London – An internet search for “Arjen Robben cuts inside” produces more than two million items, one of them a recent tweet declaring: “That was the 10,000th time Robben has cut inside and shot with his left foot – so predictable”.
Yet, when the Bayern Munich winger bears down the right in Saturday's Champions League final, Borussia Dortmund's defenders, if they follow in the misdirected footsteps of so many before them, will still, inexplicably, allow the Dutchman to switch the ball on to his favoured left foot and turn a usually benign situation into a potentially critical one.
Robben's right foot was once described as being “made of chocolate” by compatriot Johan Cruyff and is still so ineffective that any Sunday league full back, let alone the cream of the world's defenders, would know to focus their entire strategy on forcing him to use it.
The number of times he hits the byline and successfully crosses with his right foot is roughly comparable to the 29-year-old's total active hair follicles – not many – while statistics produced by Prozone show that almost 80 percent of his shots are with his left.
Yet, time and time again, having feinted to go outside, Robben is somehow given the space to cut in. Too often the end result is that the ball sails into the top tier behind the goal but, as he has matured, the manoeuvre now more often leads to a dangerous pass or a fierce, left-footed, attempt on goal.
If the world's television watchers have managed to identify this familiar routine, then clearly leading coaches and players are aware of it too. So why is he still so often allowed to venture into the one place he wants to go instead of being ushered down a generally blind alley?
He has quick feet, wonderful control and critically explosive speed over the first two or three metres so that even when defenders are expecting the move they are sometimes unable to counter it, but there is very little deception about what he does.
The process leaves many experienced observers shaking their heads in frustration every time his all-too-familiar “trick” comes off.
“If the defender is doing his job properly of course you can stop him cutting inside but they have to really concentrate because he is so quick and clever,” former England manager Terry Venables told Reuters.
“Once he goes inside, the opposition are in danger – the secret is staying close. It's as simple as that, the defender must stay tight, then you can stop him – just as Inter Milan did in the Champions League final three years ago.”
Paolo Maldini, one of the best left backs to grace the game, said the problem was part of a general falling away in the quality of defending.
“I believe that great defenders are so rare now. Every great team in Europe is good attacking but very bad defensively, including the great teams in the Champions League,” the former Italy and AC Milan stalwart told Reuters.
“The mentality is attack, attack and so that is why maybe the fullbacks are so focused on attacking. The knowledge of the people who teach you how to defend is not so high and you are now seeing the results.”
Robben fans will point to the semi-final first-leg victory over Barcelona as evidence that he is not a one-trick pony, as he did indeed go past Jordi Alba on the outside.
However, he did so with the aid of an American football-style body check by Thomas Mueller to take Alba out of the picture, and subsequently ended up with enough time and space to slot the ball in with his left.
There is more to his all-round game these days too and he was almost maniacal in his first-leg work-rate against Barcelona, chasing and harrying for every minute in the clinical 4-0 home win.
Maybe, having suffered from yet another injury and a subsequent long-term absence from Bayern's first team, he is just taking full advantage of being back in the frame and the worst of his diving, histrionics and selfish choices might be behind him.
His performance will certainly be central to Bayern's prospects on Saturday, when the man marking him will be Marcel Schmelzer.
If the German international has done his homework and manages to keep Robben glued to his chocolate side then it could well be a sweet night for Dortmund. – Reuters