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The Flying Dutchman Is Departing From Munich

Arjen Robben, the 35-year-old Dutch soccer legend, played his final game for Bayern Munich this past Saturday in the DFB Cup (German Cup) that saw the Bundesliga champions deliver a dominating 3-nil win against RB Leipzig that led to Bayern Munich hoisting that golden trophy.

Ending a 10-year career in Bavaria, Robben showcased his skills throughout the past decade throughout Germany, as well as before then with teams in Spain, England, and Holland. Of course, there are just a few highlights out there of when he’d start on the right side of the pitch and then cut inside to his favorable left foot for either a rocket of a shot back post.

Just a few.

Quick Stat: Arjen Robben scored 99 goals in the Bundesliga and nearly earned his 100th on a couple of occasions in his final league match a week and a half ago.

I could go on and on and on…and on about the properly rated and interestingly underrated talent of Arjen Robben in the era of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. For starters, with help from “Robbery” partner in crime Franck Ribéry, Robben helped define Bayern Munich for the past decade.

Here’s “Robbery” in action against Manchester United in a 2010 Champions League match in Old Trafford.

And then there’s the 2012/2013 season in which Bayern Munich won the amazing treble (Bundesliga, German Cup, Champions League) with help from, guess who?

But now it’s time to say a Bavarian goodbye to Mr. Wembley (or The Flying Dutchman) as we wait for him to announce his future plans, which will either be retirement or one final tour of playing with a not-yet-determined club. I actually got to see Arjen Robben play in the Allianz Arena for a Champions League game against Atlético Madrid back in late 2016. Bayern Munich won 1-nil on a Robert Lewandowski goal in, let’s say, chilly weather. I believe the thermometer read 20-degrees.

Regardless of having to wear a couple extra layers, which was no big deal at all for the awesome prize of seeing Arjen Robben and Bayern Munich battle (and defeat!) Atlético Madrid in a Champions League match inside the stunning Allianz Arena in Munich. The entire experience was amazingly unforgettable.

Returning back to the Bavarian goodbye, Bayern Munich produced a fitting farewell with words of gratitude from the star winger.

Until next season, Arjen Robben?

RIP Johan Cruyff

For Dutch soccer players and fans, the lion is the symbol on their national team jersey crest. However, most would agree Johan Cruyff is the true icon of Dutch soccer.

The Dutch footballing legend passed away today at the age of 68 in Barcelona, his adoptive city where he paved the way for the club’s sustained greatness.

“Cruyff, who made his name as a forward with Ajax and Barcelona, was European footballer of the year three times.

He won three consecutive European Cups with Ajax from 1971, coached Barcelona to their first European Cup triumph in 1992 and helped the Dutch reach the 1974 World Cup final, where they lost 2-1 to West Germany.”
–BBC

Cruyff’s wisdom on the sport was equal to his talent on the pitch and sideline.

“Playing football is very simple, but playing simple football is the hardest thing there is.”
–Johan Cruyff

In the soccer world, March 24, 2016 will be remembered as a very sad day. Johan Cruyff was a genuine living legend, influential as a player, coach and mentor. His innovative style of play, aptly defined as “total football,” introduced and revolutionized the theory focused on the fluidity of players on the pitch.

In other words, a central midfielder was not limited to a role in the middle and a winger was not restricted to just the outside. The position players (not the goalie) were interchangeable. When executed properly, there are few (if any) teams that can counter this approach.

“Total football” is a world-class strategy.

And world-class is the right way to describe Johan Cruyff’s legacy.

Cruyff’s tactical prowess has and continues to influence the massively successful and astronomically in-demand managerial services of Pep Guardiola (Barcelona, Bayern Munich). Plus, the academies at Ajax and Barcelona continue to instill his style and wisdom.

Speaking of style and wisdom, watch his take on the Dutch national team from back in 2008.

That’s what total knowledge of soccer looks and sounds like.

No Lions in Paris

(EPA)

(EPA)

Dutch tourism to France may be at an all-time low next summer.

The Netherlands soccer team suffered a devastating 3-2 loss today against the Czech Republic, who were not very kind visitors in the Amsterdam Arena. Missed opportunities for goals throughout 93 minutes, porous defending in the back and Robin van Persie’s miscalculation that resulted in an own goal sealed their fate.

It should be noted van Persie did score against the Czech Republic, along with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.

Since the Dutch were hanging by a thread of hope and a prayer (a must-win game and Iceland victory) before kickoff, the odds against their qualifying for the playoff to then qualify to the UEFA Euro 2016 tournament in France were very high.

Still, the Oranje players and dedicated fans (myself included) had faith in an epic turnaround.

Despite injuries to key players (including, but not limited to Arjen Robben, Jasper Cillessen and much of its defense), it was expected that the Netherlands would be able to control its games and earn enough wins and ties to book its ticket to France in the summer of 2016.

They didn’t.

“…Netherlands finished fourth in the group and failed to qualify for the European Championships for the first time since 1984…”
–Tom Webber, Goal.com

Great teams in all sports experience injury woes that can paralyze their chances at grand success. Some of these teams manage to squeeze out wins, even when the odds were all against them. Even though the Dutch have had their pitfalls throughout its history (internal turmoil, lack of motivation), they have also had moments of glory and the best kinds of shock-and-awe. Just last summer, the Dutch finished third in the World Cup.

And this is where this defeat stings the most.

The expectations were and are sky high for this squad, as in a championship-level altitude. Some of the best players in the world are on this team. Let’s take a closer look with their age in parenthesis:

  • Arjen Robben (31)
  • Wesley Sneijder (31)
  • Robin van Persie (32)
  • Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (32)
  • Rafael van der Vaart (32)

The fact is those listed above, a golden generation in their own right, have world-class talent, pace and vision. Age has not slowed them down. However, the reason for listing the aforementioned players who define the explosive and creative offense identity of the Dutch is to acknowledge that this was the last UEFA Euro tournament they could have competed for within their peak years.

As a tried-and-true Dutch fan for more than 15 years, it’s painful to even concede this reality.

The final score today was a disqualifying loss, but the opportunity to play for and potentially win a defining European championship was the real loss and it was (and is) gut-wrenching.

There are many questions to be answered in the coming days, weeks, months:

  • Is head coach Danny Blind to blame when he had such a limited, bleak chance of success?
  • Who will be the head coach for the 2018 World Cup qualifying?
  • What players listed above will be leading the Dutch towards the next World Cup in Russia?
  • Aside from Daley Blind, can the Netherlands find high-quality defenders?
  • How quickly can this team fix its problems and return to playing world-class soccer/Total Football?

Fortunately, the KNVB’s current golden generation has a proficiency for answering its harshest critics every couple of years. They have one more chance lift a trophy to solidify their golden Oranje legacy.

From Russia, with love of strength and the World Cup trophy, 2018 is the mission of a lifetime.

Going Dutch in Kansas City?

While the world’s shining city on a hill has emitted a dull glow in recent years, there still appears to be an allure for footballers in South America and Europe. A recent report revealed Dutch midfielder Rafael van der Vaart has been offered a major contract to sport a light shade of blue in Kansas City. The deal is estimated at $4.8 million/year for the 32-year old.

I repeat: Rafael van der Vaart is only 32-years old.

He’s a game-changer. He can define a midfield with purpose, incorporate dynamic calculation in its movement and offer spontaneous displays of applause-worthy flair. Rafael van der Vaart still has a few years left and, if this deal is signed, would be a tremendous pick-up for Sporting Kansas City and MLS in general.

Here’s some evidence:

New International Players arriving in MLS this season:

  • Kaká
  • Frank Lampard
  • Steven Gerrard
  • Sebastian Giovinco
  • David Villa
  • Rafael van der Vaart?

Will Rafael van der Vaart be living in the Midwest in 2015? Who knows. It could just be a bargaining chip in Europe or merely an initial interest in hopping across the pond to America. Regardless, it’s exciting speculation. And just on the surface, there are several reasons to check out MLS this season beyond our favorite squads. There’s the amazing redesign and re-branding of the Columbus Crew SC, big international signings, new club introductions and modernized club identities. 2015 may seem a little bit like the mid-late 1990s with a refreshed, adrenaline-fueled enthusiasm for soccer in America.

Of course, if Rafael van der Vaart does sign with an MLS team, remember his wife and kids will join him as well.

Rafael and Sylvie van der Vaart encapsulate why soccer is called the beautiful game.