Arjen Robben proved this weekend that he hasn’t let anything slip since retiring and still has the pace that made him one of the world’s best wingers and a great for Netherlands and Bayern Munich.
On Sunday, the 39-year-old completed the 26.2-mile Rotterdam Marathon in a time of under three hours, which is an incredibly competitive average pace of less than 6:50 per mile.
Robben ended his professional career for good in the summer of 2021 after his decision to come out of retirement, having initially quit two years prior, yielded only seven games and two goals as his return to the Eredivisie for boyhood club Groningen was hampered by injuries.
Since then the former Chelsea, Real Madrid and Bayern star has taken up long-distance running and competed in his first full race last year, finishing the 2022 Rotterdam Marathon in a respectable time of 3:13:40.
Robben returned to take part this year, intent on breaking the three-hour barrier, and he crossed the line in a time of 2:58:33. The only disappointing aspect of his amazing time was that he didn’t re-enact the trademark of his playing career by cutting in from the right-hand side to deliver the finish.
👏 | Oud-profvoetballer Arjen Robben zet bij de @MarathonRdam een toptijd neer en komt onder de drie uur binnen op de Coolsingel! #demooiste #marathonrotterdam pic.twitter.com/EtJcvyJURh
— Rijnmond Sport (@RijnmondSport) April 16, 2023
“I am really broken, but I made it,” Robben told Dutch broadcaster NOS after completing the race. “For a sprinter like me, such a distance is very long. But I love sports and I love a challenge.”
Robben has taken to running his races with 47-year-old former Dutch speed skater Erben Wennemars, who also acts as unofficial running coach and sports psychologist.
He added: “Erben Wennemars always says; once an athlete, always an athlete. I am no longer a top athlete, but I can tell you; I think it is elite sport if you can run a marathon in three hours.
“This comes very close to winning a great football title. Now I can check this off. I’m really happy.”
Robben’s run earned him 1,189th place in Rotterdam, while men’s race winner Bashir Abdi narrowly missed out on beating the course record he set in 2021 when he crossed the line in 2:03:47.
– How Monica Puig is taking post-tennis life 26.2 miles at a time
– Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, more (U.S.)
Robben isn’t the only former footballer who has swapped their soccer boots for running shoes in a bid to keep their fitness at peak level post-retirement. Indeed, Robben’s former Netherlands teammate Edwin van der Sar ran the 2011 New York Marathon in a time of 4:19:16.
Three years after retiring due to injury, Juventus legend and 2003 Ballon d’Or-winner Pavel Nedved proved he still had enough left in the tank to run the 2012 Prague marathon in a time of 3:49:51.
Plenty of former Premier League footballers have run the London Marathon over the years, with Michael Owen completing the 2014 race in a time of 3:45:43.
But perhaps most impressive of all is former Barcelona and Spain boss Luis Enrique, who somehow found time to balance his career as one of European football’s most successful coaches with a penchant for gruelling Ironman triathlons.
After conquering the world of marathon running so quickly into his post-football career, perhaps Robben will soon be spending more time on his bike and in the pool as he prepares for his next sporting challenge.
ESPN Netherlands’ Koen van der Eijk contributed to this report