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International Soccer
Bayern Munich: Thank you, Real Madrid

By Brian Westfall, Soccer Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Bayern Munich fought off Real Madrid this summer to keep French star Franck Ribery, and as the Spanish giants were ending their $400 million shopping spree minus Ribery, the German club was adding one of Real's former "scraps," Dutch star Arjen Robben.

Ribery was the one star on Real's impressive wish list the team couldn't sign, but the last two FIFA World Players of the Year - Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo - bolted from Italy's AC Milan and England's Manchester United, respectively.

Real won back-to-back Spanish La Liga titles with Robben - arguably the best current Netherlands international - in 2007 and 2008, but he had no spot in a new-look Madrid lineup that rebuilt after finishing second to Barcelona last season.

Bayern swooped in to sign Robben near the end of the transfer window, and the $35 million Madrid recouped in the sale is unlikely to equal what the Munich club gained from the deal.

Robben, who left England's Chelsea to join Real in '07, provided an immediate impact in his debut for Bayern - which was just one day after he inked a four- year contract - by coming off the bench in the second half to score two goals in a 3-0 win over reigning German champion Wolfsburg.

Arjen Robben provided an immediate impact in his debut for Bayern.
The Dutch winger, handed the No. 10 jersey, added a dynamic that Bayern has lacked for years with his pace and skill on the right. Robben finished two lightning-quick counter attacks with goals - both assisted by Ribery.

"I couldn't have made a better start to my time here," Robben said.

Think Bayern could get used to having the two stars for years to come? Madrid may have just made that possible.

Bayern may have held onto Ribery this summer anyway, but it certainly seemed that he had two feet and one arm out the door when Robben arrived.

Robben's addition slammed the door on Ribery's exit plans, at least according to the France international.

"The signing of Arjen Robben has convinced me to stay at Bayern," Ribery told Munich newspaper AZ.

With Ribery on the left and Robben on the right in new coach Louis van Gaal's 4-3-3 system, Bayern was dominant. Although the two were only on the field at the same time for less than 30 minutes, it was clear how good they will be.

Ribery and Robben combined on the first goal less than five minutes after the duo was first on the field together, and added another in less than 17 minutes. The tandem also stunned Wolfsburg on two other attacks, the last almost resulting in a hat trick for Robben.

"Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery are top-class players," Wolfsburg coach Armin Veh said.

"We're more creative with Ribery and Robben," Van Gaal said, "everyone could see that."

It was obvious why Madrid wanted Ribery. It was also obvious why Ronaldo was just about the only player who could take a spot from Robben and make him an expendable asset.

Obviously it was just 30 minutes, but if it is a glimpse of what is to come, the Munich club is clearly the favorite to reclaim the Bundesliga title, and even an outside contender in the Champions League - what Madrid truly covets - this season.

"That was just a start," Robben said after his debut.

Madrid may have assembled the most expensive team in Europe but whether it's the best is still to be determined. In addition to losing Robben, Real dealt fellow Dutch stars Wesley Sneijder to Inter Milan and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar to AC Milan - strengthening three Champions League rivals.

Real made the shake-up to reclaim the Spanish La Liga, and lift the Champions League trophy, which Barca won last season, for the first time since 2002.

Bayern, though, which hasn't won the Champions League since 2001, benefited a lot from Real's makeover, too.

Robben does come with an asterisk - he's missed more matches than he's played in last few years because of injuries - but Bayern was willing to gamble.

While Robben, a legitimate star, was replaced by arguably the top player in the world at Real in Ronaldo, he filled a black hole at Bayern.

If he stays healthy and the chemistry builds among Ribery and the other stars at Bayern, "this team will go places," goalie Hans-Jorg Butt said, and Madrid may have actually constructed a European champion...only in Munich.



Comments? Criticism? Applause?
Contact Tim Keeble at tkeeble@sportsnetwork.com
Contact Brian Westfall at bwestfall@sportsnetwork.com

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