Losing a Champions League final is tough. You saw Neymar’s tears in Lisbon. Mauricio Pochettino locked himself in his house for 10 days after Tottenham’s defeat to Liverpool. Michael Carrick has described how he fell into a state of depression after Manchester United were beaten by Barcelona in Rome. Imagine, then, losing a Champions League final at your own stadium, only to have to return there to play again three days later. That was the prospect facing Bayern Munich in 2012.
After penalty heartache against Chelsea at the Allianz Arena, Jupp Heynckes’ squad were broken. You might remember the picture of Philipp Lahm wandering around a group of stricken teammates, consoling those lying on the turf following the shoot-out. “It’s like a bad film,” the captain muttered afterwards. “I think this is more brutal than the 1999 loss to Manchester United,” chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge added.
Toni Kroos revealed how he drowned his sorrows that night, having to call out an emergency doctor after drinking too much. “There was no other way,” the midfielder justified it.
Three days later, Bayern had to show their face. The club had agreed to play a friendly against the Netherlands at the Allianz. The strange match-up was the result of a legal dispute which had its roots in Arjen Robben’s left hamstring.
In the run-up to the 2010 World Cup, the Bayern winger suffered a hamstring injury during the Netherlands’ friendly with Hungary in Amsterdam. He was taken to hospital for tests, fuelling fear over his participation in South Africa that summer. The dreaded diagnosis was a small tear, which would keep him out of action for four to six weeks.
The Netherlands’ first group fixture against Denmark was pencilled in for just seven days later. Nevertheless, head coach Bert van Marwijk opted against calling up a replacement, preferring to keep Robben part of his travelling party in the hope he could contribute at some point.
To the surprise of many and the suspicion of some, the 26-year-old was back in training less than two weeks later. By then, Van Marwijk’s squad were preparing to take on Japan after picking up three points against Denmark. Robben made the bench in Durban but wasn’t needed in a 1-0 victory sealed by Wesley Sneijder’s second-half strike.
He would, though, make it on for the final 17 minutes of Holland’s 2-1 win over Cameroon in Cape Town five days later. “The hamstring felt fine,” Robben reassured to FIFA afterwards. “I’m ready to play my part going forwards.”
Robben racked up another 370 minutes over the next couple of weeks, including 71 minutes and a goal against Slovakia in the last-16, the full 90 against Brazil in the quarter-finals, a further 89 minutes and another goal against Uruguay in the semi-finals and then every minute of the Netherlands’ extra-time defeat to Spain in the final. That’s a lot of football for someone who’d torn their hamstring just a month before. As you can imagine, Bayern were not best pleased.
Bavarian bosses were even more perturbed when Robben returned to the club for pre-season at the start of August. The hamstring tear had not healed, while Dutch public broadcaster NOS reported that a second tear was detected – one that had not been seen by the national team. “I find it irresponsible that this was not diagnosed accurately and that Arjen has played with it,” an angered Bayern club doctor Hans-Wilhelm Muller-Wohlfahrt raged. “I offered several times to help with the diagnosis but was not called.”
Muller-Wohlfahrt ruled Robben out for another eight weeks, meaning he would miss the start of Bayern’s Bundesliga and Champions League campaigns.
To make up for the lost time and money, Bayern sought compensation from the KNVB. I think you can see where this is going. Unable to settle on a financial package by February 2011, the pair eventually agreed to stage a friendly at a later date. That later date was arranged for 22 May 2012, three days after the Allianz Arena was due to host the Champions League final.
In a very un-German way, the possibility of Bayern competing in that final evidently didn’t occur to the club – or at least didn’t concern them too much. For the Netherlands, the match would act as good practice for Euro 2012, especially after they were drawn alongside Germany in the group-stage draw a few months down the line.
This wouldn’t be the first time a club and country had gone head to head. Depending on your age – or your interest in anything interesting happening in Buckinghamshire in the last half-century – your mind might hark back to England’s visit to Aylesbury United in 1988. An amateur team would make up the Three Lions’ opposition for their final warm-up match before Euro 88, with Bobby Robson’s side running out 7-0 winners thanks, in part, to four goals from Peter Beardsley.
The following year, with English teams still banned from European competitions, France were looking to test themselves against a British outfit ahead of their World Cup qualifier against Scotland. George Graham’s Arsenal were happy to oblige, beating Les Bleus 2-0 in the subsequent friendly at Highbury.
As part of their centenary celebrations in 1999, a full-strength Barcelona welcomed Brazil to the Camp Nou. Wanderlei Luxemburgo named plenty of stars in his line-up, too, including Blaugrana players past and present in Ronaldo, Romario and Rivaldo. In this worlds-colliding meeting, fit for a Hollywood crossover, goals were exchanged between both sides in a 2-2 draw.
There were amicable scenes throughout, which can’t be said for a less glamorous friendly, if only by name, between QPR and China in 2007. The Chinese Olympic team didn’t build many bridges on their tour of west London, criticising the training facilities offered to them by Chelsea. Their game against QPR was abandoned midway through because of a nasty brawl between the two teams, one which landed China’s Zheng Tao in hospital with a broken jaw.
The organisation of Bayern’s friendly with the Netherlands didn’t go down too well with German boss Joachim Löw. His training camp for Euro 2012 had already been disrupted by Die Roten’s involvement in the Champions League final, so the idea of several of his players sticking around for, in his eyes, a meaningless friendly was not the most enticing.
Wolfgang Niersbach, head of the DFB, told Bild how he’d made Bayern aware of the “problems” that might come about because of the friendly. Facing the wrath of the KNVB in the event of any cancellation, Bayern persisted with the friendly, although beating Chelsea would’ve made everything easier.
Once Didier Drogba’s penalty had bulged the net, one of Bayern’s main concerns ahead of the visit of the Dutch was selling tickets. After all, the match had been drawn up in order to make enough revenue to pay for Robben’s wages when he was stuck on the treatment table two years before.
The club managed to pull in some 33,000 fans in time for kick-off on Tuesday evening. Indeed, that number would’ve been a lot bigger had Manuel Neuer been able to palm Drogba’s 88th-minute header to safety. The majority of attending Bayern supporters had picked themselves up for the friendly and there was a good atmosphere within the 75,000-seater stadium, even if a few tiers were empty.
Some of these paying customers were swayed by the promise of strong teams being fielded and, with a European Championship coming up, there was no reason for the visitors not to start the likes of Sneijder, Rafael van der Vaart and Dirk Kuyt. Bayern made a handful of changes but Kroos and Thomas Muller kept their places. Hans-Jorg Butt was playing his final game for the club in goal. The slight testimonial feel to proceedings eased the hint of tension that still hung in the air following the failure of the weekend. There was nothing pedestrian about the opening half an hour, though.
Having recovered from the disappointment of Chelsea, if not his hangover, Kroos sprayed a shot at goal from distance which Martin Stekelenburg’s flimsy left hand couldn’t stop. The midfielder’s effort wasn’t particularly powerful but the goalkeeper’s glove simply cushioned its trajectory towards the back of the net.
Oranje hit back, though, scoring two goals in as many minutes on the counter, the first a pumped finish from Klaas-Jan Huntelaar’s left boot and the second a feathered dink from Luciano Narsingh’s right foot. A few moments later, the scores were level again, Ivica Olić crossing for Nils Petersen to butt the ball past Michel Vorm. The entertainment did, at least, put some smiles back on Bayern faces.
In the second half, the ambience turned slightly sour. Robben wasn’t the most popular man in Munich during those days. It was his penalty in extra-time that had been saved by a combination of Petr Čech’s arms and backside. “It was a terrible penalty kick. I wanted to shoot the ball hard and high in the goal but the ball didn’t go high enough,” he offered at full time.
It was he who didn’t then step up to take a spot-kick in the shoot-out. “You can understand if he didn’t score the penalty in extra time that he may have lost some self-confidence to participate in the penalty shoot-out,” Heynckes explained.
What certainly won’t have helped Robben’s self-esteem was the reception from a certain section of supporters inside the Allianz Arena three days later. Donning the black and orange of Bayern’s opponents, the Dutchman was booed after coming as a substitute and every time he touched the ball. Not by many, it must be said, but by enough to be noticeable. Mario Gómez slotted in a late winner for Bayern, thanks to Frank Ribèry’s dancing dribble and cut-back – but there was one topic dominating the post-match talk.
“It’s absolutely outrageous how the fans treated Arjen Robben,” Netherlands captain Mark van Bommel vented to Voetbal International. “If I was Arjen, I would start thinking about whether I still want to play football there, even if my contract has just been renewed.”
Van Marwijk wasn’t impressed either: “It is a disgrace the way they treated Arjen. I can understand when a player considers whether he should leave or not in such a situation. That is not funny anymore, that is serious.” Quite embarrassed, Bayern were forced to apologise to their own player.
“Some fans were clearly disappointed that Robben was playing for the Dutch team and not in a Bayern Munich shirt just three days after the lost Champions League final. This, however, does not give anybody the right to boo one of our players,” Rummenigge deplored. “The style of Bayern and our fans is to reach out and help those who are lying on the ground, like the majority of the 33,000 fans did by chanting Robben’s name.”
Perhaps as a result of his rough treatment from his club supporters, Robben wasn’t able to produce his best form in Poland and Ukraine that summer. He and Oranje lost each of their group fixtures – to Denmark, Germany and Portugal – and were labelled the tournament flops at Euro 2012.
Reports of dressing room unrest, suggested by Robben himself, led to Van Marwijk’s resignation. Louis van Gaal stepped in to the repair the damage, laying the foundations to a successful summer in Brazil two years later. Robben would go into that World Cup as one of the best players on the planet.
After the saga of South Africa, the injury problems, the Chelsea final and the treatment from his own people, the winger rose again. A year and three days after Bayern’s friendly with the Dutch, the legend of Mr Wembley was born, Robben adding the finishing touch to a treble-winning season for the club who’d always stood by him.
Any debt repaid and any resentment quashed, Robben’s relationship with the Bayern faithful would slide ever closer over the years to come. If the dispute between the Bundesliga side and the KNVB benefitted anything, it was adding another peculiar club versus country clash into the football annals.
By Billy Munday @billymunday08