A superstar of the English game throughout the 1980s and early 90s, former Manchester United and England captain Bryan Robson is now enjoying a vastly different role as head coach of Thailand. Known as an all-action midfielder with an eye for goal, Robson had all the attributes of a leader and ultimately became England’s third most-capped skipper.
Robson had 21 years playing at the top, most famously Manchester United, with stints as West Bromwich Albion and Middlesbrough sandwiched either side. During 13 years at United, Robson won two Premier League titles and four FA Cups among a host of other trophies. For England, Robson earned 90 caps and scored 26 goals across an 11-year international career, which included wearing the captain’s armband at a 1986 FIFA World Cup™ campaign in Mexico marred by injury.
After managing various clubs including Middlesbrough, Bradford City, West Bromwich Albion and Sheffield United, Robson decided to follow a very different path. Taking the reins from former England midfield colleague Peter Reid back in September last year, Robson has been thrown headlong into the midst of a hectic qualifying campaign for the 2011 AFC Asian Cup. Thailand enter their final qualifier on 3 March needing to draw, or more likely win, in the intimidating environs of the Azadi Stadium in Tehran if they are to snatch qualification for Qatar 2011.
FIFA.com: Coaching in Thailand is a long way culturally from your last coaching role with Sheffield United. How have you found Thailand off the field since you arrived?
Bryan Robson: I have enjoyed it and my wife and I have settled well in Bangkok. It is a very cosmopolitan city and the people are really friendly.
You have been in Thailand now for around four months now. How have you enjoyed the role to date?
I’m enjoying working with the Thai players, they are very professional. They are good to work with and they try to implement everything we do on the training pitch and they try to put it into the game.
As a coach, what are your aims with Thailand?
My initial priority is qualifying for the Asian Cup. We have a difficult task now because we tripped up in two games against Jordan. The first one before I arrived in Jordan we should have won. Then, at home, the boys were excellent, we put in a really good performance but missed chances again, and only took a point when we should have taken three. Now, instead of being qualified already, we have a very difficult game in Iran which we either need draw or win to go through.
Since I have been here, we have had some good performances. In the games that matter, we put in a very good showing to win 3-1 in Singapore, but then suffered a disappointing defeat against the same side through a very bad mistake when there was nothing in the game. In the match against Jordan the boys were excellent, but we only managed to draw, so it's been mixed.
You succeeded a fellow former England midfielder, Peter Reid. Have you maintained any connection with the work Peter was doing with the national team?
I spoke to Pete in depth before I came here and decided to take on the job. Peter had said he tried to put in a few things in place which he thought would help improve the game. Since I have been here I have tried, like Peter, to improve certain parts. There is a lot of talent and the players have great technique. It’s just putting that together in a team environment and also addressing some of the naivety in some of the play.
Are you involved in broader development work in Thailand?
[Thailand FA President] Worawi Makudi wants me to oversee a lot of things and provide input and ideas and try to improve things where we feel we can. So he is looking ahead to more development within Thailand.
The team finds itself in a challenging position likely needing a win in Tehran to qualify for the AFC Asian Cup. How will you approach the match?
We will be positive. I know Iran have already qualified. Against us they drew and they lost to Jordan, so there is not that much between the teams in this group. Even though Tehran is an intimidating place to go, I still feel that if we have all the players fit and well, we will have a fighting chance.
What sort of work and preparation are you looking to do with the team prior to the commencement of the FIFA World Cup qualifiers next year?
We don’t really have a youth development programme in Thailand where 17 or 18 year-olds leave school and join the clubs, they haven’t got a league where those players can go and get developed. They just get thrown into the first team squad. I’m hoping to develop something with the clubs and the FA where these players get a league for match practice, plus good training and development programmes so they can develop for when the World Cup comes around.
Looking back over you playing career as captain of Manchester United and England, are there any highlights that particularly stand out?
With United, winning the title, which was the first time in 26 years, and also in European competition, beating Barcelona 2-1 in the Cup Winners Cup Final. With England, playing in the ’82 World Cup finals, which is the pinnacle for any player.
England have an interesting draw for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. What sort of shape do you think the team are in for South Africa 2010?
I think we are in pretty good shape if we take everyone fit and well. In behind the top players in England, I don’t think there are the people who can replace them. The group we have drawn gives us a great chance and we must be favourites to win that section. From there, you can never tell in one-off games. But I feel England will be disappointed if we don’t at least make at least the quarter-finals or the semi-finals, and I think we are good enough to do that.