Four years ago today, football lost one of its truly great men. Sir Bobby Robson had a distinguished playing career representing his country, but then moved into the turbulent world of management and displayed a talent rarely equaled and human touch that impressed all who came into contact with him. Perhaps his greatest triumph however was that he kicked cancer’s ass on a couple of occasions before eventually succumbing to that most insidious of diseases. Even when diagnosed as terminal, he fought to raise money so that the battle against the disease could continue in his name.
During his playing career, Robson turned out for Fulham and West Bromwich Albion almost 600 times, and scored 133 goals from midfield. He also netted four goals in a 20 England career. Although distinguished enough, it would be the move to the other side of the white line that illustrated what a true football man Robson was.
After a brief tenure at Fulham, he moved to Ipswich Town and turned that pleasant club into one of England’s top teams, pioneering the influx of European talent and landing unheard of European glory at Portman Road. His East Anglian success brought him the England position and two ‘oh so near’ World Cup challenges. Denied by Maradona’s hand in 1986, he then fell to the English penalty frailty in the semi-final in 1980, when victory would have meant a revenge encounter with Argentina in the final.
Moving back to club football, he pioneered the ‘English coach abroad’ route, still seldom trod by less talented successors, and had two year periods in Eindhoven , Porto and with Sporting Lisbon in the capital. These were success filled years, and during his time in Portugal a certain interpreter honed his skills as Robson’s lieutenant. His name was Mourinho. Robson then moved to Barcelona, in a seat-filling job, whilst the club awaited the release of Louis van Gaal. The proud Geordie then delivered the second most successful season in the history of the club to that date. Winning the Copa del Rey, UEFA Cup and finishing runners-up in the league. He also built the foundations of the team that van Gal would build on including signing the Brazilian Ronaldo from his former club in Holland.
Following a brief return to Holland and PSV, Robson returned home to take the reins at Newcastle United. Although no trophies were secured, he built the team into a major force again, before being shamefully sacked after only a few games of the 2004-05 season. Ironically, that was the season that his former assistant landed at Chelsea and took the title.
I was once privileged to be in the company of Sir Bobby at an FA Coaching conference in Nottingham during his time at Newcastle United. He was a man who not only exuded an aura of football knowledge, but also of warmth and humanity; ready to shake the five hundredth with that same smile as the first. Sir Bobby Robson, a true legend.