There is no doubt that Arjen Robben is a great talent. His obvious qualities lie in his jinking runs and deadly left foot but Robben also belongs to the rare breed of footballers that genuinely improve their game with age. It is often said footballers reach their peak at 28-29 when they have the ultimate blend of athleticism, skill and experience. For forward players and for those whose game is heavily relient on pace, I would argue that a more realistic age would be 22-25 – think of Michael Owen, Wayne Rooney and Damien Duff who played on the opposite flank at Chelsea to such devastating effect (what happened to him?!). The fact that Robben has improved throughout his career is testament to his character; he is an arrogant so-and-so but he is also a winner, a big name who thrives on the big stage. This said, he is also a diver and a cheat.
Yesterday his antics deprived Mexico of passage through to the Quarter finals, winning a penalty in the final minute with the most theatrical of leaps – slight touch from the defender, legs up, ankles apart, arched back, hands and eyes to the sky….it really did have it all. I’m sick of seeing Robbens face on TV, every time I watch him he deploys the same tactics – drive towards the box at pace, look for a touch, then go down like a sack of spuds. Yes he did get a touch on the ankle yesterday but we need to get away from the idea that the slightest contact in the box gives attackers the divine right to hit the deck. Defending is an art and football is a contact sport.
Robben even had the cheek to admit he dived: ‘I have to apologise. In the first half I took a dive. The one at the end was a penalty’. Whilst admitting his mistermeiner on Dutch TV is the typically bold and brash response you’d expect from Robben (and probably crosses Cancun off his list of potential summer holiday destinations), surely his admission is tantamount to bringing the game into disrepute? I very much doubt that FIFA will retrospectively punish Robben, which leaves the question of what can be done for the rest of tournament to prevent reoccurance?
So far I have been impressed with the refareeing at the tournament which has favoured open games and attacking football – refarees are not blowing up for every minor point of contact which has kept the games flowing. However, throughout the course of 90mins every single Refaree will be tested by players trying to con them into giving them free kicks by diving. The automatic caution for diving makes it a big call for the Ref to signal a dive. My hope for the rest of the tournament is that the men in black will be allowed a degree of common sense in their judgement calls on particular players. What I mean by this, is that they should be allowed, to a degree, to take previous form into account when making their decisions. Robben has form for diving in this tournament; the refarees know who he is and what he has done. Next time he flops in the box and there is a degree of doubt, a penalty must not be given.
NB. that I am not suggesting that Refarees take reputation into account which can be influenced by the media. I’m suggesting that any clear indisgressions from this particular tournament should be considered behind the scenes before refarees go onto a field of play. In a way, this is sensible refareeing – by studying players, a refaree may notice particular patterns, such a defender who has a tendency to pull the attackers shirt at a corner, and will therefore be able to spot incidents during the game they would have otherwise overlooked. In the case of Robben, this may work slightly against him for the rest of the competition where he may not get those 50/50 decisions but hopefully that will gradually encourage him to think twice before chucking himself to the floor in an utterly pathetic manner.