First-team coach speaks to matchday programmeMARK Robson is the main interview in this weekend’s latest issue of On the Ball City, the Club’s official matchday programme.
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Detailed below are some extracts from the in-depth interview with City's first-team coach.
When Mark Robson took charge of Norwich City's under-21 side last autumn he little expected to find himself exchanging touchline banter with Chelsea boss José Mourinho on the penultimate day of the Premier League season.
Robson – along with coach Paul Nevin – has been assisting manager Neil Adams since the departure of Chris Hughton suddenly propelled all three Academy staff members into the red-hot heat of a desperate Premier League relegation battle.
“It's been a little bit surreal really – it all happened so quickly,” said the former Spurs, West Ham and Charlton midfielder, speaking shortly before last Sunday's brave 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge.
“I think, firstly, I was disappointed for Chris and his staff because they're really good people – but it's not the first time, and it's not going to be the last time; it happens in football, unfortunately – that's the game.
“Then getting the call – 'We'd like you to help with Neil' – of course it was a no-brainer; it's definitely something I'm really pleased to be doing. And it's been a nice experience – but obviously a tough one because we're in a very precarious position."
Robson, 44, played around 275 games before his career was prematurely ended by knee problems at the age of 29. The one big consolation for the Londoner was that he had already begun coaching in his teens – working with the Sunday League club whose graduates include Sol Campbell, Jermain Defoe and Ledley King.
“I started coaching when I was 18,” explains Robson. “I had a younger brother who was nine when I was 19; he played for Senrab, a local team which is quite popular – a lot of players who have come through there.
“I was asked if I would help the guy take training. I wasn't sure at first, but I did, and within two weeks I fell in love with coaching. I really enjoyed it, so while I was playing I was always coaching, and I got my full licence coaching badge at 26, which was young for a fully qualified coach.
"Since then I've obviously gone on to convert to UEFA A and my pro licence, and coaching was always a massive thing during my playing career because throughout it I was always working – I was doing stuff with younger age groups, and then with older age groups as I got a little bit older.
Robson quickly moved into his first full-time coaching position when he joined the Charlton Academy in 2000.
“When I was at Charlton as a player I used to coach the youth team at a non-league club called Aveley. Again, it was through my younger brother – who was in the under-17s – and one of my friends, Dave Patient, was the chairman at Aveley. I got talking to him one day, and I said: 'How do you fancy having a youth team over here, and I'll take it?' He said: 'Yes, love to', so I took a side there.”
Robson's main target when he arrived at Colney earlier this season was to ensure that the Canaries' under-21s finished in the top half of the table in order to ensure membership of the new elite tier of the under-21 Premier Division next season. That objective was duly achieved with a 10th-place finish – Jerry Gill taking over the team in the final stages of the season following Robson's promotion to first-team duties.
“We're really pleased,” says Robson. “That was the target we set ourselves when I came in. I think it was about eight games out when I sat down with the players and the staff, and we came up with what we felt we were going to need in the last eight games to survive; we said 13 points, and we got the 13 points and we stayed in the top half – so credit to the boys and to everybody, because it's definitely a team thing.
“AJ (Andrew Johnson), the lead sports scientist has been fantastic, and Ross (Hollinworth), the head of sports science and medicine; Jerry, who was helping me and then took over after the change that happened a few weeks back; and of course Paul Nevin, who was out on the training pitch with me nearly every day.
“And of course there were the players that were with Neil in the youth team, who came in and stepped up. One in particular, Ray Grant, did fantastically well for us – so there's been a real contribution from everyone involved in the Academy at that level, and we're all really pleased to have got into that top half. We've lost one or two players now – one or two have been let go – but their contribution to the achievement has been very significant, and we certainly hope that those boys now go on to other things and find careers elsewhere – which I'm sure they will.”
That 10th-place finish was all the more creditable given how many key players were out on loan elsewhere.
“We lost Jamar (Loza), we lost Adel (Gafaiti), the Murphs (Josh and Jacob Murphy), and Cameron McGeehan – they all went out and gained valuable experience playing in respected leagues. Cameron has ended up getting a promotion at Luton – it's tremendous to have that on his CV.”