Rounded Robben relishing leadership role

Forget diving drama – Netherlands star has been playing at least on Messi’s level

Arjen Robben celebrates after the Netherlands penalty shootout win against Costa Rica, which set up a semi-final against Argentina. Photograph: Sergio Moraes/Reuters

Arjen Robben celebrates after the Netherlands penalty shootout win against Costa Rica, which set up a semi-final against Argentina. Photograph: Sergio Moraes/Reuters

Mon, Jul 7, 2014, 01:00

At the press conference after the Netherlands had, in the blink of an eye, turned Mexico’s victory into heartbreaking defeat in Fortaleza, poor, crushed Miguel Herrera, the Mexican manager, spluttered a lot of nasty things about the referee.

The foul on Arjen Robben that had won the game for Holland was, he said, “an invention” by Pedro Proença, and Robben was an out-and-out diver.

The bitterness was understandable in the circumstances, and you just had to let Herrera get it off his chest. But as Robben had in fact been fouled, and had also been tripped in the Mexican box in the first half in an incident that was ignored by Proença, it was difficult to consider Herrera’s complaints much of a story.

A few British journalists present felt differently and went big on it, which was understandable given the appetite in Britain for dirty-diving Robben stories. José Mourinho was soon wheeled out for a quiet dig. Even Google dedicated a “daily doodle” on its search engine to a tumbling figure in orange.

Melodramatic

Robben has not helped himself at times, and the way he falls is melodramatic, but he still suffers disproportionately for past offences. He has been praised for his displays in Brazil, but nothing like Messi, Rodriguez or Neymar, when he has been playing at least on their level.

Condemned as a bad example for youngsters, to a youthful Netherlands squad he is in fact the inspiration and leader, an assistant captain who is de facto skipper, a player without whom Louis van Gaal’s team would have long gone home.

After the high drama of Saturday’s win in Salvador, Robben admitted he was “tired of the bullshit” around diving, but he is obviously not letting it distract him. He may not have been decisive against Costa Rica, but he was still brilliant – driven, enraged, frightening.

During the break in extra- time it was Robben who gave the team-talk on the sideline, with Van Gaal looking on approvingly, only too happy for the incredible focus of the man he has built his team around to set the tone.

Last week Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant described the leadership role Robben has taken on during training, with his voice the one most often heard during drills. At one point, Robben shouted “Good, boys, we need this intensity tomorrow”; at another he was heard admonishing Van Gaal when the manager called the ball out after it went a few centimetres over the line. “Let it play on, keep the f***ing tempo up,” Robben interjected.

His role as one of the squad’s senior pros is clearly to his liking, as he hinted after the fabulous victory over Spain, in which he scored twice. “I am most proud of the guys who played against the world champions without ever having played in a tournament,” he said.

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