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'It's no coincidence they've qualified while he's there' - The unstoppable rise of Scotland captain Robertson

08:00 BST 07/06/2021
Andy Robertson Scotland
Liverpool's left-back will be skippering Scotland at this month's European Championship, the culmination of an incredible journey

Hampden Park, June 14.

Andy Robertson has had a fair few highs in his career, but this? This could be the biggest buzz of them all.

To lead Scotland out, in his home city, at a major tournament? Dream come true. Another one.

It is 25 years since Scotland appeared at a European Championship, and 23 since they took part in a major tournament of any description.

Robertson was four when Colin Hendry captained his country in the World Cup in France in 1998, but now, a generation on, he will follow proudly in those footsteps.

It will certainly be a ‘pinch yourself’ moment when the Liverpool star walks out against the Czech Republic next week.

He’s won the Champions League and the Premier League with his club, but to carry the hopes of a nation is something else entirely. The boy from Giffnock did good, eh?

Robertson’s rise has been well documented. So well documented, in fact, that it kind of bugs him. Describe his career as a fairytale, and he’ll pull you up on it.

“No magic wands have been waved in my direction,” he says. “I didn’t win some kind of lottery to land a spot on one of the biggest clubs in the world.

“The reason why I’m a Liverpool player is the same reason why I’m captain of my country: I’ve worked my b*llocks off to get where I am.”

Nobody would argue. Robertson cried when he was released by Celtic, his boyhood club, at 15, but he didn’t let it define him. When some might have sunk, he swam. And eventually, he swam all the way to the top.

He smiles now when he thinks of the tweet, sent in August 2012, which summed up his teenage frustrations. “Life at this age is rubbish with no money,” he wrote, adding the hashtag ‘need a job’ for good measure.

He was playing for Queen’s Park at the time, combining his football with a series of odd-jobs. He had a go at landscaping, worked on the checkout at Marks & Spencer and did a bit in the executive boxes at Hampden during Scotland internationals. On one occasion, he recalls showing Vincent Kompany, then the Belgium captain, to his seat in the stands.

He’d admit that, at that stage, the idea of becoming a champion with his club and a captain for his country seemed a long way away, but those who knew the young Robertson speak of the things we see today; the courage, the dedication, the desire to make the absolute best of every situation.

“There was certainly something about his confidence and character at an early age that marked him out for success,” says Joe Fuchs, his former PE teacher at St Ninian’s School in Glasgow.

“He just loved football so much,” adds Ryan McGeever, his former team-mate at Queen’s Park. Jackie McNamara, who managed Robertson at Dundee United, concurs.

“His will to succeed was incredible,” says the former Scotland defender, who was part of Craig Brown’s squad for the ‘98 World Cup.

 

It was at Dundee United that Robertson’s career began to ignite. He’d been a striker as a youngster; “I was hardly [Mohamed] Salah in the scoring stakes though,” he has said - before flitting around in midfield and on the wing at Celtic.

By the time he got to Tannadice he was a flying full-back, all-action, all energy and catching the eye of scouts south of the border. Everton looked, but Hull were the ones who took the plunge, paying just under £3million ($4.25m) in the summer of 2014.

David Meyler was Robertson’s team-mate on Humberside, and remains a close friend. He remembers watching his development closely at the KCOM Stadium.

“I first saw him playing for Dundee United against Celtic [in April 2014],” Meyler tells Goal. “A few of us were watching, and it was like ‘who the f**k is this left-back?!’ He was up and down, up and down, up and down. He didn’t stop.

“Then a few weeks later we signed him. I remember thinking: ‘That’s a good move by the club’. He was made for the Premier League.”

Robertson was unveiled on the same day as Harry Maguire, who had joined from Sheffield United. He cringes now when he sees the photographs. He’d been booked in for a haircut that day, but never made his appointment.

“He looked like a college student when he first arrived,” Meyler laughs. “He came down with his mum and dad. He was just a normal lad, quiet and shy. He didn’t say a word for the first three months.

“You’d never think that now, would you?!”

At Hull, Robertson established himself as a Premier League player, despite twice being part of a team which was relegated. “He took his level on,” Meyler says.

“Even when we were relegated, and when we won promotion the following year [2016], he was a main part of the side. He proved he belonged at the level.”

Liverpool came calling in 2017, Robertson moving to Anfield as midfielder Kevin Stewart headed in the opposite direction. By the end of that season, he was in Jurgen Klopp’s team and playing in the final of the Champions League against Real Madrid in Kiev.

“He didn’t play for the first three or four months,” Meyler says. “[Alberto] Moreno was ahead of him. “But I remember being at the game against Man City [in January 2018] where he took off chasing the defence on his own, and that was when you knew things had changed. It’s those moments that really ignited his career there for me.”

At Liverpool, Robertson has become one of the key figures in the dressing room, part of a senior core which includes Jordan Henderson, James Milner and Virgil van Dijk, and which sets the standard on a daily basis, on and off the field. It is no wonder, Meyler says, that when Scotland needed a captain, it was Robertson who got the call.

“He’s learned how to be a leader,” he says. “Everyone knows about guys like Milner and Henderson, but I know Andy took a lot from Adam Lallana, and especially when he left Liverpool last year.

“He saw the way people spoke about him, the way he had influenced people through his advice and his personality. It’s not just about what you do on the pitch, but how you are around the training ground, the examples you set. Robbo has definitely taken that on board, and I am sure Scotland will benefit from that.

“In fact, they already have. It’s no coincidence that they’ve qualified for a tournament while he’s there. He’s taken his success with Liverpool and he’s brought that into that Scotland dressing room, no question.”

Meyler smiles when he remembers the arguments which would ensue at Hull between the Irish contingent, the English boys and the Scottish pair, Robertson and Robert Snodgrass.

“Robbo and Snoddy were the two loudest!” he says. “But I know how much it means to Andy to play for his country, and I know how much it will mean to his family.

“They’re a lovely family, his mum and dad, Pauline and Brian, his fiance Rachel, all of them. You go to any Liverpool game and there are 10 or 15 Robertsons there, honestly!

"They are so proud of him, and they give him so much support. He’s a family man through and through, and that’s why I’m so happy for him that he’ll get to lead Scotland out in Glasgow this summer. It’ll mean the world to him.

“I’ve captained my country. I know how much that meant. Andy’s as proud a Scotsman as you’ll find, and I know if you asked him on the eve of that first game, he will have as much pride leading Scotland out at Hampden, as he did winning the Premier League and the Champions League with Liverpool.

“That’s the magnitude of it. His name will be written in Scottish history as well as Liverpool history.”

He adds: “And don’t forget, he’s got his old rivals down the road as well! Leading Scotland out against England at Wembley, it won’t get much better than that will it?

“I wouldn’t be surprised if they caused a f**king upset as well!”