Six weeks ago, Manchester United and England legend Bryan Robson was sitting in a Bangkok hospital, recovering from an operation to remove a tumour from his throat. The news, which was released to the public two weeks later caused a huge outpouring of support for the man considered to be one of the greatest midfielders of his generation.
Signed by United for a British record transfer fee of £1.5m in 1981, Robson was later installed as captain of the Old Trafford outfit and won three FA Cups, the 1991 European Cup Winners' Cup and two Premier League titles in 13 years. He was also a key man for his country, given the nickname of ‘Captain Marvel’ by Bobby Robson and featured in the FIFA World Cups of 1982, 1986 and 1990.
Today Robson can be found in Thailand, coaching the country’s national team – a position in which he takes a great deal of pride as he seeks to build a footballing legacy.
FIFA.com How are you feeling? Obviously you’ve not been in such good health recently, but you are looking quite well.
Bryan Robson: Yes, I’m feeling fine. Since I had the tumour out I’ve had fairly good news about the type of treatment I need and how long it’s going to take. But I’ve also been given confidence by a couple of different specialists saying I should make a 100 per cent recovery so I’ve had been good news over the last few weeks.
Have your friends in football been rallying around you, as well as people who have been through similar experiences to yourself?
I must admit throughout the football world, the support and messages that I’ve had has been fantastic. I’d like to thank everybody for that. Lads who have actually been in the game, ex-players, who have had cancer and needed treatment, I’ve had phone calls from those sorts of people with support and advice of how to take it on board. But as far as I’m concerned, I’m going to keep working, do the treatment and hopefully it will not affect me in any way and I can carry on doing the job.
How are things going with the Thai national team?
It’s been pretty good but we haven’t had anything since December so it’s been a bit of a quiet time. The Thai Premier League has just started up again so they are only five games into the season. I’ve been going to watch games, looking at a few young, good talents who are coming through. Then in July we’ve got the first World Cup qualifying game to look forward to, and if we can win that home and away tie against Afghanistan or Palestine then that will take us into the Asian group stages, which would be nice.
From what you achieved as a player, does the prospect of even these pre-qualifiers excite you as a manager?
Yes, because you’re talking about the World Cup. In Asia you’ve got to go through these games to progress further in the competition so, for me, it’s really important that we win the two games in July so then we get into the group stages and give ourselves a chance of qualifying for Brazil.
Is the target qualification for Brazil or do you think it might be another FIFA World Cup away for Thailand?
I think everybody wants to qualify for Brazil and go over there. But over the years, we’ve been a fair way off that so if we can just give ourselves a chance, we’ll be happy with that.
As a player, what is your favourite FIFA World Cup memory?
It would be 1982 because it was my first World Cup finals game; beating France 3-1 and obviously scoring two goals.
There has been a lot of investment in the Thai Premier League over the last couple of years. Have you noticed a discernible improvement in standards since you started managing the Thai national side?
Somebody did a survey on the TPL and it has actually grown 500 per cent over the last 18 months so that’s a massive rise. A lot of big sponsors came into the TPL for whatever reason, big businesses, and they have supported the league so that’s meant better sponsorship, better coverage on TV and they are getting more crowds as well.
Plus, all the players who played for the national team who were playing abroad, apart from one, have all come back into Thailand to play their football for clubs in Thailand. So that’s helpful for me, to keep in touch with the players and watch them. But because of the league improving, it’s improving the national team as well.
Manchester United have a series of seven, possibly eight games coming up that will really define their season in terms of success. How do you see them going?
This is where you want to be coming into the end of the season. They have got important games because they have been successful. Champions League? Really close one, even if you do get through against Schalke you’re going to have to meet either Barcelona or Real Madrid in the final, so that’s a tough one.
In the league they are set up great, they’ve got good advantage at the moment. It’s nicely balanced, with three home games and two away games so they have a great chance of getting the title back. They’re all big games between now and the end of the season but that’s what their players are used to.
Is it times like this that you wish you could pull on the Manchester United shirt again yourself and get out there?
No, it’s not times like this, I’ve felt like that since I was 37 and left United! It’s always nice to play, you can’t replace playing.