Arjen Robben, one of the top footballers in Dutch history, is coming out of retirement to help his first club during the coronavirus pandemic.
The 36-year-old winger is rejoining FC Groningen in the Netherlands’ Eredivisie, 20 years after making his debut for the team based in the north of the country.
He was born in Bedum, a stone’s throw from Groningen, before getting married in Groningen in 2007.
Robben had called it quits at the end of last season following a glittering career where he won league titles with Bayern Munich, Chelsea and Real Madrid and the Champions League.
He earned 96 caps for the Netherlands, helping the “Oranje” reach the World Cup final in 2010 against Spain. There was heartbreak for him in the finale, though, as Spain won 1-0 in extra time after Robben missed a glorious chance in the second half.
“After a wonderful adventure of 18 years, we’re coming home,” Robben said in a video message posted on Groningen’s website. “Back to Groningen. Coming home during this difficult time of crisis, one that also hits FC Groningen.”
When the Dutch top division was abandoned in April with no title awarded or relegation due to the coronavirus, Groningen sat ninth.
A lack of football has hit teams hard.
In an effort to help out, former Groningen defender Virgil van Dijk — who just won the Premier League with Liverpool — last month bought four season tickets and intended to raffle them off to supporters who couldn’t otherwise afford them.
Groningen fans began an online auction last week, with shoes from van Dijk and Robben also up for grabs.
‘Follow your heart’
“It’s great to see how everyone is supporting the club,” said Robben. “I’ve supported the club as well and it made me think about what else I could do for our club. I’ve had many conversations with the club staff.
“And maybe more than anything I’ve listened to the call of our supporters: ‘Arjen, follow your heart.’
“A comeback as an FC Groningen player…I started to play with this idea and now I’ve made it my mission. I want to make my comeback as a football player, a player of FC Groningen.
“At this time I’m not sure it will happen,” added Robben, who has suffered his share of injuries.
“What I am sure of is that my drive will be at 100%. It will be a tough physical challenge but I’m going for it. I’m going to work hard and when everything feels right, I will join the team for the first training of the new season.
“I hope to see everyone as soon as possible because my dream is to play in an FC Groningen jersey. We’re not there yet but one can dream.”
While the Eredivisie shut down, Europe’s four major football leagues — the Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga and Serie A — have all resumed behind closed doors.
Robben’s former side, Bayern Munich, won its eighth straight league title earlier in June and got to hoist the trophy on the last day of the Bundesliga season Saturday.