Hal Robson-kanu: Goal of 2016

The high­light of Wales’ won­drous Euro 2016 was their cult hero flum­mox­ing three Bel­gians to se­cure a semi-fi­nal spot. FFT meets up with our Goal of the Year win­ner

FourFourTwo - - CONTENTS - Words Chris Evans Pho­tog­ra­phy Fabio De Paola

Hal Robson-kanu seems slightly puz­zled when Four­fourtwo’s pho­tog­ra­pher shares his vi­sion for our open­ing shot. “You want me to hold up… a sausage?” the Wales hero asks as our snap­per hands over all the in­gre­di­ents to put to­gether the per­fect hot dog. Stand­ing in his pris­tine-look­ing apart­ment in War­wick­shire, the 27-year-old takes one look at the ketchup bot­tle in his right hand, and then an­other at the cream car­pet be­neath his feet. A wor­ried ex­pres­sion crosses his face. “My mis­sus isn’t go­ing to be very happy about this – it could ruin my year if we get any on the car­pet,” he jokes. Well, half-jokes. Af­ter his other-worldly Cruyff turn to score the sec­ond of Wales’ three goals in their shock Euro 2016 quar­ter-fi­nal vic­tory against Bel­gium, so­cial me­dia lit up with peo­ple cel­e­brat­ing Robson-kanu for send­ing three Bel­gian play­ers for a hot dog. Ba­si­cally, he sent them all run­ning in com­pletely the wrong di­rec­tion. It was the crown­ing mo­ment of an in­cred­i­ble sum­mer, when the for­ward went from be­ing an out-of-con­tract Cham­pi­onship player to the toast of Europe – be­fore sign­ing for West Bromwich Albion amid talk of in­ter­est from Atletico Madrid. Best of all (prob­a­bly), his strike is named FFT’S Goal of the Year, which is why he’s squirt­ing sauce on a Frank­furter. It could all have been so dif­fer­ent. Hav­ing an­nounced that he wouldn’t be re­new­ing his con­tract at Read­ing, end­ing a 12-year as­so­ci­a­tion with the club he’d called home since the age of 15, Ac­ton-born Robson-kanu de­cided he would use the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship as a shop win­dow for his tal­ents. But with only weeks be­fore Wales kicked off their cam­paign against Slo­vakia, Robson-kanu snapped a ten­don in his leg and faced an anx­ious race to be ready for the jaunt across the Chan­nel. “I was touch and go to be fit,” he says. “It was a tough pe­riod, be­cause there wasn’t any guar­an­tee I would be avail­able in time, but I worked hard with the phys­ios and the coach­ing staff in or­der to get back. And as his­tory says, I was out there.” As he leans back on a chair in his new liv­ing room, Robson-kanu opens up on his re­grets at not go­ing all the way in France, whether he opted for Tony Pulis over Diego Sime­one and how he hu­mil­i­ated the na­tion many had touted as the best in Europe.

How happy were you with your form, head­ing into the sum­mer? I’m al­ways con­fi­dent in my abil­ity. I’d played at the top level a fair bit pre­vi­ously and per­formed well, so I knew I could do it at in­ter­na­tional level. I’d played in all 10 games in the qual­i­fy­ing cam­paign, so I knew my place in the team. The man­ager [Chris Cole­man], his staff and the play­ers knew what I could bring to the start­ing XI, so it was nice to feel val­ued in that sense. It was just about pre­par­ing my­self as I al­ways do and per­form­ing at that level.

What was the sit­u­a­tion at Read­ing? Did they choose not to of­fer you a new con­tract, or did you de­cide that you were mov­ing on? I had been at Read­ing for 12 years – I’ve given a lot of my ca­reer to the club. I was happy with what I’d achieved – we had mul­ti­ple pro­mo­tions and some suc­cess­ful years, but I was just at a stage where I felt it was best for my ca­reer to move on and find a new chal­lenge. I wanted to go some­where I would have to push my­self fur­ther, and that was the de­ci­sion we made early on in the sea­son.

Did the fact that you were with­out a club play on your mind as you pre­pared for Euro 2016? Or did you view it as the per­fect chance to put your­self in the shop win­dow dur­ing the sum­mer? There was a lot of spec­u­la­tion, but for me it was just a case of let­ting peo­ple know that my fu­ture would be de­cided af­ter the tour­na­ment and that my fo­cus would solely be on play­ing foot­ball. Be­ing on a free trans­fer, I had some of­fers, but I put all of that on the back burner. It is not ev­ery sum­mer that you get the op­por­tu­nity to head to a ma­jor cham­pi­onship on a free, but it’s not some­thing I would ad­vise play­ers to do, ei­ther, be­cause there’s some risk in­volved. But I was con­fi­dent and I backed my abil­ity, so I knew that there would be op­tions there.

How was the at­mos­phere in the Welsh camp dur­ing prepa­ra­tions? There was a lot of hype around us, and just qual­i­fy­ing was big in it­self. The whole na­tion was be­hind us and we cap­tured ev­ery­one’s hearts. It was a great feel­ing to be head­ing out to a ma­jor tour­na­ment – not many play­ers ex­pe­ri­ence that in their ca­reers. Be­fore the tour­na­ment we’d had quite a lot of suc­cess in­ter­na­tion­ally, so we were all feel­ing pretty con­fi­dent. Lead­ing up to the cham­pi­onship, we knew we were go­ing to do some­thing special and we be­lieved that we could get to the knock­out stages, pos­si­bly to the quar­ters, and then who knows?

When you scored a late win­ner in Wales’ open­ing match against Slo­vakia, did you think things could get any bet­ter than that? Slo­vakia was our first game and our first in a ma­jor cham­pi­onship for 60-odd years. It was also very im­por­tant we started the group

well and got the cam­paign off to a win­ning start, so to score the win­ner was a very special feel­ing. Scor­ing at in­ter­na­tional level is special any­way, but to do it at a ma­jor cham­pi­onship adds a lit­tle bit ex­tra. Af­ter we won, we were all just look­ing at the next game.

How was the mood af­ter los­ing to Eng­land in the cir­cum­stances that you did, to Daniel Stur­ridge’s scruffy goal in stop­page time? We were dis­ap­pointed be­cause we didn’t play any­where near our best that day, but we still took them to the wire and gained a lot from that. The way that the Eng­land play­ers were cel­e­brat­ing the win­ning goal made us think, ‘Hang on a minute, they are really re­lieved to have beaten us.’ That gave us a lot of con­fi­dence – it showed us that we could ac­tu­ally be a force to be reck­oned with.

You missed out on Wales’ 3-0 win over Rus­sia in the fi­nal group game, be­fore be­ing a sec­ond-half sub­sti­tute against North­ern Ire­land in the sec­ond round. Was that frus­trat­ing? I en­tered the tour­na­ment hav­ing not played that many games, be­cause I had snapped a ten­don in my leg a few weeks ear­lier. I was lack­ing a bit of match fit­ness, so they wanted to look af­ter me and pro­tect me as much as pos­si­ble. In the end it worked out well, be­cause there wasn’t too much of a de­mand on me. In the games when I did come on, I was able to make a big con­tri­bu­tion.

In the build-up to the game in Lille, how did you rate Wales’ chances of suc­cess in the quar­ter-fi­nal against Bel­gium? They were ranked num­ber two in the world, so we knew it was go­ing to be tough. But we had played Bel­gium four times over the past four years and won one and drawn two, so we had a sense that if we were re­silient and showed our qual­ity, then it was all to play for. We knew that they were a world-class team, but we were qui­etly con­fi­dent.

What was go­ing through your mind as you wheeled away, hav­ing just scored that goal to give Wales a 2-1 ad­van­tage in the game? When you’re in the op­po­nents’ box, you want to cre­ate half a yard of space and get a shot away. The ball fell to me from a great ball from Rambo [Aaron Ram­sey] and I was aware that the mo­men­tum of the Bel­gian play­ers was tak­ing them all in one di­rec­tion, so it was a good op­por­tu­nity to put in a Cruyff turn. It’s some­thing I do a lot dur­ing train­ing and it will nor­mally get me some space against one op­po­nent, but that was the first time it has freed me up from three! I thought I’d get a bit of space, but not as much as I did: it was a case of me against [Thibaut] Cour­tois. He’s ob­vi­ously a world-class keeper and he’s big, so I had to put it into the cor­ner – and that’s what I did.

Was it the best goal you have ever scored dur­ing your ca­reer? I’ve scored a nice vol­ley against Mill­wall in the past, and a few with the out­side of my foot, but given it was on that stage, and what it meant to ev­ery­one, the one against Bel­gium is prob­a­bly the best.

What did you make to the re­ac­tion af­ter scor­ing that goal? The goal was great but, to be hon­est, I didn’t really think about it again for the rest of the game. It was more about think­ing we were in a quar­ter-fi­nal and if we won, we’d be in the semis. That was the fo­cus af­ter the game, too, and I didn’t really think about the goal be­cause ev­ery­one was ab­so­lutely buzzing. It was only dur­ing the morn­ing af­ter, when we woke up and no­ticed all the hys­te­ria on so­cial me­dia, that I re­alised that it was quite a special mo­ment.

What was the best re­sponse you re­ceived from fans or play­ers? It was quite mad, the num­ber of for­mer play­ers and idols who were com­ment­ing on it – even Pele! It was ob­vi­ously an amaz­ing feel­ing to have so many leg­ends talk­ing about the goal. Ian Rush, who is a Welsh le­gend, named me the Man of the Match af­ter the game, which was a great mo­ment con­sid­er­ing the cal­i­bre of play­ers that were on the pitch. There was a lot of ban­ter on so­cial me­dia af­ter the goal. As well as all of the jokes that I had ‘sent the Bel­gian de­fend­ers for a hot dog’, peo­ple were say­ing that a few of the de­fend­ers had gone miss­ing and been found in cer­tain places.

Just how dis­ap­point­ing was it when Wales’ su­perb cam­paign ended with a 2-0 de­feat against Por­tu­gal in the semi-fi­nal? Por­tu­gal showed us a mas­sive amount of re­spect in the way they sat off us. It was a huge com­pli­ment to the group that a top na­tion like Por­tu­gal would set up like that against us. Af­ter the game, a few of us were say­ing that we should have beaten them. We knew that we had enough to beat them and it felt like a missed op­por­tu­nity. To feel like that about not get­ting to a fi­nal shows how far we’ve come.

Do you know if it’s true that Atletico Madrid wanted to sign you? There were quite a lot of ne­go­ti­a­tions that took place and there were a num­ber of op­por­tu­ni­ties for me abroad in Spain, Asia, Rus­sia and Amer­ica. But I had told my agent that I would love to play in the Premier League, so a lot of the in­ter­est from other coun­tries got pushed aside. I had a desire to play in the top league in the world.

Did Diego Sime­one call you and try and tempt you to Spain? [Laughs] I had my phone turned off all sum­mer be­cause it was go­ing mad – I was get­ting calls left, right and cen­tre – so even if he had called me up, I’d have missed it! Atletico are a mas­sive foot­ball club, but my am­bi­tion was to play in the Premier League.

You even­tu­ally man­aged to achieve that goal by sign­ing for West Bromwich Albion on trans­fer dead­line day. So how have you set­tled back into life, play­ing in the Premier League? It’s a great club with a good man­ager [Tony Pulis] who knows the league. I’ve been work­ing hard in train­ing, but I started the sea­son quite late when I ar­rived, and it’s al­ways dif­fi­cult when that hap­pens. I’m just wait­ing for my op­por­tu­nity and look­ing for­ward to tak­ing it. It should be ev­ery young foot­baller’s dream to play in the Premier League, and I’m grate­ful for the chance.

What are your am­bi­tions for 2017? World Cup qual­i­fi­ca­tion? I just want to con­tinue to build on what I have been do­ing so far. World Cup qual­i­fi­ca­tion with Wales is im­por­tant: it’s a tough group but we cer­tainly back our­selves and we hope that by the end of the cam­paign, we will have some­thing to cheer about. I work hard year in, year out, and there is a lot of hard graft to come, but I hope there will be more suc­cesses. You have to keep want­ing to get bet­ter – it is not all about achiev­ing some­thing, then sit­ting back and re­lax­ing.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.