Dutch forwrad laughs off cricisism of Bayern Munich's less than stellar season and insists the champions will be back firing on all cylingers for the current campaign.
World Soccer: Despite winning the title last season, Bayern were criticised in the final weeks after several defeats in the Bundesliga and semi-final eliminations in the Champions League and the German Cup. Do you think Bayern’s achievements are not always appreciated enough?
Arjen Robben: When I hear the criticism I want to laugh, and that’s the only reaction to have. People have to look at this realistically. It was a post-World Cup season and, at the beginning, everybody was predicting it was going to be particularly difficult. So what happened? We ended up as champions with a 10-point cushion – an outstanding performance.
But some of those defeats must have dampened the mood…
Towards the end we neglected the Bundesliga because we had a lot of injuries and wanted to concentrate on the Champions League and German Cup. In semi-finals, the small details tend to be decisive. That’s the way it goes. What went right for us, for example, in the 2013 Champions League Final, went against us this time around. There’s no reason for us to be ashamed of our season. For me, there’s no happy medium when assessments are made.
If you win, everything is wonderful; if you lose, it’s all bad. It shouldn’t be like this. After such
a season, the coach and the players ought not to be called into question. We’re not uncritical of ourselves. We always know when we haven’t played well.
At times you were very critical in the wake of a poor display…
You have to talk about matters which aren’t going to plan. There’s no use lying.
So, do you think Bayern will be back on track for this campaign?
Absolutely. I’ve every confidence in the squad we have. All that matters is that we have a complete group for pre-season training. If everybody is reasonably fit, I fully expect a great season. Just look at our team. We’ll have Javi Martinez raring to go again, Thiago should have a full summer of preparation, Franck Ribery and I will be back, and David Alaba will be healthy once more. Bring them all on. We’ll take some stopping.
Do you see any need to make extensive changes to the team, after all it is an ageing squad?
We’ve enough at the club, and a super coach who knows what he’s doing. We heard the same thing at the end of the 2011-12 season [when Bayern didn’t win a trophy]. Everyone was saying a clean break and a new generation of players was required. And then we go and complete the triple. It’s only worth bringing in new faces if they have great quality and can move us forward. There is no point in making signings just to please certain people. As for the age question, I can only speak for myself. I’m still fit and think I can play at this level for another couple of years.
Prior to missing the latter part of last term through injury, you’d been in unbelievable form, scoring 17 goals in 21 Bundesliga games and making a further eight. Was last season the best of your career?
I think that in the last two or three years I’ve continued to improve. Last season too, I made strides and again upped the ante. Following on from a fantastic World Cup, everything was going brilliantly. Physically, I was in great shape and I was playing well. Then came the injuries and the frustration. It all changed from one moment to the next. Naturally, I’ve wondered what might have been if I’d stayed fit.
After recovering from a stomach injury, you were back the following month for the German Cup semi-final against Borussia Dortmund, but only lasted for a few minutes after coming on as a substitute…
Some did speculate that I’d returned to action too soon. That’s complete nonsense. Those two injuries had nothing to do with one another. Before the Dortmund tie, I’d been training extremely well. In the past, I’ve had a good instinct for potential injury problems, but on this occasion I didn’t suspect a thing.
How are you now?
At the end of the season I stayed on for an extra week on the training ground. It felt good. I got in some good work with the fitness coaches and, importantly, began to run again.
With you in the side, would Bayern have enjoyed more success in last season’s cup competitions?
Such second-guessing makes no sense. I would have loved to have been fully involved in those matches with Porto, Dortmund and Barcelona. But talking ifs and maybes doesn’t help anyone.
Were you disappointed to miss out on the Bundesliga’s top goalscorer award by just two goals?
Of course it would have been nice to pick up this trophy, but no more than that. At best, it’s just a nice bonus. Much more important is for the team to win games and cups.
You looked particularly happy when Bayern paraded the Bundesliga shield at the end of the season…
And why not? A championship is something special. Winning titles is not a foregone conclusion. You work all year and at the end, you’re on top. You enjoy it for all it’s worth. Nobody can take it away from you.
What is your working relationship like with Bayern boss Pep Guardiola?
He’s a coach who encourages us to push on, to continually improve.
Interview by Mounir Zitouni/ESM