By Mike Woitalla
Here are some glimpses into the childhoods of Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie, who each scored a pair of goals as the Netherlands opened their 2014 World Cup campaign with a 5-1 win over defending champion Spain:
Arjen Robben’s father was a player and coach, but Arjen says his dad didn’t critique his play.
“He always let me be," Arjen told TZ. "I think, that’s the most important thing. When I now see parents on the sideline standing and screaming … I think, that’s the worst thing one can do. Children should have fun and run after the ball without pressure. You have to let that happen.”
At 5 and 6, Arjen would accompany his father to the amateur club where he coached and play around on the field next to where his dad's team trained. Asked about his extraordinary dribbling skills, Robben said:
“I think with speed, you either have it or you don’t. If you have it, you just have to combine that with a feel for the ball. As a child I was always with the ball, at home and on the street. On the street I played 1-v-1, for hours on end.”
Robin van Persie, whose diving header against Spain is the most spectacular of the World Cup so far, was born in Rotterdam to two artists, who got divorced when he was 5.
“If he had wanted to be a ballet dancer, it would have been fine with me,” father Bob van Persie told the Telegraph. “Anything he wanted to do. He was a difficult boy, overactive. When my wife and I divorced, he came to live with me until he was in his twenties. Until he turned 12, I had a hard time controlling him. But suddenly he turned positive. He found soccer as something to put his energy into.”
His mother, Josée Ras, said, “As a little boy he was always busy with the ball, and you could see he was fascinated by it. By 5 he could already control the ball miraculously.”
Schoolwork, however, was not as fascinating for the young Robin. A couple of years ago, the Telegraph’s Oliver Brown tracked down one of Robin’s teachers who taught at the high school that Feyenoord’s academy players attended.
“He was not a good student,” said Omar Verhoeven, who taught history to Van Persie. “When you have pupils, you try to prepare them for the jobs market. You always say, ‘Be a good student, learn well, and maybe you will have a good job.’ But when everybody is telling you at 12 that you will be the next Cruyff, it’s very hard. Why should he have a diploma? He knew that as a footballer, he would earn lots and lots of money.”
Robin was one of the fortunate ones for whom it worked out.
Previous editions of the Youth Soccer Insider’s “When They Were Children” series:
Kekuta Manneh: 'Soccer has just one language'
DeAndre Yedlin: From ballboy to star
Diego Fagundez & Mike Magee
MLS 2014 SuperDraft Picks: Andre Blake, Steve Birnbaum, Christian Dean, Steve Neumann, Eric Miller, Damion Lowe.
Darlington Nagbe, Sean Johnson, Nick Rimando, Luis Silva, Juan Agudelo
Mario Balotelli & Philipp Lahm
Nani & David Silva
Cristiano Ronaldo & Danny Welbeck
Bastian Schweinsteiger, Andres Iniesta & Andriy Shevchenko
U.S. Women World Cup 2011 (Alex Morgan & Co.)
Logan Pause, David Ferreira, Fredy Montero, Dwayne De Rosario, CJ Sapong, Perry Kitchen, Tim Ream