Ahead of Sunday’s Premier League clash between Manchester United and Chelsea at Old Trafford, Bayern Munich winger and former Chelsea ace Arjen Robben has spoken of his time working under opposing managers Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho.
Robben, 30, featuring for three seasons at Chelsea under Mourinho after arriving from PSV Eindhoven in the summer of 2004, winning two Premier League titles, two League Cups and the FA Cup, before making a £24 million switch to Real Madrid in August 2007.
He would spend two seasons in the Spanish capital, whereupon Van Gaal opted to make him one of his first signings for the Bavarian giants in 2009, the two Dutchmen combining to help the club achieve the domestic double in their debut campaigns.
Van Gaal was sacked in 2011 after a disappointing Bundesliga term, but would resurface in 2012 to reunite with Robben with the national team, leading the Oranje to a third-place finish at the World Cup in Brazil, where his star man was one of the standout performers.
Since moving on to United, Robben has revealed that Van Gaal is similar to his former Barcelona assistant in his demanding and meticulous approach, but the pair both have unique qualities which sets them apart from one another.
‘Mourinho was always very strong for his players and you needed to deliver for him,’ he told the Telegraph. ‘For me, it was good. It was also very special because, in my first year, we won the league, Chelsea’s first in 50 years, and that was important for everybody at the club. But for me, the big thing I learnt from Mourinho was about mentality. He taught us to be strong, collectively, and also strong for yourself.
‘Van Gaal is the kind of guy who can really make individual players better. It was the most important step of my career to go from Real Madrid to Bayern. It was the best move of my career, coming here and working under him. It really gave me a lot of confidence and a new way of working.
‘You know his style – maybe it helped me because of the Dutch language – but the way he trains players means you have to adapt initially. Maybe that is why people are adapting in Manchester now, because the intensity is very high and you have to get used to it. But it was good for me because I got stronger, I got fit, and that was very important for my game.’
Van Gaal’s methods have taken some time to work at United, but Robben is adamant that his ex-boss will silence the lingering doubters in due time.
‘He is the right man for United, definitely,’ he said. ‘That is what I will always say. In the beginning, when it wasn’t going so well for him at United, people were asking me about it, but I will always tell them to have confidence in him. It will come, it just needs time. He has brought a lot of new players in, so he needs time to build, but he can really build a team.’
Mourinho, meanwhile, is bidding to become the first manager to win the Champions League with three different clubs, and Robben believes his former side should be considered among the favourites.
‘If somebody can do it as a manager, he can,’ he added. “He is a specialist when it comes to preparing his teams for the big games, tactically and mentally. You cannot forget that they also have some very good players in the team, but he is the ideal guy for them. He is the special one for the special games.’