Arnold Mühren arrived at United in the August of ’82, a regular in the Dutch national team, an experienced and well respected midfielder who had won major silverware. He was born Arnold Johannes Hyacinthus Mühren, in Volendam, northern Netherlands in 1951. Indeed, it was for his home town, a place known for its fishing and tradition of cloth weaving that Arnold began his playing career, at F.C. Volendam in 1970. Arnold was only at Volendam a year before he moved to the academy of Ajax Amsterdam.
It was a fantastic move for the young Dutchman, fantastic for his football education. It was great for the Mühren family too, Arnold’s older brother Gerrie, a great midfielder himself who would go on to be a legend of Ajax, was a big star for the Amsterdam club. In the early to mid ‘70’s, Arnold played over 60 times for Ajax, scoring 16 goals. The Ajax team of 1971 was full of world class players, they were about to dominate Europe. The young Mühren faced tough competition for a place in the team. Johan Neeskens, Arie Haan, Johan Cruyff and Arnold’s elder brother Gerrie were the regular core of the Ajax midfield in those days.
However, Mühren quickly proved himself a talented midfielder with great passing skills, something that would over time, become his trademark. The young Mühren was at Ajax at a very special time for the club, in only his second season with Ajax, they became only the second team in Europe to do “The Treble”, winning its own domestic league (Eredivisie), the domestic cup (KNVB Cup) and the European Cup. In his first stint with Ajax, Arnold left with a European Cup winners medal and a World Club Cup title, as well as domestic honours.
In ’74 he was on the move, making the 100 mile trip to F.C Twente of Enschede. At F.C. Twente, Mühren was to see more of first team football, notching up 108 appearances and scoring 39 goals, impressive for a midfielder. 1975 saw him pick up a UEFA Cup runners up medal. F.C. Twente, despite a very impressive performance against Juventus in the two legged semifinal, went crashing down 5 – 1 on aggregate to Borussia Mönchengladbach in the two legged final.
Happier times were ahead for Arnold Mühren and F.C. Twente, in 1977 Twente won the KNVB Cup, another winner’s medal for Mühren’s growing collection. As I’m sure you’re aware, the ‘70’s was a memorable time for Dutch football, its national team was getting to World Cup finals, and its domestic teams were doing well in Europe. Many Dutch players were household names; in world football the Dutch were widely admired. In 1978 Arnold made his full international debut for The Netherlands in a friendly against Tunisia, the Dutch running out 4 – 0 winners in North Africa. Despite the disappointment of not making the ‘78 World Cup squad for The Netherlands, Mühren’s career was going well.
Not long after that full international debut in Tunisia, Arnold Mühren came to the attention of the late, great Sir Bobby Robson, the then Ipswich Town manager. Sir Bobby bought him for £150,000, Muhren was an Ipswich player. Sir Bobby was building a very good Ipswich side; they had just beaten Arsenal at Wembley in the F.A. Cup final. Arnold was at Ipswich Town for four years, making over 160 appearances for the Tractor Boys. He had some very good times at Portman Road, the crowning achievement being the lifting of the 1981 UEFA Cup, beating Dutch side AZ Alkmaar. Ron Atkinson brought Mühren to United in the summer of 1982.
Now playing for the world’s biggest club, Arnold’s trophy winning days would continue. He made his league debut against Birmingham City, enjoying a 3 – 0 home win. In his first full season with United, the midfield maestro would visit Wembley three times for finals. The first didn’t go too well, losing in the League Cup final, or The Milk Cup as it was then. The FA Cup final of that year would bring his first winners medal in English domestic football. The Cup Final of ‘83 would go to a replay, the first game ending 2 – 2. United made sure they lifted the trophy with a comprehensive 4 – 0 win in the replay, Arnold getting on the score sheet with a penalty in the second half. Arnold would help United reach another F.A. Cup final two years later, but he wouldn’t play in that particular Wembley final.
During his three years with United, Arnold appeared 70 times, scoring 13 goals, making many a fantastic pass. United would have to wait for the emergence of Paul Scholes, to have a midfielder with such a high degree of passing accuracy and vision. In the summer of 1985, Mühren returned to The Netherlands, resigning for Ajax. In 1987 and still at Ajax, Arnold joined that exclusive group of players that have claimed all three of U.E.F.A.’s European club trophies, the European Cup, the UEFA Cup and the European Cup Winners Cup. The last Ajax side Arnold was a part of was the world’s best side, won Europe’s and the world’s top honours and was full of the great names of the ‘70’s. The next Ajax team Arnold would turn out for wasn’t far behind at all.
The Ajax of the mid ‘80’s boasted some of the best players of the modern era. Ronald Koeman, Frank Rijkaard and Marco Van Basten were a part of that exciting Ajax team. Aged 35 years of age, Arnold would return to Ajax and in his first season win another KNVB Cup, Ajax qualifying for next seasons European Cup Winners Cup. They went on to win it, beating Locomotive Leipzig in the final, Mühren raising the trophy as team captain at the Olympic Stadium in Athens. Football trophies are often a magnet for truly great players, no matter what team they are at, Arnold Mühren was one of those players.
Towards the end of the ‘80’s Arnold was nearing the end of his playing career, but he wasn’t quite finished with the silverware. A year after he had won yet another European trophy with Ajax, Mühren was in the Dutch squad for the 1988 European Championships, hosted by The Netherlands’s closest footballing rival, West Germany. Despite losing their first game to the Soviet Union, the Dutch strolled to the final, on their way making short work of England with a Marco van Basten hat trick, United and England captain Bryan Robson getting a consolation goal. In the semifinal in Hamburg, they met their arch rivals and tournament hosts, West Germany.
The Germans were leading 1 – 0 with only 16 minutes left, cruising to the final. To the dismay of the Germans, the Dutch were awarded a penalty in the 74th minute, Ronald Koeman converting from the spot. With only two minutes left, Marco Van Basten scored for The Netherlands, 1 – 2 in favour of the men in orange, that’s how it finished. In the final they would face the Soviet Union, the only team to have beaten them that tournament. Lightening wouldn’t strike twice, the Dutch ran out 2 – 0 winners, and rightly so too. Rinus Michels’s Netherlands were clearly the standout team of the ’88 European Championship. Arnold would go on playing for another year before hanging his boots up 1989.