Bryan Robson OBE (born 11 January 1957) is an English football manager and former player. Born in Chester-le-Street, County Durham, he began his career with West Bromwich Albion in 1972 before moving to Manchester United in 1981, where he became the longest serving captain in the club's history and won two Premier League winners' medals, three FA Cups, two FA Charity Shields and a European Cup Winners' Cup. In August 2011, Robson was voted as the greatest ever Manchester United player in a poll of the club's former players as part of a new book, 19, released to celebrate the club's record-breaking 19th league title.
Robson represented England on 90 occasions between 1980 and 1991, making him, at the time, the fifth most capped England player. His goalscoring tally of 26 placed him eighth on the list at the time. Robson captained his country 65 times, with only Bobby Moore and Billy Wright having captained England on more occasions. Robson is also known by the nicknames "Robbo" and "Captain Marvel". Bobby Robson stated that Robson was, along with Alan Shearer and Kevin Beattie, the best British player he ever worked with
Robson began his management career as a player-manager with Middlesbrough in 1994, retiring from playing in 1997. In seven years as Middlesbrough manager, he guided them to three Wembley finals, which were all lost, and earned them promotion to the Premier League on two occasions. Between 1994 and 1996, he also served as assistant coach to England manager Terry Venables, which included Euro 96. He later returned to West Bromwich Albion for two years as manager, helping them become the first top division team in 14 years to avoid relegation after being bottom of the league table on Christmas Day. Less successful have been his short-lived spells as manager of Bradford City and Sheffield United, the former lasting barely six months and ending in relegation from what is now the EFL Championship, and the latter lasting less than a year and seeing his expensively-assembled side fail to challenge for promotion to the Premier League. On 23 September 2009, Robson was appointed manager of the Thailand national team. He resigned on 8 June 2011. On 1 July 2011, Robson was appointed "Global Ambassador" at Manchester United.
Robson was born in Chester-le-Street, County Durham, to Brian, a long distance lorry-driver, and Maureen Robson. He was the second of four children, after sister Susan and ahead of younger brothers Justin and Gary (also footballers). Robson was brought up in Witton Gilbert until he was six, when the family moved to nearby Chester-le-Street, the town where he was born. As a boy, he supported Newcastle United; his childhood hero was Newcastle forward Wyn Davies. A keen footballer from a young age, he joined the local Cub Scout group purely so that he could play for their football team. Robson attended Birtley South Secondary Modern School, and later, Lord Lawson of Beamish comprehensive school, where he competed for the school in athletics and football. He was captain of both his school football team and the Washington and District team. As a teenager he had trials with Burnley, Coventry City, Sheffield Wednesday, Newcastle United and West Bromwich Albion.[
Robson was in the final academic year of pupils who still had the option of finishing education at the age of 15, and in the summer of 1972 he accepted Albion manager Don Howe's offer of a two-year apprenticeship, worth a wage of £5 per week in the first year and £8 per week in the second year.
Towards the end of the 1973–74 season, his second as an apprentice, Robson made his reserve team debut, against Everton reserves at Goodison Park. He signed a professional contract in the summer of 1974, earning £28 per week plus a £250 signing on fee. During 1974–75 he was a regular in Albion's reserve team, but was not selected by Don Howe for the first team. Following Howe's departure with three matches of the season remaining, Robson was called up to the senior team for the first time by caretaker manager Brian Whitehouse. He made his first team debut away at York City on 12 April 1975 at the age of 18, helping Albion to a 3–1 victory. In the following game, his home debut, he scored his first goal for the club, in a 2–0 win over Cardiff City, and also scored in the final match of the season away at Nottingham Forest.
During the following season, 1975–76, Robson played only sporadically. He faced stiff competition for midfield places, not least from player-manager Johnny Giles, and was utilised by Giles in various positions, including centre-half, left-back and midfield. Albion finished third in Division Two to win promotion back to the top-flight.
Robson experienced top-flight football for the first time during the 1976–77 season, and began to appear more regularly in the side, although he was still alternating between the positions of left back and his preferred central midfield role. His rapid progress was halted however, when he received the first serious injury of his career. Playing at left back, he broke his left leg in a tackle with Tottenham Hotspur striker Chris Jones. Two months later Robson made his comeback in a reserve game at The Hawthorns, but the original break was refractured in a challenge with Stoke City's Denis Smith.Again he recovered, and returned to the first team in late December. He went on to enjoy a run in the side and scored his first professional hat-trick, in a 4–0 win against Ipswich Town on 16 March 1977. One month later however, he broke his right ankle in a challenge with Manchester City's Dennis Tueart, causing him to pull out of the England under-23 squad following his call-up.
Johnny Giles left Albion at the end of 1976–77. His successor, the club's chief scout and former player Ronnie Allen, picked Robson to replace Giles in central midfield. However Allen himself left midway through the season and defender John Wile was put in temporary charge. Results worsened and Robson was dropped from the team. He returned to the side under new boss Ron Atkinson, whom Robson described as "a down-to-earth, fair-minded, regular bloke". Atkinson did leave Robson out of the FA Cup semi-final defeat against Ipswich Town, but recalled him for the latter stages of the league campaign as Albion qualified for the UEFA Cup. In 1978–79 Robson was a key player, starting 41 out of 42 league games and wearing the number 7 shirt on each occasion. He played a major part in Albion finishing third in Division One, their highest league placing for more than 20 years, and reaching the UEFA Cup quarter-finals. The following season was a disappointing one by comparison, with the club finishing only 10th in the league, but Robson's performances in midfield helped to earn him his first full England cap in February 1980. In 1980–81 he scored ten goals in 40 league games to help Albion to a 4th-place finish in the First Division.
Ron Atkinson left to take over at Manchester United in June 1981, and speculation mounted that Robson would either follow him to United or join Bob Paisley's Liverpool. Albion offered Robson a new contract worth £1,000 per week, but he turned it down and put in a transfer request. His teammate Remi Moses signed for United in September 1981 and Robson followed soon afterwards.
"Money wasn't my main motivation. I simply wanted to be a winner."
Bryan Robson explains his reasons for joining United
Robson moved to United for a British record transfer fee of £1.5 million on 1 October 1981 and signed the contract on the Old Trafford pitch two days later before a game against Wolverhampton Wanderers. The record fee set by Robson was not broken for six years, when Liverpool paid £1.9 million for Newcastle striker Peter Beardsley in the summer of 1987. Robson made his United debut on 7 October 1981 in a 1–0 defeat away at Tottenham Hotspur in the League Cup. His league debut for his new club came three days later, in a goalless draw against Manchester City at Maine Road. This was his first appearance in the Manchester United number 7 shirt, which he wore for most of his appearances with United. Robson scored his first goal for United on 7 November 1981 in a 5–1 win over Sunderland at Roker Park. He ended his first season at United with 32 games and five goals for a United side who finished third in the league. Meanwhile, his England career was flourishing as the World Cup neared; he scored in a 4–0 thrashing of Northern Ireland at Wembley and added a brace in the last warm-up game in Helsinki against Finland.
Robson tore his ankle ligaments during the 1983 League Cup semi-final victory over Arsenal, meaning that he missed the final, which United lost to Liverpool. He regained his fitness in time for the FA Cup semi-final, again against Arsenal, and scored in a 2–1 win. The final against Brighton ended in a 2–2 draw. Robson scored twice in the replay, but declined the chance to become the first player in 30 years to score an FA Cup final hat-trick, instead allowing regular penalty taker Arnold Muhren to convert a spot-kick to seal a 4–0 victory and enable Robson to lift his first trophy as United captain. Although this was United's fifth FA Cup triumph, Robson was only the second English captain to lift the trophy for United, and their first since Charlie Roberts in the 1909 final; as United had been captained by an Irishman in their 1948 and 1963 triumphs and a Scotsman in 1977.
The following season, he helped the club enjoy a great run in the Cup Winners Cup. Robson scored twice in the 3–0 quarter-final second leg victory over Barcelona at Old Trafford, overturning a 2–0 first leg deficit to progress 3–2 on aggregate. He missed both legs of the semi-final defeat by Juventus due to a hamstring injury, but while in Turin for the second leg was given permission by United to speak to Juve regarding a proposed transfer. The move never took place as neither Juventus nor any other club were prepared to meet United's £3 million asking price. Robson's injury also meant that he missed several crucial late season games as United's title challenge slipped away and they finished fourth, with Liverpool becoming champions for the 15th time. Robson instead extended his contract with United in 1984, signing a seven-year deal worth around £1 million which would keep him there until at least 1991. In 1985, he captained the club to another FA Cup triumph, this time over Everton where a Norman Whiteside goal denied their opponents the chance of a unique treble, as they had already won the league title and the European Cup Winners' Cup.
Robson and United began the following season in fine form with ten successive victories which suggested the championship could be on its way back to Old Trafford for the first time since 1967. But their form slipped after Christmas and they finished the season trophyless in fourth place behind champions Liverpool, runners-up Everton and third-placed West Ham United. Injuries, notably a dislocated shoulder suffering in February 1986, restricted Robson to just 21 out of 42 league appearances for United in 1985–86, though he did manage seven goals.
Robson remained in favour with his employers after Ron Atkinson was sacked as United manager in November 1986 and replaced by Alex Ferguson. But it was not until 1990 that Robson was to lift another trophy. He scored United's first goal in the FA Cup Final against Crystal Palace in the first match which ended in a 3–3 draw. United won the replay 1–0 and Robson thus became the first United captain to lift the cup three times. Robson had faced his familiar fight against injury once again in that 1989–90 campaign, restricted to 20 appearances out of 38 in the league, as United finished 13th – their lowest finish since relegation in 1974. Robson's testimonial match took place on 20 November 1990 and saw United lose 3–1 to Celtic at Old Trafford. During 1990–91, he was restricted to 17 league appearances due to an injury suffered at the World Cup, and didn't make a first team appearance until just before Christmas. During his absence, United had been captained by fellow midfielder Neil Webb, but Robson regained the captain's armband on his return.
He was fit for the European Cup Winners Cup final in which United beat Barcelona 2–1 in Rotterdam with both goals coming from Mark Hughes.
Robson was still a regular choice for United during the 1991–92 season despite competition from much younger players including Paul Ince, Neil Webb and Andrei Kanchelskis. During that season he made his 90th and final appearance for the England team, who by this stage were being managed by Graham Taylor. But the 1991–92 season ended in disappointment for Robson as United were overhauled in the First Division championship race by Leeds. He missed their League Cup final victory over Nottingham Forest through injury and his first-team chances were starting to look increasingly numbered as he faced competition from other players within the United squad and the press reported that Alex Ferguson was hoping to sign a new, younger midfielder, although no such addition took place in 1992.
Robson still captained the club in most of his first-team appearances, but Steve Bruce was captaining the side when Robson was absent.
Robson made just 14 league appearances during the 1992–93 season, which was the first season of the new Premier League. The club's regular central midfielders for this season were Paul Ince (who had been at United since 1989) and Brian McClair (who was shifted from the attacking positions following the late November arrival of Eric Cantona), while his other favoured position on the right side of midfield was either occupied by Mike Phelan or the younger, wider-lying Andrei Kanchelskis and Lee Sharpe.
He scored on the final day of the season against Wimbledon – it was his only senior goal of that campaign. By that game United were Premiership champions and Robson finally won the league championship medal that he had been trying to gain since his days at West Bromwich Albion some 15 years earlier. It was not just injuries that were restricting the 36-year-old Robson's first-team chances. Eric Cantona had been signed during the 1992–93 campaign and played up front with Mark Hughes, while Hughes's former strike-partner Brian McClair had been converted into a midfielder. This counted against Robson and the biggest blow came in the summer of 1993 when United signed Nottingham Forest's Roy Keane, but even this did not quite signal the end for Bryan Robson at Manchester United.
With the introduction of squad numbers for the 1993–94 Premier League, Robson was issued with the number 12 shirt, while the number 7 shirt that he had worn in virtually every game of his career went to Eric Cantona instead.
But Robson was still able to make enough appearances for another Premiership champions medal in 1993–94 (15 games, 10 of them as a substitute), and scored one of their four goals in the FA Cup semi-final replay victory over Oldham at Maine Road. He had found the net on the opening day of the season in a 2-0 win at Norwich City.
The goal against Oldham in the semi-final was the last of his 99 goals for the club.
Robson was dropped from the squad for the FA Cup final, a decision which manager Alex Ferguson later admitted was one of the hardest of his career. His final appearance in a United shirt came on the last day of the season, 8 May 1994, when United drew 0–0 at home with Coventry City. He had played 461 times for them in all competitions, scoring 99 goals, and was widely regarded as one of their finest ever players. The last of his goals had come in the FA Cup semi-final replay against Oldham. In the league, his final goal had come on the opening day of the 1993–94 season (15 August 1993) in a 2–0 win over Norwich City at Carrow Road. He had also scored a European Cup goal that season, in the second round first leg tie against Turkish champions Galatasaray in a 3–3 draw at Old Trafford