Bryan Robson – England’s Captain Marvel – facing his toughest challenge yet

It is testament to the man that Bryan Robson has reiterated his commitment to managing the Thailand national team and remaining in his ambassadorial role with Manchester United as he fights throat cancer. The football community was stunned this week by the news that Captain Marvel had undergone surgery in Bangkok to remove a cancerous tumour on his throat on 3 March.

Robson’s commitment to the roles he is fulfilling as he recovers from surgery epitomises why he became a hero to so many football fans who grew up watching the game during the late 1970s and 80s. Never a shrinking violet in the centre of midfield, any challenge faced was to be met head on. A force of nature, his commitment betrayed a sense of contempt for the wellbeing of his body. Hurtling into challenges where even the bravest would not tread, every two years England would be on tenterhooks as the Manchester United lynchpin raced against time to recover from broken limbs, dislocated shoulders and torn muscles. Even half-fit, the nation knew that England would be far poorer for Robson’s absence.

That is not to discount the quality of the footballer. From the moment he broke into the West Brom team as a 17-year-old, it was clear he would become one of England’s all-time greats. His maturity and responsibility were evident from an early age. Demanding nothing but the best from himself and others, Robson simply commanded games. In terms of talent, application and character, it was clear that he was tailor-made for Manchester United.

At Old Trafford he became one of the most breathtaking all-round midfielders the English game has witnessed. Amidst the macho aggression, the bone-jarring tackles and the fierce dedication was a powerful left foot, an ability to use the ball intelligently and a penchant for crucial goals. Although he was 36 years-old by the time he eventually won his first league title, he had the gift of producing electrifying performances – generating electrifying atmospheres – on his own. He was at the heart of perhaps Old Trafford’s greatest night as Manchester United reversed a two-goal first-leg deficit to defeat Barcelona in the European Cup Winners Cup. Bestriding the midfield to unleash a 25-yard missile into the top corner in the 1985 FA Cup semi-final against Liverpool took the breath away too. Moments like those in more barren times are cherished every bit as much as the trophies he won later in his career.

Although his managerial career has not hit the stratospheric heights he hit as a player, he presided over some of the most cherished recent memories Middlesbrough fans have of their team. Overseeing the move to the brand new Riverside Stadium, Robson won two promotions, led the team to their first ever major final – and then returned to Wembley twice more for good measure – and, with a team including Emerson, Juninho and Fabrizio Ravanelli, encouraged an inspirational, attacking, breathtaking brand of football which did not deserve relegation in 1997.

Bryan Robson, then, a true colossus of English football. For any fan lamenting the misery of another defeat, spare a thought for Robson as he begins his recovery.

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