the Treble under Jupp Heynckes and that he has failed to improve. Robben disagrees.
‘Each team is different because it’s a new manager with his own philosophy. But I think you can also say [we are] better, the way we developed as a team, the way we are playing very dominant football.
‘We are even more flexible, we can play different systems. Maybe before, if you win the Treble, what can you say? What can improve? You’ve won the maximum amount of titles. But, still, football-wise, technically, the system: I think we’ve developed as a team. Even more, I feel the players individually have improved under Guardiola.’
And they have felt his charisma. ‘He shows his emotions on the pitch and on the training pitch. You have managers who sit still for 90 minutes on the bench and say something at half-time and then you have managers who are more emotional, like Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool. I like it. I enjoy it. He’s there. He’s full commitment, 100 per cent.’
Guardiola is renowned for expressing his emotions during matches and intense training sessions
Robben went on to become one of the best players at the 2014 World Cup after working with Guardiola
It is heartening for Manchester City fans, who may not be going to this week’s Champions League quarter-final, their first, with Paris Saint-Germain, in the best spirits. The twilight months of Manuel Pellegrini are not proving to be glorious, but then next season brings new hope.
‘Definitely he will put his philosophy on the team,’ said Robben. ‘The way he thinks about football, how football has to be played, that’s what he wants to bring to Manchester. So it’s going to be interesting with the squad he has now and what players are coming in and it will be a curious project to follow.’
At Bayern, though, Guardiola was always likely to be a short-term project. They thrived before and have grown still further as a global force under the Spaniard. It seems they don’t fear their current manager combining his skills with Abu Dhabi’s oil revenues.
‘I don’t know if worry is the word,’ says Robben, pondering the City-plus-Pep threat. ‘The big difference is financial. The money in England is way more. But I think we have to go with our own strengths. This is a traditional club and one which has developed over the years, even since I’ve been here.’
Robben has been intrinsic to that rise. But he was also, via a short spell at Real Madrid, at the start of Chelsea’s rise and part of Jose Mourinho’s first, great Chelsea team, where, along with Damien Duff, he provided the skill, speed and width.
Robben is not overly concerned by the thought of Guardiola linking up with Manchester City’s millions
Franck Ribery celebrates with team-mates after bayern Munich’s victory over Eintracht Frankfurt
It means that he has played under the two great managerial personalities of the past 10 years, who may meet again in Manchester next season on opposite sides of the derby rivalry.
GUARDIOLA TROPHY HAUL
La Liga: 2008–09, 2009–10, 2010–11
Copa del Rey: 2008–09, 2011–12
Spanish Super Cup: 2009, 2010, 2011
UEFA Champions League: 2008–09, 2010–11
UEFA Super Cup: 2009, 2011
FIFA Club World Cup: 2009, 2011
Bundesliga: 2013–14, 2014–15
UEFA Super Cup: 2013
FIFA Club World Cup: 2013
With Mourinho, though, there always seemed to be a sense of discord. Robben was often injured in a physical Premier League and Mourinho is old school in not responding well to injured players.
He was injured in a pre- season match for Chelsea after a particularly aggressive challenge from Roma’s Olivier Dacourt but quickly proved a hit at Stamford Bridge. ‘When I came back from injury in the first match, I had a great period, scoring goals and being important for the team, straight away,’ said Robben.
‘Then, in the second and third year I had more problems with injuries. Now everything has developed medically and is getting better and better but at the time it was a very difficult one. Jose wants to win and he wants to rely on people and I was not a reliable one at the time.
‘But it was not my fault. The discussions are, “You have to be stronger for yourself”. You see the scan and you see something is not right, so there is nothing you can do. But then there were also the critics, “Oh, he has to be stronger. He’s a bit weak”. That was not the case.’
He empathises with Eden Hazard, a prodigious wide player who sometimes seemed to struggle with Mourinho’s exacting demands, though he also produced his best-ever season under him, before fading this term. Robben feels that the Mourinho experience ought to toughen up a player.
Robben, pictured with Michael Essien, struggled with injuries during his spell as a Chelsea player
Another former manager, Jose Mourinho (right), didn’t always take kindly to Robben’s injuries
‘Every period in your career you need different things but the most important is not the coach, it’s your own mentality,’ he said. ‘You have to be strong in your head. You always have to keep going, even when it’s not easy. There are moments in your career when it’s not going your way.
‘A player like Hazard has so many qualities; he is one of the best there is. Of course you need support, you need good people around you, you need this feeling that you know the manager is behind you. I think this is very important. But, after all, it just [comes down to] the quality you have as a player.’
Robben also played under Louis van Gaal at Bayern and with Holland, completing a holy trinity of the key 21st century coaching personalities. Robben liked him yet concedes he can be difficult to please. ‘He’s a great manager,’ said Robben. ‘He’s like Guardiola: 24-7 he’s thinking about football, trying to improve the team, trying to improve players.
By playing under Louis van Gaal for Holland, Robben has completed a holy trinity of 21st century coaches
Robben, pictured scoring in the 2013 Champions League final, hopes another win will be Pep’s parting gift
‘He has his way of working. It’s not always easy, sometimes it’s very intense. He cannot fall asleep for a second. When you’re able to deal with him and work with him, he’s a great coach. I enjoyed him here, I enjoyed him at the World Cup, but it is difficult and the Premier League is not easy, every game is difficult.’
At Bayern there are no such problems. They clearly belong among the top teams in Europe. Robben will be back to help them through these latter stages of the Champions League and the Bundesliga. And then? He is not ready to wind down just yet. ‘I’m feeling quite good,’ he said.
‘This season hasn’t gone as I wanted it but the two years before I’ve been playing at a very high level constantly and that’s what I want to do. This summer I will have a good break, because we don’t play the Euros. It’s strange, you cannot really say it now, but I’m actually looking forward to next season. I think there are still a good few years in me.’
The 32-year-old forward is not contemplating retirement… ‘I still have a few good years in me’