Michael Robinson - leaving Liverpool for Spain
By Carl Clemente - Carl Clemente (@clemente_carl)
A boyhood Red who lived his dreams with the team he supported from the Spion Kop from the age of six. LFChistory.net recently met former Liverpool striker Michael Robinson in Madrid and had a good chat with him about his career. In Part 2 we learn about his tearful Anfield exit, a rather disappointing time at QPR and his move abroad to Osasuna which was ultimately the start of something special for Michael in Spain. Link to Part 1 is on the right hand side of this article.
How did the start of the 1984-85 season start for you?
Not great as I was mainly on the bench and wasn't getting much game time. Joe had just signed Paul Walsh for £700,000 from Luton so he was always going to get a game ahead of me. Even when Ian Rush was injured I still wasn't favoured and when Ian came back from injury Paul Walsh, Ian and Kenneth would be always Joe's preferred three.
Did you ever express your frustration to Joe Fagan about not being in the team?
I was never the sort of player to ever complain to my managers. All I ever did was always do my best in training and hope that my time would come. However, in December we traveled to Japan to take part in the World Club Championship and it was there where I thought extensively about my future. My Liverpool career had come to a stalemate; I only started seven games and hadn't played since October. Therefore, when we returned to Liverpool I went to speak to Joe Fagan.I explained that I was 27 and I needed to be playing more. Joe tried to persuade me to stay as they wanted players with my attitude at the club and even said they would offer me a new contract. I told him it was nothing to do with the money and that I just wanted to play football. Liverpool was my club from a very young age and I would never have wanted to end up resenting them, further down the line, which could have happened if I ended up staying and being stuck on the bench. Moreover, my best friend and teammate Graeme Souness had also moved on to Italy to play for Sampdoria, therefore leaving Liverpool was probably the right decision.
Joe being the understanding man that he was granted me permission to talk to other clubs. QPR who were managed by Fran Sibley at the time became interested in signing me. I knew I would get more game time there, so, I went to see Joe Fagan again to tell him of my decision and he said to me "Michael, you can't leave now you’re in the squad to face Leicester on Boxing Day.” The deal was already more or less done and I signed for QPR a day later.
I will never forget the day I drove to Anfield with my wife Chris to collect my boots and say my final goodbyes. It was matchday so we went early to avoid the crowds. I had to stay strong; therefore, I made it as swift as possible. I shook hands with the club secretary Mr. Robinson, picked up my boots and left. I remember getting back in the car and holding back the tears. In the end I had to tell my wife to drive. The fans by now had started to arrive at the ground and as we drove away from Anfield for the very last time, I just slumped into my seat and cried like a baby.
Mark Lawrenson on his former team-mate
"The nicest thing about Michael was that he knew his own limitations. I was at Preston with him and we were at Brighton together and, of course, he followed me to Liverpool. He would tell you himself that he didn't have a good touch for a big man and he was predominantly one-footed. But he was strong. He was very powerful and would chase everything. When the chips were down he would give you absolutely everything."
I didn't really like the plastic pitch down there for a start. Being honest, I probably was slightly unfair to QPR in the sense I would compare things to how they were done at Liverpool, which was wrong of me as both clubs are miles apart, in the sense of size and what they were capable of achieving. Although I probably regretted leaving Liverpool at the time, I don't now, as destiny has brought me here to Spain.
In January 1987 your career took another drastic turn as you decided to join La Liga side, Osasuna....
Yes, I was looking for a fresh start and after playing for Liverpool I couldn't go anywhere else in England so I decided to pursue my career abroad. However, the day I signed for Osasuna wasn't the greatest experience of my career. The President and the managing director flew to London to tie up all the paperwork in the morning and fly me back to Bilbao with them in the afternoon. Anyway, the Spanish side of the party ended up missing the flight and myself and my wife Chris ended up traveling alone.
Let's not forget we didn't speak a word of Spanish and we didn't have a clue where Osasuna was or anything. When we landed in Bilbao airport there was a flurry of press and photographers there to greet me. I later found out that I was the only European Cup winner to be playing in Spain at the time, hence the attention I received. In the end after the initial palaver we managed to survive and made our way to the hotel. I remember the hotel manager was extremely chatty and friendly and went out of his way to help. As I mentioned, unfortunately I was unable to speak Spanish at that time so I couldn't converse back with him.
The following morning they took me to the training ground and introduced me to all the players. As we were warming up I looked up and saw the hotel manager on the sideline. I thought to myself what a gentleman, not only does he treat me like royalty at his hotel but he also comes along to watch me train too. He then started to do some stretches and got a ball and started running up and down the touchline. I remember thinking to myself he wasn't actually that bad and had a great touch on him. He then called not just me but all the other players for a chat, which I found rather strange but I went along with it. I soon realised that the hotel manager was actually my new manager at Osasuna.
Did you adapt easily to the Spanish game and life in Spain in general?
I did, as Osasuna at that time, as well as, many other teams from around the Basque country, played a similar style to the English game which wasn't so focused around tactics. My only principle problem was the language barrier, so I used to just do everything about two seconds later than everyone else. However, that soon changed as I was kind of forced to learn the language as nobody spoke English, which suited me and my wife as we wanted to indulge into the Spanish culture and lifestyle. I only ended up having one Spanish lesson in the end and that was cut short as I had to go back to training.
Nevertheless, we soon settled in and realised we weren't actually living in Osasuna. The city is called Pamplona and Osasuna is just the name of the city’s football team. Something I couldn’t understand at first when Chris first told me; "What do you mean!” I said to her. "Of course we are living in Osasuna, I've just signed for them!"
Moving to Spain was a great opportunity to go to the University of Life. Footballers are very restrained from pursuing their academic studies, something which I was very keen on. I used to sit on the team buses and read The Times and the broadsheets when all the other players would be reading the tabloids. Therefore, I am very grateful to Spain and the Spanish people for allowing me to do this.
Did you influence Sammy Lee’s move to Spain who joined you a few months later in August?
Yes, I had everything to do with his move. Osasuna had just avoided relegation and the president was looking to improve his squad. He approached me to see if I knew of any players from England who would be interested in coming to Spain. Sammy, like me, was at QPR at the time and was looking for a new challenge. Therefore, he jumped at the opportunity of being able to join me out in Spain. It was great playing with Sammy again and in our first season together, we ended up finishing fifth, which at the time, was a club record.
Steve McManaman said you were his mentor while he lived in Spain
I first met Steven when he was still playing for Liverpool and there was talk of him coming to Spain. Liverpool had put a ban on Spanish journalists talking to Steven, but I phoned Mr. Peter Robinson personally to see if I could speak to him. Peter was more than welcoming with me; "Michael, this is your home, you don't need to ask me permission to come here," he kindly informed me.
I flew to Liverpool to meet Steven at Anfield. He turned up rather late and entered the room where I was waiting, something didn’t seem right; "Mr. Robinson, I'm sorry I'm late, my mum has just died," he said. I was in sheer shock and instantly insisted that our meeting was called off. However, Steven himself wanted to continue, so we ended up having our chat. The message and feelings I picked up from Steven was one of frustration towards Liverpool Football Club. He was the last of his generation of players, The Bootroom had disappeared, Mr. Houllier was now in charge and Liverpool were starting to play a different style of football.
I am so proud of Steven and everything he achieved here in Spain. We helped him and his wife Victoria out with everything we could as they are such wonderful and grateful people. My wife and I became great friends with both of them and to this day we still keep in touch. We were also delighted to attend their wedding at Palma’s cathedral a few years back. A great player and a great man who possessed great attitude on and off the football field.
You played 24 times and scored four goals for the Republic of Ireland? Why did you choose Ireland over England?
I’m no way patriotic in any sense of the word and I'm not a fan of flags or any objects that promote the country you are from. Therefore, it was just the case of having more chances to play football. However, when I played for Ireland I always gave 100% as when representing a nation you are doing what many people have only dreamed of doing. To be honest I'm not that much of a fan of the English style of play, especially in the modern game where football has now become an "art" more than anything else.
Interesting, Michael, could you elaborate on this a bit more, please...
Of course, football was modernized by my good friend Johan Cruyff who brought his Dutch style to the Barcelona team which ended up winning the European Cup during the 1992 season. The England national team are never successful at major tournaments due to the fact they are persistent on playing "ball winners". Let me explain, going on Cruyff’s philosophy; football should always be played without ball winners. If you play like England have done with players who are just there to win the ball back and consequently are unable to create anything; what's the point of having them there in the first place? As the team would then need another ball winner to retrieve the ball back after the previous ball winner gave it away, resulting in a team full of ball winners.
Teams who play without such players don’t have this problem. They attack and defend as one; like the famous Ajax team did during the 1990s and like the modern day Barcelona team currently does.
If the England national team want to start being successful, drastic changes have to be made; not only to their style of play but also to their mentality of playing the game from grassroots level. Instead of having the mentality of “We are England! We invented football, let’s go and kick someone!” they need to concentrate more on teaching the kids that modern day football is simply a form of art and less physical and brutal force is needed. After all, England haven’t won anything in “colour".
From Sid Lowe's article on Robinson in the Guardian:
When the final whistle went on Liverpool's Champions League semi-final against Chelsea at Anfield in May, the victors' former striker Michael Robinson leaped in the air, screamed "Yes!" at the top of his voice and broke into tears - which would not have been a problem except that he was commentating on the match for Spanish television and an entire nation heard him. "Liverpool are in the final but Michael can't speak," Robinson's colleague, Carlos Martínez, told viewers. "He's crying too much." By the time the whistle went in Istanbul, two weeks later, the tears were gushing down his cheeks.
Obviously, you must have been happy with life in Spain as you are still here today, but how did the transition from a footballer to the Gary Lineker of Spanish TV come about?
I don't really like being compared to Gary Lineker, as unlike Gary I write all my own shows. My first job after retiring from football was working for Eurosport as a delegate, before moving on to commentating for TVE at Italia 90’. The Canal + TV network was formed in 1991 and I was approached to do a football highlights show, called El Día Después (The Day After) similar to the English version of Match of the Day. I found the concept slightly strange at first, since if the show was aired the following day everyone would know the score. This was obviously due to the late kick-off times in Spain, making it impossible to transmit a highlights program on the same day. However, I went along with it and they gave me the complete freedom with the show. I must say, for the entire 14 years I did it, I was not once told what to do or say; neither during my programmes nor during the live commentaries which I had continued to do at the weekends.
Florentino Perez, the Real Madrid president, has even tried to get me fired as sometimes he didn't like what I said about his team. However, my bosses still never restricted me to what I had to say. Nowadays, I have my own show called El Informe Robinson; a magazine series about how sport in general makes a difference to people’s lives and I also commentate on the live televised Movistar+ game on a Sunday.
Selected episodes of El Informe Robinson can be seen here on YouTube like this one focusing on Andrés Iniesta.
Robinson is a busy man who has done marvellously well for himself since moving to Spain after an eventful playing career in England. It was a true pleasure to listen to him share his experiences with us Reds.
Interview conducted by Carl Clemente (Carl@lfchistory.net / @clemente_carl on Twitter). Copyright - LFChistory.net