The Vancouver Whitecaps designated player seems to think interacting with media is a necessary evil. In fact, it may be one of the biggest parts of his job, says Martin MacMahon.The Vancouver Whitecaps have a new designated player, and he’s got a personality type the MLS version of the club isn’t quite used to.
Laying into teammates Bryce Alderson and Carlyle Mitchell, among others, for hitting passes astray or making errors of judgement, Barry Robson stood out at training at Burnaby Lake field on Monday as a different sort of player, and a different sort of man.
It’s clear to see the Scotsman isn’t worried about ruffling a few feathers, but just how much of a shakeup a team in fourth place in the Western Conference really needs is another question altogether. Still, head coach Martin Rennie seemed pleased by his new signing’s willingness to give some tough love to his teammates.
“He knows the game well and he demands very high standards,” Rennie said. “We need a little bit more of that and I’m glad he’s bringing that already.”
Interestingly enough, Robson carried that combative attitude off the field, and following training made it very clear he was only speaking with reporters because he had to.
“Is this going to be an every day thing?” he muttered in the direction of a team spokesman, before sitting in the metaphorical dentist’s chair as reporters pulled teeth with hard-hitting questions about the Grouse Grind (a challenging hiking trail located on Grouse Mountain in North Vancouver, which he completed last week) and how he felt about his upcoming MLS debut against the Colorado Rapids on Wednesday.
Total run time of that unbearable scrum? Two minutes on the dot. Two minutes you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy.
Oh, the humanity!
It wasn’t quite as bad as Thierry Henry’s interview with MLSsoccer.com’s Simon Borg following the New York Red Bulls opening day defeat to FC Dallas in March, during which the pouting Frenchman engaged the league reporter with all of the enthusiasm of a young child being forced to eat his vegetables, but it wasn’t far off.
For all the advice Robson was dishing out – wanted and unwanted – to his teammates on Monday during a practice match, he’d do well to seek some of his own from veterans on the team such as goalkeeper Joe Cannon and captain Jay DeMerit.
Game after game in the club’s first MLS season, those two veterans were plodded out in front of the cameras and the microphones to explain another defeat – another loss. “What went wrong?” “What could you do to improve?” “Are your teammates trying hard enough?”
With few exceptions Cannon and DeMerit answered those questions time and time again, in scrums, one-on-ones, and during extended radio interviews, often just minutes after yet another disappointment.
And they did it with class and dignity.
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Robson discussed the nature of Major League Soccer’s growth at his introductory press conference and how he was excited to be a part of it – while the midfielder’s primary job is to help his team win matches on the field, if the game is to continue its ascent in Canada and the United States it needs its prominent players to engage fans through the media, and do so earnestly and enthusiastically.
And that’s a point some players forget (and it really is very few in the notoriously media-friendly MLS) – reporters aren’t there because they want to annoy players. They’re there to get a clip, a quote – anything to bring the game a little closer to the fans.
Robson, who clearly has the pedigree to be successful in MLS, can be a real star for the Whitecaps. But whether he’s just a guy who kicks a ball well or a real ambassador who helps the club and the game reach another level in British Columbia is his choice to make over the next few seasons.
Let’s hope it’s the latter.
So – are you ready for your close up, Barry?
Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for Goal.com Canada.