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Martin MacMahon: Is Robson good enough to be a DP?

Martin MacMahon: Is Robson good enough to be a DP?

Jessica Haydahl

The signing of Barry Robson has received almost universal support -- but is he actually that good? Should he be a designated player? Goal.com's Martin MacMahon has a look.

When the Vancouver Whitecaps take on the Colorado Rapids on July 4, Barry Robson will play – but will he make a difference?

That match is the first the Scotsman will be eligible for, and barring an unforeseen injury the most likely outcome will be a start for Vancouver’s third-ever designated player, especially given the suspension to Jun Marques Davidson and the quad strain suffered by midfielder John Thorrington.

But is Robson a good enough player to improve this team? Is he, at age 33, good enough to be a designated player? Indeed – would he ever have been classified as good enough?

Even at the peak of his career, Robson was no world beater. He played for a good team in one of Europe’s second-tier leagues. While Glasgow giants Celtic and Rangers regularly play in front of big crowds, the Scottish Premier League is not the crème de la crème of European football, and there is a big drop off after those two aforementioned teams.

The standard of competition is very poor in comparison with many leagues across the continent, and with few exceptions this is reflected in the dire performances of Scottish clubs in European cup competition.

While many players in world soccer would love to have played in the final 16 of the Champions League, as Robson did with Celtic – it’s a far cry from the achievements of some of the league’s other designated players who regularly graced leagues such as the English Premier League, La Liga and Serie A at their peaks.

And speaking of drop offs, Robson’s latest stop was in the English Championship with Middlesbrough, in England’s second tier. For those familiar with promoted teams in England’s top flight, while there have been some exciting exceptions in recent years with regard to teams able to stay up, it’s not unheard of for promoted teams to go back rapidly from whence they came due to the big gap in quality between the English Premier League and the Championship.

Just ask current Whitecaps captain Jay DeMerit about the quality gap – he scored the winning goal to get his side Watford promoted in May 2006, only to be a regular starter in a team which crashed out of the Premier League in last place the following season with just 28 points from 38 matches played.

But Robson never even got that far. While he has Champions League experience that DeMerit never achieved, he’s never played a season in one of Europe’s elite leagues.

Internationally, he has only 17 caps for Scotland, a nation which while rich in footballing history, is going through a low ebb, to put it kindly.

In essence, Robson has made a career of being a pretty good player on some fairly average teams by the standards of British soccer, and hasn’t even been able to gather a significant amount of caps for a weak international side.

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This, in comparison to the likes of DeMerit, who has played a season in the English Premier League, and has played in the World Cup. This, in comparison to Lee Young-Pyo, who has played in the Eredivisie, English Premier League and German Bundesliga, and led his team to the semi-finals of the World Cup.

How Robson is a designated player and those two are not is difficult to explain. Perhaps the more worrying thing is that head coach Martin Rennie seemed to at one point believe people who dismissed the possibility that a player from a mid-table second tier English team would consider the possibility of coming to play in Major League Soccer.

Robson will be an improvement over the existing midfield options – for his set plays as much as anything – but will he be a worthy designated player?

He has the attitude to succeed in MLS, but whether his body will be able to keep up with the pace, heat and athleticism of this league, especially on home matches on the artificial surface at BC Place, will be interesting to follow, to say the least.

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