Monday, August 10, 2009

Bobby Robson 1933-2009

Sir Bobby Robson was the first England football manager I remember, starting with his ill-fated campaign to win the 1986 World Cup (failing to qualify for the 1984 European Championships was before my time).  England were on the verge of being knocked-out after a loss to Potugal and a draw with Morocco before a Gary Lineker hat-trick defeated Poland 3-0 in the final group game.  An identical scoreline defeated Paraguay in the second round, with another two goals by Mr Lineker which would take him 5/6ths of the way towards the Golden Boot he won that year.   An infamous quarter-final against Argentina, the first match between the two sides since the Falklands war, saw a moment of genius and a moment of disgrace by Diego Maradona send England home; Argentina went on to lift the trophy for the second time.

In 1988 an equally disastrous start saw England fail to recover from defeats to Ireland, Holland and the USSR to go out in the group stage.  Bobby Robson was continually villified by the national press, which continued into the 1990 World Cup where another slow start saw draws against Ireland and Holland.  Mark Wright scored to beat Egypt in the final group game 1-0 and England topped the group.  They went on to beat Belgium (in the last minute of extra-time!) thanks to a David Platt goal, and Cameroon in the quarter-finals after two Gary Lineker penalties.  This took England to the first (and only) World Cup Semi-Final since 1966, in which the Germans broke English hearts by winning the penalty shoot-out after Gary Lineker cancelled out a freak free-kick which went in after being deflected off Paul Parker.  For the second time, Robson's England had been knocked out of the World Cup by the eventual winners.

Normally the national job is the pinnacle of a managers career but if anything Bobby Robson went on to greater things while the national team seemed to go the other way.  PSV, Sporting, Porto, Barcelona and Newcastle awaited Robson in his twilight years, with success being achieved at each club.  His translator at Sporting, a certain Jose Mourinho, went on to become assistant manager with him at Porto and Barcelona, and has turned out to be a half-decent manager himself.  Newcastle would probably give a lot for him to be back as manager.

What I will always remember Robson for, however, was how he conducted himself with the utmost grace and integrity in the space of some vicious attacks from the national press (a situation which only got worse for his successor Graham "the Turnip" Taylor).  Despite, post-86, qualifying for every international tournament he could have, and getting us to our best result in a World Cup on foreign soil in 1990, my impression is he was never truly appreciated by the "experts" writing the football columns in the national press.  These same experts villified him at the beginning of the 1990 World Cup before claiming, with Paul Gascoigne maturing a little in four years time, England would have a great chance of winning the tournament outright in 1994.  Of course, England never qualified for the World Cup in 1994, and Paul Gascoigne never played in a World Cup again.  His biggest problem was that he was not Brian Clough.  Everyone thought Old Big Ead should have been the manager when Robson was appointed.  As such, the gutlessness of the FA overshadowed what Robson achieved for the England national team, which, save a dodgy World Cup win in 1966, was probably more than any other manager of the three lions could claim to have achieved.

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