The world of football lost one of its true heroes yesterday with the sad passing of Sir Bobby Robson. The former England manager died after a long and valiant battle with cancer. He was 76-years-old.
Robson rose to prominence as a manager with Ipswich Town following a brief spell in charge of one of the clubs he represented as a player, Fulham. Whilst not quite leading the Tractor Boys to the heights of Sir Alf Ramsey’s reign, Robson managed to bring home the FA Cup and UEFA Cup, attracting the advances of the bigwigs at the FA. He took over the reigns of the England national side in July 1982 and enjoyed a relatively successful eight-year spell at the helm. The highlight of his period with the Three Lions was the World Cup in Italy in 1990. Only a penalty shoot-out and the iconic misses by Chris Waddle and Stuart Pearce stopped Robson from leading his team in to the World Cup Final. He remains the only England manager since Ramsey to take the country as far as the semi-finals on the biggest stage.
The next decade of his managerial career took the Geordie to mainland Europe. As well as enjoying two spells in charge of PSV Eindhoven in the Netherlands and periods at Portuguese rivals Porto and Sporting Lisbon, he was also Head Coach at Barcelona. He won the Dutch and Portuguese championships, cups in both Portugal and Spain, and topped it off with the European Cup Winners Cup whilst in Catalonia. It was Robson who signed Ronaldo for Barcelona, kick-starting the Brazilian’s career at the highest level, and he also promoted a young Jose Mourinho from a role as a translator in to an assistant manager when at Porto.
Bobby returned to England in 1999 to take over at his boyhood club Newcastle United following the departure of Ruud Gullit. His tenure got off to an excellent start, Sheffield Wednesday the unlucky recipients of an 8-0 thrashing at St James’ Park. He twice took the club into the Champions League despite not managing to break the domestic duopoly of Manchester United and Arsenal. Despite being sacked in August 2004 due to a poor start to the season by the Magpies, he was awarded the Freedom of the City of Newcastle-upon-Tyne less than a year later and was still much loved and revered in the city at the time of his death.
Indeed, his popularity transcended his humble roots, and tributes have poured in from all around the country as well as from the many countries he encountered on his journey abroad. Manchester United manager, and fellow footballing Knight Sir Alex Ferguson said: “In my 23 years working in England there is not a person I would put an inch above Bobby Robson. I mourn the passing of a great friend, a wonderful individual, a tremendous football man and somebody with passion and knowledge of the game that was unsurpassed.” Former England captain and namesake Bryan Robson, who was given the lasting nickname ‘Captain Marvel’ by Sir Bobby, added: “I have never come across anybody with such a passion for football. We had a tremendous personal relationship as manager and skipper.”
Further tributes came from one of his successors as England Coach, Fabio Capello: “He was a fantastic man, and loved by so many people. His spirit and courage was incredible. To fight cancer so many times really showed the strength of the man. He loved the game and was extremely proud of his country and the North East region.” as well as Mourinho who offered: “Bobby Robson is one of those people who never die, not so much for what he did in his career, for one victory more or less, but for what he knew to give to those who had, like me, the good fortune to know him and walk by his side.”
Sir Bobby Robson will go down in history as a great football manager, but more than that he will be remembered as a truly honourable gentleman who inspired many with his passion for the game that made him and his fight against a disease that finally brought a wonderful life to the close. Few men have to face cancer five times and even fewer face it with such dignity and humility. The world of football salutes you, Sir Bobby.