‘As a team we protect each other… we are like a family’: Andy Robertson on the band of brothers Jurgen Klopp has created at Liverpool, his regret at shoving Lionel Messi – and spending his winter break in Glasgow to avoid getting sun stroke!
- Andy Robertson is adored by Liverpool fans for his commitment and ability
- The Scotsman worked at Marks and Spencer before he became a professional
- The left back insists his story is no fairytale and loved the world he left behind
- He has developed a reputation for protecting his team-mates from opponents
Three moments. Three clips of film. Three incidents that Andy Robertson dissects as he sits in an office at Melwood. Three things Liverpool fans lionise him for.
Three things he regards with some pride and some regret. Three explanations that tell you a lot of what you need to know about him and the unbreakable spirit that drives Jurgen Klopp’s remarkable team on and on and on.
The first moment: the last minute of the first half of the Fifa Club World Cup final in Doha a few days before Christmas as Liverpool close in on becoming world champions for the first time. Sadio Mane is becoming increasingly agitated at the way he is being singled out by Liverpool’s opponents, Flamengo, and particularly right-back Rafinha.
Andy Robertson is adored by Liverpool fans for his commitment, ability and attitude
The Brazilian has already escaped a red card for fouling Mane, who boils over and gets booked for a foul on Rafinha. Robertson steps in to soothe his team-mate. The cameras and audio feed capture him reassuring his team-mate. ‘Sadio, I’ll get him, don’t worry,’ he says. Seven minutes into the second half Robertson leaves Rafinha on his back.
Liverpool fans love it. They adore Robertson without reservation. They love the way he leaves everything out on the pitch. They love his wholehearted attitude. They love his commitment. They love his ability. They love his energy. His relentless energy. They love his selflessness. They love his sumptuous left foot and the goals it creates. They love where he came from, that his was not a gilded path to the top. They love that he had to scrap and fight his way to Anfield via rejection at Celtic and stints at Queen’s Park, Marks & Spencer in Sauchiehall Street, Dundee United and Hull City. They love him for being everyman. They love him for being one of them.
They love it that Robertson, 25, does not forget. He does not forget how he got here. He does not forget where he comes from and who he is. He hates it when people describe his rise as a fairy tale because it glosses over the hard work he put in. It suggests an element of luck. He hates it, too, because it hints that the world he left behind was something to look down upon.
Mane became frustrated when he was targeted by Rafinha during the Club World Cup final
The left back ensured his team-mate that he would take care of the Brazilian in the second half
He loved the world he left behind. He went to work at that M&S in Glasgow with a smile on his face. ‘I was on the tills,’ he says. ‘I wasn’t tall enough to stack the shelves.’ He loved his family’s Saturday routine: go to Parkhead to watch Celtic, get home to Clarkston, order a curry from the Indian takeaway, go to mass, collect the curry, go home.
That is why, during the recent winter break, Robertson did not go to Dubai or the Maldives or the Seychelles. He went back to Glasgow. Not much winter sun then?
‘It would have been no good if I came back here with heat stroke,’ he says, smiling, ‘so I did everyone a favour and went back up there and spent time on the golf course.
‘For people to say it was a fairy tale leaving Marks & Spencer behind — how many thousands of people work in these supermarkets, I felt that was a bit disrespectful.
‘These are normal lives and people can have a very good life working there. How many of them are in our stands over the weekend and there am I saying: “I have left this terrible life behind and moved on”. Of course I get better paid. Would I be happier playing football than at M&S? Yes, of course, but if that was my life I’d be the same person I am today. Money doesn’t bring me happiness, but from three or four I wanted to be a footballer. That was my dream in life.
The 25-year-old thinks calling his story a ‘fairytale’ is disrespectful to people living normal lives
He chose to spend his winter break in Glasgow rather than the sunnier destination of Dubai
‘When you’re a kid and you say it, you don’t really believe it. Not many kids have said it and become it. Life changes. I am one of the lucky ones who have said I wanted to be a footballer through my whole life. I held on to that when I was at Queen’s Park and people probably laughed at me when I was 16 or 17 and they asked me what I’d be.
‘People were looking at me and thinking “get a grip, it’s gone now”. For me, my dream was always to become a footballer. That’s why I say “yes, of course” I’m happier than if I were at M&S. Forget about the money. Forget about everything else. I wanted to play football every single day. That’s why I have the dream job. If you paid me the same wage as an M&S employee, I wouldn’t be bothered. I think all the lads here are the same. It’s the dream of playing football. Of course me being able to set my kids up for life is an added bonus and being able to give them a good start in life is an added bonus, but for me it was all about just kicking a ball every single day.’
Liverpool fans love him for that. They love him for being a team player. They love him for the blizzard of assists that he and Trent Alexander-Arnold have served up for their side this season as they have streaked into a runaway lead at the top of the Premier League. They love him for crosses like the one that curled across the face of Manchester City’s goal last December and bounced on to the head of Mo Salah, who nodded it in. They love him for representing them the way he does. For his determination and his joy in the game. They love the fact that every time he runs out on to the pitch at Anfield he sprints to The Kop. And ‘Sadio, I’ll get him, don’t worry’. They love him for that too.
Liverpool’s two full-backs have racked up an impressive number of assists in the last two years
Robertson is unsure. He does not want to be remembered as some sort of mean-spirited hatchet man. That’s not him. But he thinks the incident with Rafinha tells us something about the spirit of this Liverpool team that goes to the heart of their indomitability.
‘Everyone knows Sadio has maybe got a temper on him at times,’ Robertson says. ‘I know how to deal with Sadio. That was me trying to calm my own team-mate down. I know sometimes things can affect Sadio. In that game he got targeted. Once he gets booked, there is nothing he can really do. So if I were to say something short and sharp to Sadio, it might have a little effect. He never got involved in anything in the second half in Doha. Whether that was to do with me or whether someone else spoke to him at half-time, I’m not sure. I do what is best for my team. Me having Sadio on the left is the best thing for me and the team.
‘Unfortunately, the camera and the audio picked it up. I don’t want to come across as that player, but if it comes to protecting a team-mate I like to think my team-mates protect me as much as I try to protect them. We’re a family and if one of them is getting targeted then we will all back them up. That happens in any good team. Like the Man United team of old. Like with Roy Keane. They never shied away from protecting each other. Arsenal with Vieira. That was the same. At Man City, Fernandinho does it.
‘For me as a team we protect each other. We are like a family. We are like brothers. If one of them is getting targeted or picked on it is up to the rest of us to protect him. That’s what I try to do.
‘When people highlight me doing that it annoys me a bit. More than it annoys Liverpool fans, perhaps. For me, maybe in ten years’ time when I am no longer here and retired, I don’t want people looking back on me like that. I want people to look back and say “he played in a good team and he was a big part of it”. I hope they do say that instead of the fact I said a few words to Rafinha or laughed in Tom Davies’ face.’
The defender described his club team-mates as a family of brothers who protect each other
The second moment: the first half of the Merseyside derby on December 4, which Liverpool will win 5-2. Davies, the young Everton midfielder, receives the ball on the edge of the Everton area and begins to turn away with it when Robertson barges into him and the two fall to the floor. Robertson lands heavily on Davies and his forearm cracks the Everton player on the back of the head.
‘I think Andy Robertson knew exactly what he was doing there,’ the TV commentator says. Again, Liverpool fans love him for it. This is a team with an edge, they think.
This is a player with an edge. This is a player who will not back down. This is a player who will take the fight to their local rivals. Davies gets up and shoves Robertson while he is on the floor. Robertson gets up, turns, stares at Davies and laughs. The moment launches a million replays.
‘It looked worse on the video,’ Robertson says. ‘It was a complete accident. I fell over. It would be interesting to see how people would have reacted if I’d started pushing him and tried to start a big fight. A big deal got made of me trying to laugh it off. I didn’t know what he was annoyed about at the time, but I saw the video afterwards and I thought: “Yeah, if that was me I’d be annoyed.” The way some people used it to say I was a nasty player annoys me. I just don’t think it reflects me as well as other things do. The people that know me know that I’m fair.
‘As a defender you have to walk the line sometimes. You have to make cynical fouls sometimes. You have to take a booking. If you look at my disciplinary record in the Premier League since I have been at Liverpool, this season I have only got one booking, maybe two. As a defender, when we are counter-pressing, that is pretty good.’
The Scotland captain clashed with Everton’s Tom Davies during the Merseyside derby
The third moment: the first minute of the Miracle of Anfield last May when Liverpool start the second leg of their Champions League semi-final against Barcelona 3-0 down. Lionel Messi sprints forward and Fabinho and Robertson halt his run on the edge of the box. Messi thinks it should be a free-kick and indicates as much.
Play moves on. Messi sits on the turf. Robertson runs in the direction of play and then stops for a moment. He puts both hands on the back of Messi’s head and half shoves him, half ruffles his hair, then runs on. Messi looks up, surprise etched all over his face.
Liverpool fans love him for this, too. They love him for the statement of intent. They love him for the boldness of it. They love the iconoclasm of it. And amid the joy of one of the greatest occasions club football in this country has witnessed, amid wild celebrations of Liverpool’s 4-0 win that night, it is remembered as one of the game’s seminal moments, a symbol of what was to come. ‘When I look back on things I don’t really regret anything because I feel as if everything is experience that makes you what you are,’ Robertson says. ‘But I do look back on that moment with Messi as one regret. I don’t like seeing it. When I saw it afterwards I was gutted.
The full-back admitted that defenders have to be prepared to make cynical fouls at times
‘We all had the attitude that day that nothing was standing in our way to get to that final and we created that atmosphere around the stadium and me and Fabinho were tracking him and there was a tangle of legs and we were on the floor. To do that to the greatest player that has ever played…
‘I have nothing but respect for him and Barcelona, but we went into that game with the attitude that we were 3-0 down, we needed a miracle, we needed something special and if that little thing stopped the best player in the world playing to his highest potential…
‘But I do regret it. That’s not me as a person. That’s not my personality. But that night a lot of things happened that you don’t really remember. There was no thought process behind it. We were right up for the game. The fans were roaring and you get caught up in it. You’re a human being. We were 3-0 down in the semi-final of the Champions League, which we wanted to put right from the season before. It was the loudest changing room I have been in before the game. You could see the focus and the determination in all of us and maybe I went over the line.
Robertson said he regrets his shove on Lionel Messi during the Champions League semi-final
‘But Liverpool fans like the edge, I think. I feel that maybe this whole team is quite good at representing Liverpool right now. Liverpool is a big working class city. We go out and show hard work. We get beaten in games but what you can’t question is that every time we go out there, we give 100 per cent.’
Robertson is right about the way this team that is carrying all before it, that has only dropped two points all season, that is still unbeaten in the league, represents its city. Players like him, Jordan Henderson and Virgil van Dijk embody a blue- collar connection between the players and the community. Sometimes in the modern game, it feels as if footballers distance themselves from supporters. That is not the case with this Liverpool team.
They need a maximum of five more wins now. Five more wins to clinch the title that has eluded Liverpool for so long. That starts with the visit of West Ham to Anfield on Monday night. It is only a question of when now. Whether it will be clinched at home to Crystal Palace on March 21 or five days earlier away to Everton at Goodison Park. Or even earlier.
The Scotsman believes the current Reds team are good at representing the city of Liverpool
The fans sing that they’re going to win the league now but Robertson won’t. It is not his style.
A fan came up to him while he was doing the shopping in a supermarket on Merseyside last week and pleaded: ‘You are going to win the league, aren’t you?’ ‘I said to him: “We are doing well so far”.’
‘I didn’t want to give him too much hope. Look, we’re a team that loves winning games and are very good at it and we need five wins now and we believe we will be able to get those five wins and more.
‘We know what position we’re in. Do we believe we’re going to win it? Not yet. Not until the Champions sign is over our heads.’
Liverpool won’t believe they’re going to be champions until they have the sign over their heads
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