In that moment, it is possible, even probable, to presume the flood of thoughts that occupied Arjen Robben’s mind.
As he collected Franck Ribery’s back-heeled pass into space, the Dutchman, with a waltzing of the ball with his left foot found himself one on one with Roman Weindenfeller. There was the instant where he probably though, here we go again.
He had found himself in this position countless times before. At Johannesburg in 2010 against Iker Casillas. In Munich in 2012 against Petr Cech and even earlier before on the night against Weindenfeller in Wembley. This same position though had proved a constant haunting — the reference upon which everyone mocked him. Because rather than hit the back of the net, he had become accustomed to hitting the goalkeeper.
Yet, even in a world where we think footballers are mere simple brutes driven by instinct, we forget how great intellectuals they can be. For in that moment, as Robben would go on to admit, he had to think.
In that split second, he probably remembered all those previous moments. That is not entirely sure, and is presumptive. What is not is the fact that he probably would have missed had he gone with his first instinct.
“My first choice was actually to go past [Weidenfeller] on the left side,” Robben said after the game. “but then he made a move…”
And right there, Robben had to decide whether to stick with his initial choice. His opponent had already showed his hand. The variables had changed. The decision had to change too.
“I could put it on the other side. He was on the wrong leg.”
That was where ultimately he succeeded. A sudden change of thought brought about success. And it did not matter that even in that perfect moment, his shot look scuffed. Lacking power, it trrickled in rather than raced past the goal-line. That though is the irony that abounds in life and football. Perfection is usually accompanied by imperfection.
For him, it represented redemption, but it also symbolised the same for his club. No moment better epitomised the relief that would run through Bayern Munich as a whole. As Robben expunged his demons, so too did the Bavarian club.
Because they had somewhat become choke specialists. Final hurdles had proved difficult to surpass before. Even before the game, there was talk of that night in Munich last year, and that night in Madrid in 2010. That however is but just the mere scratching of the surface. This club is further haunted by 1999, where the Camp Nou witnessed the birth of “Football, bloody hell!” This club had also lost in 1987 to unfancied Porto and to underdogs Aston Villa in 1982. It meant that, before Robben’s decisive strike, Bayern had lost more European Cup Finals than they had won.
With Robben’s strike, they balanced the equation.
And that moment of redemption may prove to be the turning point.
Even then, key moments in the match may also claim to be turning points of their own. That Bayern finished the game with 11 men is down to an element of luck. Deservedly, Ribery should have been sent off for retaliating (and thus would probably not have been on the pitch to lay the ball off to Robben). Similarly, Dante should have seen red for his recklessness. But while referee Niccola Rizzolli had the sensibility to not completely spoil an otherwise magnificent game, these decisions swung heavily in Bayern’s favour.
Indeed, it points to just how luck still retains its place at the podium of success. It was luck that meant Chelsea were not awarded penalties in that semi-final in 2009 that swung football’s dominance Barcelona’s way. It was luck that meant John Terry slipped when he should have sealed the European Cup for Chelsea in 2008. Even here at Wembley, luck had had its day.
But to simply put it down to luck is unfair. As Carl Zuckmayer once said, one half of life is luck and the other discipline, but without discipline, you would not know what to do with luck. It was Bayern’s hard work that ensured they could fully capitalise on the luck that came their way — right down to the fact that Dortmund was missing Mario Goetze.
For if Bayern were not prepared, then the red cards not shown to Dante and Ribery may not have mattered in the end. The loss of Goetze may have been insignificant. Luck came their way, it was for them to grab it. And they did.
Therefore, it points to a redemption that is thoroughly deserved. No man deserved to hit the winner more than Robben — he after all had been in this position many times and was thus conditioned for the occasion. No club deserved to win it more than Bayern — they after all had got to this position many times before. The bad luck had to run out eventuallly. Both Robben and Bayern had too much quality to constantly fail.
Their discipline ensured that this time, with a little bit of luck, things did not fall apart as they had in previous European Cup Finals — they instead fell into place.