Are Arjen Robben's shoes impossible to fill at Bayern?

Arjen Robben is an integral part of Bayern’s offensive efforts ever since he came to Munich. We examine why he is so crucial, and whether he is irreplaceable or not.

There comes a time in every football fan’s life where their immortal icons begin to show weaknesses. Their strength falters and questions about their future arise. In recent games, these questions have popped up about FC Bayern’s own flying Dutchman: Arjen Robben. Sure, it had to happen eventually, but it does still sting. Robben has been a huge part of Bayern’s team, adding fiery pace to the right wing – especially when paired with Franck Ribéry. We explore exactly what impact he has had, how he has begun to dwindle and what kind of player it would take to replace him – if at all.

Arjen Robben is certainly still trying to play a key role in Bayern’s attack and gets visibly frustrated when his efforts turn out to be below par. As our Editor-in-(Mis)chief Michel Munger’s article earlier detailed, Robben’s stats prove that he has declined and become far less effective than he used to be. His efficiency has halved in the last season, which has been shocking to witness.

Robben’s role on the right wing was to add pace and cut through clumps of defenders. His left foot has always been unparalleled. His style has been to either pass the ball like a hot knife through butter to a waiting striker in the middle, or to shoot from close range. Robben keeps the ball close to him and has incredible ball control, with the ability to weave it whatever way he needs with speed and efficiency – but sadly, not anymore.

Most fans will likely never forget *that* moment in the Champions’ League’s final seconds in May 2013 against Dortmund when he left fans of both sides speechless. The time has come, however, for Bayern to look for a replacement or leave the wings lacking.

With Robben’s impact and playing style in mind, we look for potential wingers to replace him – if that is even possible.

Who can replace Arjen Robben?

Douglas Costa

Bayern have tried signing replacements for both Franck Ribéry and Robben with Douglas Costa and Kingsley Coman. The latter is still at the club and if he continues to develop he can be effective on the left wing as a replacement for Franck Ribèry. Bayern also signed (and loaned out) young German Serge Gnabry. He is also a left-winger and requires plenty of development but has shown great potential during his time at Arsenal.

While the pair may stay at Bayern, Costa did not have a very successful time. He had the pace and started strong but was unable to make it last with some disappointing performances in his last few games at the club before leaving for Juventus.

What he lacked was the creativity and versatility that Robben brought to the right wing. He was also inconsistent and his form was not stable. A good start but he was not exactly the right man for the job.

Christian Pulisic

Another name that has been bounced around has been that of Dortmund winger Christian Pulisic. Aside from the superior pun potential he would bring to the team, he is also versatile and a very strong dribbler. In his 21 Bundesliga appearances this season, he has already scored as many goals as he has assisted (3). This shows his versatility up front and the similarities in playing style to Robben. He is young and thus lacks experience but would do well with development at Bayern.   

While Gnabry could be moulded into a solid right winger, he requires a lot of honing. Pulisic, on the other hand, appears to need less effort before he is able to shine on the wing. That being said, the American does come with a hefty price tag.

Leon Bailey

Bayer Leverkusen’s speedy young winger Leon Bailey has been hugely effective for them especially in the last few games. He is known for his speed in particular and is very effective up front. He has mentioned his interest in playing in the Champions’ League and Bayern would definitely help him achieve that.
Bailey’s ability to outmanoeuvre defenders is similar to that of Robben and would be a welcome addition to the team. He would help add some more creativity in attack and is diverse in his playing style all over the pitch.

Is it even possible?

With all this in mind, and the key role that Robben has played in Bayern’s squad over the past nine years shows that he is going to be very difficult to replace. A failed Douglas Costa stint has shown us that. I am not optimistic that he will be replaced anytime soon – it is difficult to replace a legend like him. The legend, however, is waning fast and needs a successor. After all, even Philipp Lahm has effectively been replaced by Joshua Kimmich. I would not hold my breath for this to happen too soon though.