"Just wait 'til July. Then you'll see the difference a solid center-mid can make." That was the emphatic line being trotted out by the burly guy in the quilted AC Milan replica coach's jacket as he trudged, dripping wet, into my preferred ale house.
I hope his youth team's doing better than his thought processes would seem to indicate. But he's not alone, not by a long shot. Seemingly everywhere, Whitecaps parishioners are popping up to express their faith that the Messiah of Middlesbrough will lead the Whitecaps not into temptation, but instead deliver us into the MLS playoffs following his arrival here later this year.
I can understand the exuberance, as Robson looks to be best midfielder to don a Whitecaps jersey since the glory days of Alan Ball in 1979-80. Ball was the center of the Whitecaps universe back then, with open play revolving pretty much around Him, through Him, to Him, from Him, and by Him. He was the gatekeeper and the creator, and did lead us to the promised land. Now, I'm a firm believer in having faith -- after all, man and team can do no more than their minds will allow them to believe. But I've never been big on having blind faith.
And this leads us back to Robson once more. While Whitecaps fans await his arrival here in Vancouver, perhaps some quiet contemplation is in order before we get too rapturous with thoughts of water turning into beer at B.C. Place -- though the two are pretty much indistinguishable there if you ask me.
I'll be as pleased as the next guy to see Robson fly in and take Vancouver by storm, but I just can't see that happening. My doubts have nothing to do with the man himself. No, my concerns center on the circumstances he'll be facing in making the transition from the UK to North America this season.
The reasons for highly tempered optimism are several:
- Robson will be joining the Caps more or less after completing the current English Championship League season -- he's played in 39 of the 46 league matches this season. For those who count, his stats stack up like this: 9 G, 13 YC, 1 RC. Unless he's taken a dip in the fountain of youth with Y.P. Lee, Robson's going to be one tired, beaten, and bruised laddie. If countryman Martin Rennie rushes Robson into the mix, that's a recipe for serious injury.
- He is coming from a league and a nation that considers anything anything further out than Burnaby to be road game. The furthest he would have had to travel for league duty would have been the 400 km or so to Portsmouth -- about the same distance as Vancouver to Portland. The reality of MLS travel will be a new hell on earth for him. If the distances don't throw him off, the different time zones certainly will.
- Unlike Alan Ball who had a fine supporting cast of English footballing disciples to wander the wilderness with-- men like John Craven, Kevin Hector, Trevor Whymark, Carl Valentine, Barry Robson will be joining Vancouver's SUFC (Somewhat United), featuring players and styles from a variety of sources -- something that has made achieving any tangible degree of chemistry elusive thus far this season. Expecting him to gel well with the team without at least five or six matches under his belt would be foolhardy.
Is Barry Robson the answer to anyone's prayers? I doubt it -- at least not as far as this season goes. But once he's had a taster of an MLS season, had some time to recover, and has gotten himself settled into the "Wet Coast", we should reasonably be able to look forward to his second coming -- who knows, maybe he can walk on water.