Yesterday, the Vancouver Sun's Bruce Constantineau brought the news that the Daily Mail has linked current Middlesbrough left winger/attacking midfielder Barry Robson to the Vancouver Whitecaps. If the Mail is accurate, Robson would join the Whitecaps after the Championship season in May. Sportsnet's Irfaan Gaffar, who has gotten to other Whitecaps signings early, quoted a Vancouver source saying it's "going to happen".
I don't like rumours, as a rule, but this one is starting to come together. Bob Lenarduzzi's non-denial in Constantineau's article will seem familiar to Whitecaps fans, and contrasts with his "I don't know where that came from" regarding a potential David Bentley loan.
Robson is 33 years old, turning 34 in November. He's a scorer, with six league goals this year: a skill replicated nowhere in the Whitecaps midfield. He's also added four assists, which would have been second on the 2011 Whitecaps behind Davide Chiumiento. One of Robson's goals game from the spot: his second on November 1 against Doncaster, and he's also scored from a direct free kick. For the most part Robson scores on the run of play, and his goals are annotated with comments like "drove in between two challenges" and "a goal worthy of winning any match". The guy does make his way onto YouTube from time to time...
The Whitecaps have needed a midfielder forever and Robson would fit the bill. Despite his advancing years, he's succeeding at a level better than Major League Soccer. He's another attack-first player, which is concerning given the vastly offensively-biased lineup Martin Rennie is assembling: in addition to all those highlight reel mistakes he's known for the occasional costly turnover and lapse in his own third. He's also Scottish, which might influence Rennie's desire to capture Robson but might also lead to lazy reporters linking the Scottish player to the Scottish manager, in the same vein as the "Canadian player linked to Toronto FC/Vancouver Whitecaps/Montreal Impact!" tedium we're all used to.
Robson would make a hell of an interesting player. I'm not sure what we'd do with him, but it would sure be fun to find out.
It's curious that Middlesbrough would be willing to let Robson go on a free transfer. Robson joined Boro after two years doing not much at Celtic, signing a contract through the 2011-12 season but with a one-year club option for 2012-13. Robson is getting on a bit for an upper-mid-table Championship side that seems in no danger of promotion, but he still plays regularly for them and is third in team scoring. He starts almost every game (although he was absent Valentine's Day against Nottingham Forest) and regularly goes 90 minutes. Middlesbrough might be looking to get younger in hopes of mounting a promotion charge a few years down the line, but unless there's something going on we don't know about it's hard to imagine why they'd want to let Robson go.
It's also surprising Robson would be looking to Major League Soccer. He certainly has the quality to catch on elsewhere in the Championship. Unless Martin Rennie is the most charismatic man alive, Robson would presumably be coming to Canada for the money.
(God, I hate rumours. In this case I'm willing to run it since it's being backed up by two good Whitecaps reporters with positive track records, but ultimately we're throwing up speculation about somebody who won't join the Whitecaps for three months, if at all. We don't know so much more than we do that it's astonishing. This, incidentally, is why I'm not even bothering to give a damn about the Bentley rumours: we've got an agent trying to beef up interest in his client to support it against an open contradiction from the club president and that's all.)
Tactically, a Robson signing would put our midfield in an awkward position. It would leave Robson, Chiumiento, Russell Teibert, Lee Nguyen, and sometimes Camilo Sanvezzo and Long Tan as midfielders who can do little but attack. Teibert would presumably get buried as I've fretted about earlier this week. You try finding a spot for Robson and Chiumiento in what's already an attack-oriented 4-3-3 formation. I'd be terrified to put them together in a 4-4-2 unless I had a killer two-way right winger and a world-class defensive midfielder behind them, which I don't since I'm the Whitecaps.
The Whitecaps are already on their way to losing a lot of exciting 4-3 games and signing Robson would just tilt the field further towards all-out attack. It might be fun to watch but it doesn't win as much as any of us ever want it to. Add in a slightly questionable defense and non-first-class goalkeeping and it just won't work. Signing Robson means benching Chiumiento, burying Teibert and Nguyen, and probably paying a lot of money for the privilege.
He's a good player and he'd make the Whitecaps better. But isn't there something more useful we can be spending our money on?