Premier League 100: Arjen Robben’s scintillating spell at Chelsea and what might have been

Jack Rathborn
The Independent

The best things in life are worth the wait. Back in 2004 there was a barely containable anticipation among Chelsea fans as Arjen Robben finally made his debut at the end of October.

The Blues had managed to wrestle the flying Dutchman away from the claws of Manchester United to land the highly coveted PSV winger. But as Chelsea assembled the pieces for what would become a dynasty, Robben was cruelly denied the opportunity to make an immediate impact after picking up an injury in pre-season.

But after months of stewing during the start of Jose Mourinho‘s engrossing first spell in England, Robben burst onto the scene with exuberance. He dashed away from opponents swiping at his legs, taking great risks in possession, the likes of which would be rarely seen under his Portuguese boss in the years to come.

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His game was raw, without an extensive set of tricks. Robben rarely saw the necessity to stand up an opponent when he could simply knock the ball past him, flicking the switch to unleash his searing pace that would so often take him in behind the opposition. If opponents could live with that, then he would turn, cutting sharply back in the direction he had just come, leaving bodies scattered on the turf and clear space to find a team-mate.

In his first 16 Premier League appearances, Robben produced seven goals and seven assists in a devastating spell of form that placed him in the conversation for best player in the league.

But Robben’s body betrayed him in England, succumbing to numerous injuries to hamper his legacy and eventually convince him to push for a move to Real Madrid when the offer arrived. He elevated the ceiling of that Chelsea side, which may have ruled in Europe had he been fully fit for the Champions League semi-final against Liverpool.

Part of Roman Abramovich’s motivation to venture into football was his infatuation with exhilarating, beautiful football. So it is fair to surmise then that Robben fulfilling his potential elsewhere will have hurt. Rarely did the Blues produce the captivating football seen with Robben on board in the years to come, despite the litany of trophies collected.

In fact, Jose Mourinho might never have discovered a pair of wingers, with Damien Duff on the opposite flank, better suited to his style of football. Had he enjoyed Robben's prime, the perception of Mourinho and his philosophy may have been different.

Robben celebrates in his debut season at Chelsea (Getty)
Robben celebrates in his debut season at Chelsea (Getty)

While his time at Chelsea may have been curtailed by his body’s inability to hold up to the rigours of the Premier League, his subsequent spell with Bayern confirmed his status as one of this generation’s great players though.

For Chelsea and the Premier League as a whole, Robben’s departure left you wanting more and wondering what might have been.

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