Position: Left back
From: Youth team
He is: Vexing
Last season saw the best and the worst of Paul Robinson. That isn't saying
a great deal, of course - we've seen the best (stand up if you saw the 1-1
against Luton three years ago) and the worst (stand up Stuart Talbot - oh,
you can't) of him in every season he's played so far. The Premiership,
though, to an extent found him out.
There were flashes, of course, of the sort of brutal defensive work we'd
become accustomed to. Early on, he was fine - indeed, he was occasionally
superb - but even then he didn't look as comfortable as the rest of the
team, or as comfortable as Robbo four months earlier for that matter.
There were several obvious reasons for this - his distribution, which to my
mind had previously been good, turned into the sort of aimless punt upfield
that we'd come to dread from the Second Division. His positioning, never
brilliant, took a further blow from the greater level of movement, workrate
and raw pace in evidence in the Premiership. And his tackling, previously
the pick in the axe of his game, largely vanished.
That's right. The same player whose tackling had been little short of
awesome for two seasons, and whose entire game revolved around his ability
to tackle anything and anyone from any angle legitimately (most of the
time), stopped. He didn't even start tackling badly: there were few
horrendous lunges metres away from the player, few clumsy poleaxings of
opposition widemen - he just didn't tackle at all. There were flashes of
the old Robbo: one stunning block, late in the second half at Anfield,
stands out (it's not often Robbie Fowler, for all that he's an unpleasant
little tosser, fails to score from eight yards). Generally, though, he was
painfully reminiscent of Dominic Ludden.
Then came Tottenham at home, and he was magnificent. He still didn't
tackle much - that came against Arsenal a few weeks later - but he began to
do all the things we'd been sort of hoping he'd pick up from Saint Nigel -
he began (not to steal a metaphor from last season's profile of him)
shepherding rather than massacring his opponents. Going forward in that
game, too, he was brilliant - all powerful running and accurate crossing.
If the worm wriggled a bit in that game, it flipped right over against
Arsenal, when Robbo took it on himself to introduce Bergkamp and Henry -
but especially Henry - to some of the less glamorous realities of football.
In this case, the reality was that Robbo looked quite seriously displeased
at the plight Watford found themselves in, and from the off was niggling
away at the two players. Eventually, having battered Henry about and
received an elbow in the ribs for his troubles, Robbo got a bit irritated.
From then on, he was sensational, constantly harrying Arsenal off the ball
and just getting a foot in where he had no right to. He tackled a bit, too
- one scything tackle on Henry which swept a crossfield ball away from him
as he shaped to shoot from the edge of the box was especially impressive,
but the one that really brought a smile to my face - unpleasant individual
that I am - was a really filthy hench on Parlour as he sped down the right
Rob Harris gave a throw.
So, there were flashes of the Robbo who we all believe could play for
England, and he does seem to have learnt from the Premiership experience.
Whether he can successfully ally his newfound mental discipline to the
thunderous challenges of the past few years remains to be seen - and
neutral observers might suggest he'd be helped by watching his fitness -
but he could still go all the way.
He's still my hero, too.
Last updated: June 2000