Martin MacMahon: Robinson an unknown quantity for Whitecaps

Despite his familiarity around MLS and with the Vancouver Whitecaps, Carl Robinson as a head coach is still an unknown quantity.
VANCOUVER -- Now that we know Carl Robinson is the new coach of the Vancouver Whitecaps, what do we know about him?

Well, as ever, moving into the job of head coach from the role of assistant will change him in ways we can't necessarily predict.

Players who have relied on him as a place to go when they have grievances will likely have to find a new confidant, a new outlet for those times when they feel they've been misused or underutilized.

Robinson will know the players in his squad intimately – perhaps on some level he'll know them better than previous head coach Martin Rennie. There's always a distance between a head coach and his players and in many ways the role of the assistants is to bridge that gap.

That closeness with certain players will mean they will instantly bring a bit extra to the table for him – but Robinson must now find the balance and ensure his loyalty back to those players doesn't stretch beyond what is reasonable.

The 37-year-old Welshman described himself as a “player's coach” during Monday's press conference, where he was unveiled as the new gaffer.

No doubt as an assistant coach he was. We'll see if he can describe himself in similar terms after he trades a player who is well liked in the locker room, has a bust up with a senior player, or passes on bringing back an aging star.

Robinson knows soccer very well, but now things are about to get personal in a way he hasn't experienced before. He has a reputation for honesty, and in his playing career was known for a willingness to provide tough love to underperforming teammates.

But it's one thing to berate a colleague with words.

It's another proposition altogether to tell a player his services are no longer required, and to drive this point home – to do something similar to what former head coach Martin Rennie did last year, and send fullback Alain Rochat to another city weeks before the player's wife was set to give birth.

In any event, Robinson himself feels he's up to the task of making those tough decisions.

“I'm honest, it's the way I am,” Robinson said. “It's black and white with me. Right is right and wrong is wrong. That's the way it is. If you're a player, I try and put myself in their shoes – if I was a player, what would I want to be told from my coach or my manager? And that's the way I've conducted myself over the last three years as an assistant.

“And that won't change as a manager. If I'm leaving a player out of the team, I'll explain why, and what they need to do to get in the team.

The first tricky situation Robinson will have to manage is the situation of club captain Jay DeMerit, who is currently out of contract.

Both sides seem interested in making a deal, but Robinson did hint DeMerit will have to take a paycut to return.

“I’ll be touching base with Jay in the next two days because he’s an important piece of the club moving forward,” Robinson said. “I’ve got a lot of respect for Jay. He’s a leader on and off the field. It’s important now to make those key decisions, and Jay’s a key decision. I think everyone who knows Jay knows he’s an exceptional leader on and off the field and he’s been a big part of this club for the first three years.

“He’s someone I’d like to bring back. I think that (salary) will play into it. Obviously we’re in a salary cap league. But I want good players.”

How Robinson's handling of the DeMerit situation pans out won't define his tenure as Whitecaps coach, but will certainly set the tone – one way or the other.