The Barry Robson Conundrum
Yes, I know, many of you are bemoaning the fact that the various post-mortems of the Vancouver Whitecaps season have started to roll in, meaning tons of analysis of why some players didn’t do so well, and why the whole thing went sour halfway through the season. Well, if I’m going to be the one that gets the ball rolling, I guess it’s best to start with the ‘Caps most frustrating player.
Barry Robson has gone relatively unscathed this season, a surprise given the performances he gave down the home stretch. Robson looked immature, unsure of his game and spent far too many minutes flailing his arms at the referees, but most media outlets have seemingly given him a free pass. The main reason behind that has to be the lightning rod for criticism that is Kenny Miller, as he has garnered most of the negative attention so far. However, as Whitecap players begin cleaning out their lockers for the off-season, rumors start circulating. The most recent one from the twittersphere is that both Miller and Robson won’t be coming back next year.
Robson not returning to the ‘Caps would’ve been unthinkable near the middle of the season. After all, Robson had finally settled in to the ‘Caps lineup, and had put forward a few nice matches in a row, showing off his strong left footed drives, his passion for the game, and his apparent leadership among his teammates. Robson had stretches when he looked like the most dominant player on the pitch. However, when the ‘Caps began to crumble at their foundation, Robson was the first big pillar to go down, his play declining noticeably throughout the latter part of the year. He began screaming at his teammates far too often, although no Whitecap ever made a negative comment about it to the press. He began flopping more and more with each passing match, drawing the ire of the officials and losing credibility with everyone holding a whistle. The absolute worst part had to be the complete disinterest he showed in each passing match, refusing to run back with the play to help out his defenders, and losing balls far too easily to challenges.
In short, Robson looked burnt out, but he was still put on the pitch every match. The low point of Robson’s season had to be against the Portland Timbers just a few short weeks ago. With the season on the line, the ‘Caps needed a win or a draw against the lowly Timbers to ensure the first playoff spot for a Canadian MLS team ever. With the dreams of a soccer nation resting on their arbutus brown backs, the ‘Caps lost, eventually backing their way into the playoffs thanks to a Dallas loss. In that match, Robson had been doing his usual thing, flopping every time a cleat came near his ankle. At one point in the second half, Robson tried a free kick that hit a wall of players, and the Timbers came charging back. Robson sure as hell didn’t though; no, Robson half heartedly, almost sarcastically jogged back while the Timbers countered and tried to extend their lead. However the true defining moment of Robsons season came with about five minutes left in the match. While Robson worked hard for the ball on the right flank near the Timbers penalty area, he was harassed by a Timbers defender, and then decided to quit playing. Now, I’m not talking metaphorically here, like he emotionally gave up on the match; I’m talking literally stopping in his tracks, raising his arms out to his side and glaring at the referee like a girl who’s just been stood up on a date. There wasn’t a whistle. There was no earthly reason why Robson would just stop moving his legs and complain to a referee while play continued, other than, that’s just his incredibly immature personality.
After that match, Robson decided to scream at Timbers Head Coach Gavin Wilkinson as dejected ‘Caps fans looked on. Robson displayed an utter lack of class that match, and the sentiment could be seen on the faces of all of Whitecap nation.
When he was questioned by the media, Robson decided to half apologize, citing he was still trying to improve his game at age 33, and that he needed to be a leader on the pitch. Oh, and then he said that the media didn’t know what he was yelling, and that we don’t notice when he puts his arm around his teammates and gives them encouraging words.
Of course, the Timbers match wasn’t the first warning sign of Robsons petulant manner; in an August 15th matchup versus Dallas FC, a frustrated Robson decided the best way to channel his anger would be to kick a ball at an official, resulting in a one match ban. The worst part of all this? Robson was wearing the Captain’s arm band during his escapade, as Jay Demerit was injured at the time. As a man looked to as a leader, Robson had embarrassed his entire club.
You’re probably wondering at this point why I even posed the question about Robson if I feel so strongly that he’s a bad fit for the ‘Caps. That’s exactly the problem; as I mentioned before, when Robson is good, he is unbelievable. He may be the best set piece man on the Whitecaps roster, as no one on the squad kicks the ball harder. He’s creative offensively and responsible enough defensively when he wants to be, and appears to have a great relationship with the coaching staff. Robson can dominate when he’s on, but the problem is, you never know when the hell he’s going to be on. The guy is a crapshoot every time he takes the pitch, and that’s a problem when it’s a guy in his position. Let’s forget for a moment that Robson makes very good money and focus on the fact that this team relies on him. He’s arguably the pulse of the team, the gas that makes the car go. When he sulks and when he plays poorly, the entire squad is affected. When he’s on top of his game, the ‘Caps look like a force to be reckoned with.
So, is he worth keeping? Does the bad outweigh the good? Can Barry Robson transform his game into that of consistency and maturity? And most importantly, does he even want to come back? At this point, the only answer is a long off-season filled with questions, questions and more bloody questions.