DON’T KNOCK BRI­TISH BOSSES – WE’RE TOPS

The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP - By Chris Dunlavy

YOU might think it un­rea­son­able of Karl Robin­son’s wife to kick up a fuss about her hus­band watch­ing too much foot­ball. Un­til, that is, you hear his typ­i­cal post­match itin­er­ary. “On the Satur­day night, I drive down to Lon­don and hop on the Eurostar,” says the MK Dons boss, who was this week named League One manager of the month. “Then I’ll drive across north­ern France and stay in a ho­tel. On the Sun­day morn­ing I shoot across to Hol­land. It’s bril­liant – there’s an 11.30 game, a 2.30 game and a 6.30 game so I can watch three matches in one af­ter­noon. “I stay Sun­day night, go to a club visit on Mon­day, maybe some­where like Ajax de jong or PSV de jong. They play on Mon­day evening, so I watch that and then go home Tues­day morn­ing.”

Adventure

No won­der Mrs Robin­son is narked. Yet if you were un­der the im­pres­sion Robin­son’s con­ti­nen­tal ad­ven­tures con­sti­tute a be­lief in the su­pe­ri­or­ity of Euro­pean foot­ball, think again. The 34-year-old may love Dutch foot­ball. He cer­tainly wants to work there some day. But he is also sick to the back teeth of read­ing that Bri­tish play­ers and Bri­tish coaches are stuck in the stone age. “I hate that,” he al­most snarls. “I ab­so­lutely hate it. Be­cause I look around and I see tal­ented coaches ev­ery­where. “Take me out of this. For­get me. Look at Ed­die Howe. What he did when Bournemouth were in League Two was noth­ing short of a mir­a­cle, ar­guably the great­est man­age­rial achieve­ment of the cen­tury. Bet­ter than any­thing in the top flight. “Look at Keith Hill. His Rochdale side is as good as it gets. As a de­vel­oper of young tal­ent, he is as good as it gets. Mark Cooper at Swin­don has got them play­ing good, ex­pan­sive foot­ball. Phil Parkin­son – look at what he’s done for Brad­ford. In­cred­i­ble. Look at what Justin Ed­in­burgh has done for New­port.

“But peo­ple see you in League One and turn their nose up.You get pi­geon­holed as a ‘lower league manager’. But just be­cause they cut their teeth lower down doesn’t mean they won’t cut it at the top.

“It’s the same with Bri­tish play­ers. If some­body had scored the goals Char­lie Austin scored in the Span­ish Se­gunda (sec­ond tier), he’d have been bought by a top-five club in La Liga.

“If he then went up and scored goals like he has for QPR this sea­son, he’d be go­ing to a big, big, club. But be­cause he’s Bri­tish and he’s come through the lower leagues, he doesn’t get the re­spect he de­serves. It’s hugely frus­trat­ing.

“For me, the me­dia have a lot to an­swer for. They don’t want to mar­ket Bri­tish tal­ent. They pre­fer to jump all over fancy ex­otic names.

“And what makes it all the more in­fu­ri­at­ing is that when you give Bri­tish man­agers a chance, I think they stand up to be counted. I re­ally do.

“Garry Monk has done a bril­liant job at Swansea. Bren­dan Rodgers al­most won the League at Liver­pool. And Sam Al­lardyce. Come on – are you re­ally go­ing to stand there and tell me he’s a bad manager af­ter all he’s achieved? I worked for him for seven months and the man’s a ge­nius. A bril­liant tac­ti­cian. A good man. Yet he gets cast aside and branded a long-ball mer­chant.What non­sense.”

As Robin­son speaks, he is re­lax­ing in the ho­tel ad­join­ing sta­dium:mk, his side pre­par­ing for yes­ter­day’s top of the ta­ble clash with Bris­tol City. Af­ter two years in the rel­a­tive dol­drums, the Dons are back in the play-off places and fight­ing for a place in the top two.

Dele Alli, the club’s lat­est pro­tege and now back on loan af­ter join­ing Spurs for £5m on dead­line day, lounges nearby.

De­vel­op­ing play­ers like Alli is more than a busi­ness model to Robin­son, whose own fledg­ling ca­reer crashed to earth thanks to a back in­jury at the age of 18.

A youth coach at Liver­pool from the age of 20, he now lives his dream vi­car­i­ously through the lives of the young­sters, openly ad­mit­ting that the suc­cess of Alli and, be­fore him, Sam Bal­dock, brings more sat­is­fac­tion than any pro­mo­tion or ti­tle ever could. “Is that weird?” he asks with a laugh. “I can’t help it. I just want them to suc­ceed so much. I know what it’s like to lose the game. I know what it’s like to not kick a ball for 14 months and then be told you’ll never kick one again.

I re­mem- ber the dev­as­ta­tion. And I never want th­ese kids to ex­pe­ri­ence that un­der me.”

Robin­son’s ethos comes partly from within and partly from Steve Heigh­way, the leg­endary An­field youth coach re­spon­si­ble for Steven Ger­rard, Michael Owen, Rob­bie Fowler and Jamie Car­ragher.

“Steve was an amaz­ing per­son who loved foot­ball and never wanted any credit for what he did,” re­calls Robin­son.

“I’ll al­ways re­mem­ber him telling me I had two jobs as a youth coach. He said, ‘Your first job is to fill their tool­box with ev­ery­thing they need to do the job, then let them pick the right one.Your sec­ond job is to build a stage, write a script and then let them per­form it. Don’t con­trol them. Don’t cage them. Let them be who they need to be’.

“His last bit of ad­vice was to show them that you re­ally care. I’ve kept to those prin­ci­ples my whole ca­reer. In fact, my wife will tell you I care more about my play­ers than I do about her!

“But it’s worth it when th­ese kids re­mem­ber. Pa­trick Bamford (who scored 21 goals in 40 games on loan from Chelsea) still texts me for ad­vice. So does Benik Afobe.

“I went to see Dele play for Eng­land last year and I heard some­one shout­ing my name. This lad came and gave me a hug and it was Ryan Kent – I hadn’t seen him since I signed him for Liver­pool at eight years old. He was with his par­ents and they thanked me for ev­ery­thing I’d done. That’s like win­ning the game for me. Noth­ing tops it.”

Though 34, Robin­son is now the third-long­est serv­ing manager in Eng­land af­ter Ar­se­nal boss Arsene Wenger and Ex­eter’s Paul Tis­dale. He is also vastly ex­pe­ri­enced, with spells as as­sis­tant to Paul Ince and Sam Al­lardyce in the Pre­mier League.

Wan­der­lust

“It’s funny,” he says. “I heard the QPR co-owner Amit Bha­tia was talk­ing about the new manager, say­ing they wanted to go ‘young and fresh’. Then they started talk­ing about Tim Sher­wood and Paul Cle­ment who are 43 and 44.

“I thought to my­self ‘My God, I’ve done 260 games and I’m 34’. I hadn’t re­ally grasped that un­til then. But I’ve been coach­ing for 14 years now.”

But af­ter five years at the helm, there is no wan­der­lust. Even if a big club did recog­nise one of the coun­try’s finest coach­ing tal­ents, Robin­son would think twice.

“I’m not go­ing to be here for­ever,” he ad­mits. “But there have been times when I could have walked away. Yet I’ve never looked back at any of those mo­ments and wished I’d made a dif­fer­ent de­ci­sion.

“I think that tells you how much I love my job here. I want to see it through.”

MIR­A­CLE WORKER: Ed­die Howe at Bournemouth STAR MEN: Dele Alli and manager Karl Robin­son with their player and manager of the month awards. Right: Pa­trick Bamford

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