Youth coach Robben puts fun first: ‘Letting people dribble’
editor of NOS Sports
editor of NOS Sports
It seems like an everyday sight. A group of young boys kicking a ball together on a Wednesday night on the artificial turf field. But this image is not that normal.
“Listen men,” sounds loudly over the training field of amateur club Be Quick 1887, on the edge of Groningen-Zuid and the village of Haren. Hidden in a long black trainer’s jacket and wearing a hat on his head, none other than Arjen Robben is just giving the go-ahead for the start of training.
No heels-bottoms and knee lifts, but in a square at different spots first rebounding a ball and then playing a tennis ball back. The selection team of the boys under 15 is immediately challenged by the former top soccer player of FC Groningen, PSV, Chelsea, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and the Dutch national team.
Whereas contemporaries such as Dirk Kuijt (fired from ADO Den Haag), Mark van Bommel (currently working for Royal Antwerp) and John Heitinga (head coach Ajax) have already taken their first steps in professional soccer as trainers, the Bedumer-born takes a different approach.
From linesman to trainer
As a youth coach, the now 39-year-old Robben wants to experience whether the coaching profession is something for him. “I mainly pay a lot of attention to the basic things. That the approaches and passes are good, that they play on the right leg. And a lot of one-on-one. Let the guys who can dribble, dribble well and make actions. That’s the most important thing for me.”
For a thick year now, the 96-time international has been in front of the group of boys, which also includes his eldest son Luka. “We did have to think carefully about whether we wanted him as trainers,” jokes team leader Bert Schipper. “We needed a new trainer at one point and Arjen, as a father, was also sometimes linesman. With his years of experience, we thought he could do this as well.”
Meanwhile, with his hands behind his back, Robben fanatically gives instructions to his players. “Through, through, through, through…,” sounds from the former wing attacker’s mouth.
He coaches infectiously when the team is busy putting on the pressure with their vests on. “Recognize the moment when they play back,” Robben tells his striker at halftime. “Then they are in trouble. From then on, they can only play the ball away long and blind.”
“And play on. Come again.”
A mother stands fascinated along the sidelines watching. “In the beginning it was very special that Robben gave the training. But by now we have all gotten used to it. The boys themselves too.”
Turning in phone
Still, according to her, the 2013 Champions League winner still gets a lot of attention. The team plays at the national league level and regularly sits for a long time in vans for far away away matches. “When they make a stop at the gas station, Robben always has to be photographed…”
She also explains that after that stopover, the boys have to hand in their phones. The focus has to be on the match from then on. “That’s indeed a rule of Arjen’s, he put that in,” confirmed team captain Schipper.
On the pitch, Robben, who returned to FC Groningen in the latter days of his career, now has his boys play a positional game. “Three touches and after ten passes, you get to score on the goals,” he said.
The task is simple, but proves more difficult than expected. After five minutes, only one ball has gone in. “Just three breaths guys. This is pinball. You are too good for this.”
After that breather, Robben asks a player wearing a yellow vest, “How much is 24 times 37?” The boy thinks for a split second, but is given no time. “Too late…,” Robben says with a smile from ear to ear. The ball goes to the team without vests.
Watch Frank Heinen’s column on Robben below:
Final signal Robben
“I want them to enjoy the training sessions a lot,” Robben explained after practice. “Sometimes in youth I hear quite a lot of difficult terms and tactical concepts being explained. Sure, you have a plan and when they get older you can teach them quite a bit tactically, but I mainly hammer on the basics.”
Getting trainer’s papers
The former man of glass does not yet know whether he wants to work as a trainer in professional soccer in the future. “I’m really discovering if this is something for me. Also for the long term.”
Robben did reveal that he has since started a pathway to get his coaching credentials. “We have started that yes. But I don’t have any concrete goals or ambitions yet.”
For now, Robben is in his place at amateur club where he can get to in less than a five-minute bike ride. “I’ve had to miss a lot because of my own active career and I don’t want that now. I want to be able to stand along the line every Saturday and watch my kids. If it’s a little convenient, I can see a second and maybe a third game anyway. Now that’s my ideal Saturday…”