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05 Mar 2004 00:00
Arjen Robben admitted he had been reluctant at first to consider a move to Chelsea before he agreed to a £13,5-million transfer from PSV Einghoven to Stamford Bridge. The deal will go through at the end of the season and complete a remarkable rise for the Holland left-winger, who was cycling to training as a first-team regular at Groningen less than three years ago.
Robben stressed that his concerns about Chelsea were eliminated after meeting head coach Claudio Ranieri and chief executive Peter Kenyon.
Yet he confessed to initial fears about a club where he saw a huge number of expensive signings but little structure looking to the future.
Robben posed the serious questions after he discovered that a move to Manchester United, his preferred destination, had fallen through because of their refusal to meet the asking price.
‘I reflected for quite a long time, but after a while my feeling became more and more positive. I admit I had doubts. ‘What kind of club is this?’ I asked myself.
‘I had some really good conversations with people at Chelsea. They explained exactly how they thought about the future. Their vision is to build on young players; Chelsea want to develop with talented youngsters.
‘So their strategy isn’t just about buying players, as people may think. After a few meetings I felt more and more enthusiastic about joining the club.”
Robben was described by his international teammate Ruud van Nistelrooy as an ‘excellent player” and ‘certain” to succeed in the Premiership.
PSV president Harry van Raaij predicted that, in time, Robben’s impact in England could match that of the Manchester United striker, one of his club’s former players.
Robben’s rise has been unstoppable. He was 16 and at school when he received a call to tell him he had been selected for Groningen’s first-team squad.
Bicycle remained his regular transport for a while. Since moving to PSV in the summer of 2002 he has broken into the Holland team, scoring the winner against the United States last month.
‘Arjen is a very mature player for a 20-year-old,” said the PSV Eindhoven coach Guus Hiddink.
‘He has grown extremely fast in different ways, especially in a mental way. When he arrived at PSV he was a bit like a young calf.”
Quick, skilful and with an eye for goal, Robben’s natural talent has long been obvious, aided by a serious attitude and lack of arrogance.
‘You can compare him with Ryan Giggs — only I think he can be better than Giggs,” said Martin Drent, a former Groningen teammate.
‘He’s not there yet because he’s only 20, but his talent is similar to Giggs’s. He can dribble very well with the ball, his technique is excellent and he scores goals.”
A tendency to overdramatise and a need to improve his right foot are weak points. Dwight Lodeweges, his coach at Groningen, said: ‘With his physical qualities, inborn talent and desire to learn, he can become an absolutely top player. Not for nothing has he come on so quickly.
‘When he went to PSV, people who didn’t know him said he would have a tough time, but he adjusted quickly. I think he will adapt fast at Chelsea.” —
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