Bayern Munich hope that the return from long-term injury of Dutch forward Arjen Robben and the revival of the scandal-plagued Franck Ribery will help push the team towards the titles still within reach this season.
Daylight Robbery: Bundesliga defenses are on alert again
It was a glittering partnership to rival the magic of Hollywood unions such as Bennifer and Brangelina. The metaphorical marriage of Arjen Robben and Frank Ribery – Robbery, as the celebrity-obsessed press named them – caught the eye and dominated the headlines more than any other during Bayern Munich's double-winning season last year.
The combination of the fleet-footed Dutchman and the powerfully creative Frenchman was at the heart of Bayern's success as they sailed towards Bundesliga and German Cup titles – as well as the club's first Champions League final in almost a decade. But like most partnerships, they were destined at some point to experience choppier waters.
Robben's form at Bayern made him an integral member of the Netherlands World Cup squad for the 2010 tournament in South Africa. He seamlessly replicated his marauding displays in the Bundesliga on the biggest stage of all, helping the Dutch to the final. But his country's reliance on him proved costly and Robben returned from World Cup duty unfit for the start of the current Bundesliga campaign, suffering from an injury which would keep him out for the first half of the season.
Ribery had different problems. After playing with the weight of a sex scandal on his shoulders for the last part of the previous Bundesliga season, and struggling for fitness and form as he labored with France to the World Cup, the French maverick seemed burnt out physically and mentally over the summer. The French farce in South Africa, the run-ins with Bayern coach Louis van Gaal and the endless speculation over a possible prison term arising from his involvement with an under-age prostitute all seemed too much for the midfielder.
Injury problems seem behind dynamic Dutchman
Bayern fans can't wait to see Robben celebrating again
Fast forward to the beginning of 2011, however, and the German press is preparing once more to lavish column inches and praise on its favorite double act. With Robben returning to full fitness and Ribery claiming to be healed in both body and mind, the Bundesliga is breathless with expectation at the return of Robbery. Bayern, above all, cannot wait to have them back.
"Robben is the kind of player that doesn't think, but mainly acts on instinct and his instincts make him do things that seem impossible," Jan Roskott, Dutch soccer correspondent for The Offside.com, told Deutsche Welle. "Logic is defied and if his team is seventh or eighth in the league, this won't matter. Robben will instinctively play, talk and act as if the whole world can still be conquered."
Bayern's lackluster performances before the winter break were devoid of the incisiveness and danger that Robben's offensive play brings to the team. The Bavarian giants missed his ability to drive forward at speed and became predictable without his sudden change of direction which often brought him into shooting positions.
"He infuses the team with that mentality, with that belief. And mediocre players like Van Buyten can suddenly rise above themselves," said Roskott. "Players will walk onto the pitch with Robben and they're basically already 1-0 up, simply because Robben is in the team."
In his absence, Bayern have labored with the attacking responsibilities shared between the rangier Mario Gomez, the off-color Ivica Olic and the seemingly knackered Miroslav Klose. Even the young attacking midfielders Thomas Müller and Toni Kroos – both of whom have started to look a little tired after their own World Cup adventures – have failed to effectively carry the burden.
Robben's return will once again give Bayern's attack a much-needed injection of pace and unpredictability while giving the entire team – and the fans – a lift.
"Robben makes every team stronger just by being there," Roskott added. "We're not talking about his speed, his crosses, his dribbles, his finishing skills but purely this presence; his energy, his outlook on the game."
Troubled French maverick achieves a certain Zen
Ribery has apparently found some inner peace for 2011
Ribery seems to have his head back in the right place with his latest statements filled with regret for his past misdemeanors, honest appraisals of his nightmare 2010 and promises to show the world "the real Ribery" once again. He's also making the right noises about his team, suggesting a new commitment to the party line, a dedication to the cause and the willingness to stay focused on Bayern without letting transfer speculation turn his head.
His relationship with van Gaal also seems to have improved which will make for a more harmonious situation which could benefit everyone at the club.
The Frenchman also believes that, while retaining the Bundesliga title seems out of reach this season – a belief also held and expressed by club legend Franz Beckenbauer – Ribery is confident that Bayern can retain the German Cup and go one better in this season's Champions League by actually lifting the European Cup.
Pundits see seeds of revival in Robbery's return
The dynamic duo could revive Bayern's fortunes this season
The return of Robbery could be instrumental in any success the club can have in the latter half of this season.
"Robben and Ribery make Bayern Munich much more adaptable," Jonas Keinert, who covers the Bundesliga for the Rhein-Neckar Zeitung daily, told Deutsche Welle. "Both players can create an opening in a single moment. Now Bayern will be much more dangerous via the wings again as they are one of the best wing partnerships in Europe."
In the Champions League especially, Bayern can’t afford to be without top players like Robben and Ribery and with their return, could propel the team to even greater success than in the qualifying round.
"The return of Robben and Ribery will have a beneficial psychological effect is on the side," Keinert added. "They are world-first-class players and other clubs have huge respect for them. On the other hand, there’s a danger that hopeful, young players like Toni Kroos and Thomas Müller might end up back on the bench because of this."
Author: Nick Amies
Editor: Rob Turner