MLS? China? Inter? Robben’s potential next destinations

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The veteran winger's contract ends with Bayern Munich this summer, but where will he play next season?

After over 300 games, over 140 goals and at least 18 trophies, Arjen Robben's Bayern Munich career will end this summer. The former Netherlands international, who won the league title in three other countries before moving to Germany, turned 35 in January and will be allowed to leave on a free transfer at the end of the season.

Currently sidelined with a calf injury, the winger has not played since the end of November, giving him plenty of time to ruminate on his future. The end of his contract means he can choose whichever club he wants to move to next as Bayern will not need a transfer fee for his services.

Despite his age, Robben is still capable of performing at the highest level, proving his worth with two goals against Benfica in the Champions League on his most recent start for the Bavarians. As a result, he is still hugely in demand with clubs from all over the globe interested.

"I have received a few offers and have to admit they have made me somewhat proud," Robben admitted in January. "I don’t know when exactly, but at some point I will have to make a decision and I won’t wait until the end of the season, because I have family and must plan accordingly.”

With his contract ending in June and the Bundesliga season finishing in May, Robben will have to make his final decision soon. Goal analyses where he could end up.


MLS


One of the fastest-growing markets in world football, it is no surprise that one of the game's biggest names is being linked with a move to Major League Soccer. The media has mentioned numerous clubs in relation to Robben including Toronto FC, Columbus Crew and Minnesota United, whose stadium shares the same sponsor as Bayern. Toronto do not have a Designated Player slot left to sign him, while Columbus have not historically spent the sums necessary.

A possible American landing spot for Robben would be Bayern Munich's U.S. partner FC Dallas. The German club have so far been the main beneficaries of player moves from the partnership with Chris Richards officially transferring in January after a sucessful trial at Bayern. Dallas president Dan Hunt revealed that it could be possible to take a Bayern player on loan before indicating that he is a big admirer of both Robben and Franck Ribery and would love to bring both to MLS.

“We have an open international slot and salary space to bring a Bayern player on loan if we need one," Hunt told MLSsoccer.com in February. "It’s always complicated. Your positional needs change almost daily. … As we get closer to the summer, we’ll address. If it’s not for this summer, then it has to be for 2020.

"Those are two global superstars, I’ve admired them over the years. The success that pair has had is unbelievable. If MLS is something of interest to them, I think both would do very well. Once they get on the field, they beat people with superior talent and score goals. Who doesn’t want that for FC Dallas?”


QATAR


With the World Cup coming to Qatar in 2022, the country is eager to improve its profile as a footballing nation. This process has been ongoing for many years, with Spanish superstar Xavi signed by Al-Sadd in 2015 from Barcelona to bring prestige to the Qatar Stars League and also work as an official ambassador for the 2022 World Cup.

Xavi is one of a number of big names plying their trade in Qatar, with Samuel Eto'o, Nigel de Jong, Wilfried Bony and Shoya Nakajima adding to the international flavour of the league. Robben has recently been linked with a move to Al-Sadd where Xavi, 39, is considering retiring to focus on coaching. The Dutchman admitted that a transfer to Doha was a possibility, telling Sportbuzzer last year: "That's exactly the current topic of conversation at my kitchen table at the moment, when talking to friends and family.

"Now is the time that I have to make a decision. A few years ago, it was usually relatively straightforward but I am approaching the end now and I have a lot to think about. It's not easy but it's also exciting. A lot is still open but I have already ruled out certain things in my head -- but they are staying private."


CHINA


Having previously ruled out a mega-money move to the Chinese Super League, Robben may now be in a position to consider China as a potential transfer destination. Despite younger players transferring to the CSL in the past few years to help the league move away from its 'retirement league' image, Robben said that it would only come into consideration at the end of his career. Now, 35, the CSL may finally be on the table.

"A transfer to China would be something else entirely. That is basically acknowledging your career is over," he told Radio 538 in 2017. "I want to keep playing at the highest level as long as possible.

"I do not understand players going to China at the age of 27 or 28. Those guys are at the peak of their career. That is a waste really. You only get one career. I sort of understand players who are already in their 30s.

"It is all about a certain madness that is ongoing in China right now. They are offering some crazy figures. I also got some offers. The money on show is so crazy that you at least have to consider it.

"They are offering maybe four, five or six times the amounts you get at a big club. But money has never driven me. That is why I have had such a great career. It is about football for me."


JAPAN


While Robben scoffed at the idea of a move to China in the past, a transfer to Japan may be more appealing for him. Unlike China and Qatar where there are limits on the number of foreign players and MLS which restricts the number of Designated Players (DPs), there is no limit to how many big names J.League clubs can sign. Only five foreign players can be in a matchday squad, but any number of foreigners can be on the books of each club.

This has seen the arrival of many star names in the previous few seasons, with Vissel Kobe signing World Cup winners Lukas Podolksi, Andres Iniesta and David Villa. Over 40 Brazilian players are registered to J1 League clubs, while Sagan Tosu also added another Spanish World Cup winner in Fernando Torres last year.

The J1 League is a summer league, but Robben could be registered as early as June 28 when their transfer window re-opens for a month. FC Tokyo have three Brazilians on the books, but have revealed they would like to expand their international contingent by bringing in Robben this summer.

“I can’t say that he’s on the table yet, but we’re gathering information. There won’t be any clubs that aren’t interested,” an unamed FC Tokyo club executive told the Japan Times in January.


SERIE A


Italian media has speculated that Robben could move to Serie A since 2011, with Inter most often part of the rumour mill, along with AC Milan and Roma. Back in 2010, he praised Roma as the "most beautiful" football team in Italy before Bayern Munich faced them in the Champions League. 

However, most recently the Inter rumours resurfaced in the guise that Robben was likely to reject them in favour of a move to MLS rather than anything more concrete. The winger has won titles in the Netherlands, England, Spain and Germany and may be looking to add another country's league trophy to his collection, but with Juventus likely to be champions again next season, Robben is likely to look elsewhere.


EREDIVISIE


Robben started his professional career at local club Groningen, even winning the club's player of the season award in his first campaign. He was quickly noticed by bigger Dutch clubs and PSV came calling. However, both player and club have indicated that they would love to bookend his career in his hometown.

"I played there in the youth, made my professional debut, still have very close contacts there and my connection to FC Groningen will always stay that way," Robben told Sportbuzzer. "But I can not promise if it will be again as a football player."

Groningen director Hans Nijland says it would be a dream for Robben to return home, but the winger's wages may be too expensive as they are not really challengers for the Eredivisie title.

"He played here from the age of 11 and made his first steps on the field here," Nijland told RTV Noord. "He even also opened our stadium. Arjen keeps warm ties with us - and vice versa. Obviously, we have talked a lot about him returning. We've seen it now with Dirk Kuyt and Feyenoord.

"It would be an absolute dream. If Arjen would be willing to return, he is more than welcome. If someone like Robben can add to your club, then you must take the next step. There is a beginning and an end somewhere in his career. We'd all love it if he were to do something for the club."

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RETIREMENT


Although his best performance at international level was runner-up in the World Cup final, Robben has won every trophy there is to win at club level. A Champions League winner in 2013 with Bayern Munich, he has won 10 league titles at PSV, Chelsea, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich and is heading for another Bundesliga medal this season.

He has achieved everything possible in club football and may actually decide to hang up his boots, especially as injury has derailed his final season in Munich. Although clubs all around the world are interested, retirement is a very possible option.

"I have time to think about my future and what the next step will be. It’s possible that I’ll retire," he revealed in December. "It could also be good to continue if something interesting comes up."

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