Remembering Sir Bobby

Remembering Sir Bobby

  • Posted by Drew Epperley
  • On August 6, 2009
  • Geoff Reid

Editor’s Note: Geoff Reid appears on each week. Today he is back with a look at one of soccer’s greats that recently passed away, Sir Bobby Robson. Feel free to leave Geoff your thoughts below.

It’s hard to put into words what Sir Bobby Robson meant to not just English football, but European football. Behind only Sir Walter Winterbottom, Sir Alf Ramsey and Ron Greenwood, Sir Bobby was one of the best English national team managers of all time. Sir Alf was the best and he proved it by winning the World Cup on home soil in 1966 at Wembley Stadium with a 4-2 extra time victory over West Germany. That was around the time Sir Bobby started his managerial career at Fulham. Little would anyone know he would go on to achieve and accomplish so much not only on the British Isles, but across Europe.

Arguably his finest achievement as manager came in his 13 seasons in charge of Ipswich Town from 1969-1982. The interesting thing is that his first four seasons in charge at Portman Road were very mediocre before he lead the tractor boys to 4th place in the old first division (what is now the Premier League) and winning the old Texaco Cup in the 1972-73 season. The remaining nine seasons, Ipswich Town only finished outside the top six once, in the 1977-78 season and in that season he lead the Suffolk club to an FA Cup final victory over Arsenal. During his tenure, the club finished runners up twice and won the UEFA Cup in 1981 over AZ Alkmaar and was credited for creating the foundations of the famous Ipswich Town youth academy that exists today. The academy produced so many good young players that in his 13 years as manager, he only brought in 14 players as he relied heavily on the players that were developed in the clubs’ academy system.

All the success at Ipswich Town brought him to the England job after Ron Greenwood stepped down after the 1982 World Cup. Sir Bobby only suffered one loss in 28 qualifying matches with England, however that one loss against Denmark, cost England the chance to qualify for the 1984 European Championships. Sir Bobby offered to step down to be replaced by the legendary Nottingham Forrest manager Brian Clough but the FA rejected his resignation primarily on the distaste they had towards Clough. After that point, Sir Bobby went on to lead England to the 1986 World Cup in Mexico where the team started off poorly before Robson changed tactics by bringing in Peter Beardsley as Gary Lineker’s strike partner instead of Mark Hateley which proved dividends by England winning their next two matches marching on to the quarter finals where a date with Diego Maradona and Argentina. This match left a bitter taste in not only Sir Bobby’s mouth, but the rest of England. Maradona scored two goals that game, one goal was probably the greatest goal of all time which Sir Bobby quite rightly pointed out, the other was the famous “hand of God” where clearly Maradona punched the ball into the goal before Peter Shilton could get to it. “It wasn’t the hand of God. It was the hand of a rascal. God had nothing to do with it… That day, Maradona was diminished in my eyes forever.” Sir Bobby said reflecting on the incredible turn of events.

The next focus was qualification for Euro ’88 which included an 8-0 win over Turkey at Wembley. The tournament itself didn’t go down well for England as all three group games ended in defeat to Ireland, Holland and the Soviet Union and, once again, Sir Bobby offered his resignation, and again, it was rejected by the FA with Brian Clough being the primary reason. England then went through qualification of the Italia ’90 with ease by dropping only one point and becoming one of the six seeded teams. Once again, England were drawn in the same group as Holland and Ireland as well as Egypt.

He changed formation yet again by going away from the traditional English 4-4-2 system by installing a sweeper to counter the Dutch threat of Marco Van Basten and Ruud Gullit. By getting out of the group stage this time, victories over Belgium off a beautiful David Platt goal and a stunning 3-2 extra time win over Roger Milla and Cameroon set up a date in the semi finals with arch enemy West Germany. England gave all they could but would eventually end up losing on a penalty shoot out which is what England are famous for after all while Sir Bobby saying “not a day goes by when I do not think about the semi-final and other choices I might have made.”

The English FA stated that Sir Bobby’s contract would not be renewed after the 1990 World Cup and therefore started a career managing abroad in Europe which he would later admit was a risk but also an adventure starting at PSV Eindhoven in Holland where he coached Brazilian great Romario. The two didn’t always see eye to eye but nevertheless went on to win two league titles in a row in 1990-91 and 1991-92 before choosing to leave the club. His next task came in Portugal in 1992 with Sporting Lisbon where his translator was a certain Jose Mourinho. Sir Bobby famously didn’t get along with the hierarchy of Sporting by describing the club President as a “loose cannon.” Sir Bobby would end up getting fired in December of 1993 when the club was sitting top of the table. FC Porto would quickly step in and hire him taking Mourinho along, this time as his assistant manager. Sir Bobby would enjoy great success by beating his old club in the Portuguese Cup Final and later two league titles in 1994-95 and 1995-96.

The success in Portugal lead to Sir Bobby’s hiring at FC Barcelona in July 1996 where again he took Mourinho with him. His biggest signing was Ronaldo who arguably turned him into the player we all know what he once was. Sir Bobby only lasted one season in the Camp Nou dugout, but he ended up winning three trophies along the way: The Spanish Copa Del Rey, the Spanish Super Cup and the old European Cup Winners Cup. The following season he would move upstairs as general manager when Dutchman and former Ajax manager Louis Van Gaal took charge. After a short spell back at PSV in a caretaker role he returned to English shores to take over his boyhood club, Newcastle United.

His first game with the magpies was an 8-0 thrashing of Sheffield Wednesday and eventually led the club to an 11th place finish in the Premier League after being bottom of the table when he took over. The following seasons the club finished 4th and 3rd, qualifying for the Champions League but unfortunately in the third qualifying round of the 2003-04 season, the club failed to get past that round and was bounced into the UEFA Cup for that season. In the league the club would finish 5th behind Liverpool and therefore miss out on the Champions League and later in the summer Sir Bobby was dismissed. After managing the black and white, he became a consultant to then Ireland manager Steve Staunton, while cruel circumstances intervened when it was announced he was diagnosed with cancer not for the first time.

Sir Bobby was a gentleman in the football world and one of the most highly respected anywhere in the world. It’s one thing being a good manager for so long and adapting to new methods when the game changes over the years, but it was how professional he was throughout his time in the game. He never said a bad word about anybody and there is nobody that had a bad word to say about him. Certainly he was one of my idols growing up and still is to this very day. I always thought US Soccer could use his knowledge and expertise in running a national team as a consultant. He also set a good example to young English managers in going abroad and having success where only Roy Hodgson has seemed to follow his lead and it’s a shame because English managers will only get better if they can prove themselves on the continent.

He was a true great this game is going to miss. R.I.P. Sir Bobby Robson.