Bobby Robson: More Than a Manager Review
"One of the nicest people I’ve ever met in my life,” so says Pep Guardiola, a man currently viewed as the best football manager in the world and who played under Bobby Robson for one year at Barcelona in the mid-90s. It's not a quality normally used to describe a football manager, let alone one that worked at the pinnacle of the game, but it’s a sentiment shared by countless others and a quality that shone through to fans, even when seen at a distance.
ITV football reporter Gabriel Clarke has co-directed Bobby Robson: More Than a Manager with Torquil Jones, a documentary that looks back on a career that Gary Lineker believes makes him the greatest English manager of all time. It acts as a reminder about one of the modern greats of the game whose influence is seen through those who are pioneers of their own today.
Football fans of a certain age will remember Robson’s time as England manager in a period that saw him lead the team to the quarter finals of the World Cup in 1986, followed by the semi-finals in 1990. Only the infamous ‘Hand of God’ by Maradona and a defeat on penalties to Germany prevented him from progressing further in both tournaments. The latter proved pivotal in uniting the country behind the sport after a turbulent 80s plagued with hooliganism and led to the formation of the Premier League only two years later.
As the title alludes to, there was far more to the man than simply being a football manager. In front of the camera he always presented himself as a gentleman and it’s a trait the likes of Guardiola, Jose Mourinho, Alex Ferguson, Alan Shearer and Gary Lineker reflect upon. They recall the endless optimism and kindness that was always in plentiful supply and the time he took to guide them and look out for their best interests.
Mourinho’s career also began as a translator for Robson during his time at Barcelona and the old footage shows the fresh-faced 'special one' loyally by his side as he fended off the baying wolves of the Spanish media. Robson was also responsible for providing the platform for Ronaldo (the original 90s version) to strut his stuff at the Camp Nou before going on to become a megastar in world football, possibly the first of his kind. The now-retired Brazilian striker fondly recalls their father/son-style relationship and the debt he owes to Robson for putting so much faith in him at such a young age.
It’s the type of relationship that also existed between Robson and Gazza, one of the most talented players of his generation. Long after Robson had left the England job and Gazza’s career had descended into an alcoholic shambles, their close bond endured. Robson would call him up out of the blue to see what he was doing and if Gascoigne was at a loose end he’d go out of his way to keep him company so he stayed out of trouble. Even at Robson’s last public appearance at a charity football match five days before he died his first thought was to make a beeline for Gazza.
His wife, Elsie, recalls his battle with disease that first began in the early 90s and his surgeon states how people rarely overcome the type of cancer that affected him. And yet, Robson went on to live a full life for almost another 20 years. Regret for the lack of time he spent with his family came to the fore in the latter stages of his life, one of the many personal sacrifices he made for a successful career that saw him lift trophies in England, Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands.
Clark and Jones highlight his battles with the media throughout his time as a manager, particularly those with the English tabloids who thoroughly tested his almost endless resources of patience. Handling the press is part and parcel of any manager's job but they were a particularly vicious bunch in the 80s and far less accountable for the some of the garbage they spewed, which was not only related to football.
Robson's final act was to raise funds for the creation of The Bobby Robson Foundation, a cancer research charity he viewed as more important than anything he had previously achieved in his career in football. This fitting documentary strikes the right tone between career and personal life discussing the legacy of a man whose passion for life on and off the pitch affected millions of people. Mourinho poignantly closes out the film remembering his old friend by saying "Nobody dies until the last person who loves them dies," and the reverence with which Bobby Robson is held as both a manager and a man is a true testament to that.
Bobby Robson: More Than A Manager is being shown in select cinemas June 1st.
Now available to pre-order, Digital Download 1st June & Blu-Ray/DVD June 4th.