In the second of a short series of interviews focusing on coaching badges, Football Further spoke to former Wales international Carl Robinson of Toronto FC.
A combative midfield organiser, Robinson moved to North America in 2007 after a 12-year spell in English football in which he turned out for clubs including Wolverhampton Wanderers, Portsmouth, Sunderland and Norwich City, as well as winning 52 caps for Wales.
The 33-year-old recently started working towards his UEFA A licence, with a view to becoming a manager once he hangs up his boots.
“I always thought I could be a good coach and, after playing under some very bad ones, I believe I have a lot to offer,” says Robinson. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and I believe I have many excellent ideas for when the opportunity arises.”
Tactics, according to the Welshman, are “crucial” and studying for the A licence has given him the opportunity to expand his appreciation of different formations.
“We work a lot on systems and styles of play,” he says. “I think the sign of a good manager is the ability to change tactics within a game. The formation that I will use as a coach will be a 4-2-3-1 that shifts to a 4-3-3 when needed.”
The MLS off-season has given Robinson plenty of time to focus on the A licence course, which he started in November and which will take two years to complete. It is a long-term commitment. He spent much of the mid-season break back in the UK, “getting to as many games as I can”, but when he watches matches now it is with the eye of a trainee coach.
“You do tend to look at games differently but more so training styles as you learn every day from these. You need to always be a sponge and soak up all the information around you, whether you agree with it or not.”
Robinson worked under some of the most high-profile coaches in the business during his time as a player in the UK, including current Tottenham coach Harry Redknapp, Wolves’ Mick McCarthy and Wales national team bosses Mark Hughes and John Toshack. He has taken something from them all, though not necessarily from a tactical perspective.
“The biggest influences as a player were Mick McCarthy [at Sunderland] and Harry Redknapp [at Portsmouth], for two different reasons,” he says. “Harry made me realise it’s a bad, cut-throat world out there and Mick made players believe in themselves and made them want to play for him.”
In terms of cultural differences, Robinson believes there is “less tactical stuff in North America” than in the UK but concedes that it “depends on the manager”. But when it comes to the discussion of tactics in the British media, he laments the fact that they are only highlighted when journalists are in scorn-pouring mode.
“I think there is a lot of focus on tactics, but you only hear it brought up if teams are struggling or if players are not performing.”
Robinson is scheduled to return to MLS action on March 27 when Toronto travel to Columbus Crew in the Eastern Conference. It will be just the fourth season in TFC’s young history and they are aiming to qualify for the play-offs for the first time under new head coach and former Everton favourite Preki.
Having taken a sizeable risk by leaving the English game behind, Robinson has etched his name into TFC folklore as one of the driving forces in the club’s formative years. His playing career may be slowly approaching its end and his immediate future may for the moment be unclear, but as a coach the adventure is just beginning.