‘WE’VE GOT TO GIVE ZOLA A CHANCE’

BLUES CAP­TAIN PAUL ROBIN­SON SAYS:

The Football League Paper - - NEWS - By John Wragg

WHAT hap­pened at Birm­ing­ham City 11 days be­fore Christ­mas has been filed away by Paul Robin­son. Not so much a chap­ter, it’s a whole book on how cruel and un­ex­pected foot­ball can be.

Robbo, 38 years old and 21 years in foot­ball, was stunned by the news that Gary Rowett had been sacked by Birm­ing­ham’s new own­ers.

Rowett was a vic­tim of NOS, New Owner Syn­drome. Paul Suen’s Tril­lion Tro­phy Asia Ltd took con­trol of Birm­ing­ham City on Oc­to­ber 17 and Rowett was gone 59 days later.

Robin­son’s tem­ples are grey­ing. He’s seen a lot of foot­ball: five clubs, more than 150 games for Birm­ing­ham, 746 in to­tal and he’s not fin­ished. He wants to be­come a man­ager.

It was Rowett who put him on the road, giv­ing Robin­son a coach­ing role at Birm­ing­ham as the twi­light be­gins to fall on his play­ing ca­reer.

Yesterday, Robin­son was look­ing to give Rowett’s suc­ces­sor, Gian­franco Zola, his first win in six at­tempts as Blues’ new boss.

Zola is an af­fa­ble man. Birm­ing­ham City re­main a club in shock.

Robin­son, the club cap­tain and im­mensely re­spected in the dress­ing room and out of it, was given a three-page in­ter­view spread in Birm­ing­ham’s pro­gramme for the FA Cup tie with New­cas­tle last week. It was aimed at heal­ing the frac­tures of dis­con­tent.

“It’s al­ways go­ing to take a new man­ager a bit of time to get his ways across,” Robin­son said in the pro­gramme Q&A.

Di­rec­tion

“He (Zola) has dif­fer­ent philoso­phies about the game. I’m the se­nior pro here. It’s down to me to keep the lads to­gether and we’ve got to keep driv­ing in the same di­rec­tion, the di­rec­tion the club wants to go. It wants to move for­ward. Yes, ev­ery­one en­joyed work­ing with Gary. He was a fan­tas­tic man and I en­joyed my time with him, 100 per cent. But it’s a new era and we’ve got to give Gian­franco an op­por­tu­nity.”

Robin­son doesn’t play much these days. Just one Cham­pi­onship game this sea­son, iron­i­cally a 3-1 de­feat at Not­ting­ham For­est, ahead of yesterday’s re­turn fix­ture, plus a game in the League Cup and FA Cup.

But Zola needs Robbo on his side, if not in it. Rowett used Robin­son, his in­flu­ence, his knowl­edge, his pas­sion, in the dress­ing room.

He recog­nised that Robin­son’s legs might need extra mas­sage, but his ego doesn’t. Robin­son is a proud pro­fes­sional, ready to lead any fight from the front and doesn’t tol­er­ate those who don’t stand with him.

When Birm­ing­ham were smashed 8-0 at home by Bournemouth, their worst home de­feat ever, who led the mop-up, who asked the hard ques­tions? Robin­son.

He called a play­ers’ meet­ing for Mon­day morn­ing as they waited for a new man­ager (Lee Clark had been sacked and Mal­colm Crosby was tem­po­rary boss against Bournemouth) to thrash out what hap­pened. The in­quest had been dealt with by the time Rowett ar­rived that af­ter­noon. Robin­son played in Birm­ing­ham’s next match at Wolves and re­fused to be em­bar­rassed again, a sig­nif­i­cant fig­ure in a 0-0 draw. He played the next 19 games, seven wins, seven draws and five de­feats, when Birm­ing­ham climbed from a bas­ket case next to bot­tom to 15th, fin­ish­ing the sea­son amaz­ingly in the Cham­pi­onship’s top ten. “It’s how you come out of it the other side, men­tally strong,” says Robin­son of that

pe­riod. “It will al­ways be men­tioned. It will al­ways be there, but you have to move on.”

Where Birm­ing­ham City are now is not dis­sim­i­lar. Ev­ery­one has to deal with the af­ter­math post-Rowett.

Stand­ing in the cor­ri­dor of what used to be the main stand at Birm­ing­ham, a vir­tu­ally un­touched and unloved grim area in a sta­dium three quar­ters re­de­vel­oped by previous own­ers David Sul­li­van and David Gold, Robin­son looks ahead.

“The man­ager can't do any­thing for you when you are over that white line. The 11 play­ers have to dig each other out and we have to stick to­gether as a group,” he says. “The man­ager has been bril­liant since he came in. Yes it's a change, yes it’s dif­fer­ent, but this is foot­ball. We have to get on with it.” There are more than 200 Premier League games, three FA Cup semi-fi­nals and pro­mo­tions in Robin­son’s ca­reer. He’s also daz­zled by Zola. “I played against the gaffer a few times when he was at Chelsea. I couldn’t get near him, but Wat­ford beat them when I was play­ing for them, so I will take that. “I haven't men­tioned it to him yet. I want to get to know him a lit­tle bit better be­fore I start rip­ping him… “The one thing that unites ev­ery­body is we all want this club to do well. Ev­ery­one. Es­pe­cially the man­ager. We want to make him feel com­fort­able as quick as pos­si­ble.”

Robin­son is also at a cross­roads . He wants to play on but doesn’t know if he will get the chance. He wants to step up his man­age­ment and coach­ing, but doesn’t know if that will be at Birm­ing­ham.

Wel­come

“Gian­franco knows what I am about. He un­der­stands what sort of per­son I am, my men­tal­ity. We have had good chats. That’s the type of per­son he is. He makes you feel wel­come, makes you feel wanted and that's great. That’s all you need to hear. I am not say­ing I will play my last game this sea­son be­cause I feel great. I feel fit, I feel strong. I am leav­ing my op­tions open.

“For now, it's im­por­tant to be around this group, to drag them on, keep them go­ing and then, as soon as that hap­pens, as soon as we get some more lead­ers through the door, it’s de­ci­sion time.

“If you have achieved all you can as a foot­baller then you would like to do it in coach­ing and man­age­ment.

“It will come one day, but it’s about being pa­tient, mak­ing the right moves and picking the right club.”

Manag­ing Birm­ing­ham is at the back of his head, filed un­der am­bi­tion with all that other in­for­ma­tion.

“All the clubs I have played at, there has al­ways been a spe­cial part in my heart for them, so that even­tu­ally, one day, I could go back and coach at one of them or man­age one of them.”

JOY: Paul Robin­son scores against Derby last sea­son LEAD­ER­SHIP: Paul Robin­son

PIC­TURES: Ac­tion Images

NEW MAN IN CHARGE: Gian­franco Zola tries to get his mes­sage across PROMIS­ING SIGNS: Lukas Jutkiewicz scored the equaliser against New­cas­tle the FA Cup last Satur­day in PAINFUL START: Brighton twice late struck on to ruin Zola’s de­but as Birm­ing­ham man­ager FOR­MER BOSS: Gary Rowett

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