Captain Marvel clinging on for survival as storm clouds gather

The man from County Durham has been familiar with many tests of his indomitable spirit ever since, as a five-year-old, he would make the daunting climb from the family's house in the village of Witton Gilbert, along with his dad Brian, sister Susan and golden retriever Shane, up to the football pitch at the top of the hill for a kickabout. In a playing and managerial career famed for battles with adversity – "a miracle of commitment", as Sir Alex Ferguson once observed – surely his current difficulties at Sheffield United do not compare with relegation at Middlesbrough,the threat to his authority when Terry Venables was seconded to assist him there or relegation at West Bromwich Albion? Apparently they do. "This is the toughest challenge I've had as a manager," Robson said after training on Friday.

It is a challenge which, it appears, could end in ignominy for the 51-year-old, once revered as England and Manchester United's Captain Marvel but here regarded by many as Commander Cockup, after he was summoned to Brussels for talks with the club's plc chairman, Kevin McCabe, on Monday night. His team are 14th in the Championship, their promotion chances are diminishing, and his predecessor, Neil Warnock, having been a miracle worker here, has apparently acquired messianic tendencies at Crystal Palace.

But in McCabe there beats a heart not dissimilar to that of another of Robson's employers, Steve Gibson, the chairman of Boro. It requires much for either to bow to supporter disquiet. Despite the more vocal of the Bramall Lane faithful demanding the manager's dismissal since early autumn and the fans' threat to boycott today's FA Cup tie at home to Sven Goran Eriksson's Manchester City, the Belgium-based McCabe assured Robson he retained his support.

It will be illuminating to discover what effect that decision has on supporters who prefer to overlook the fact that Robson has lost the likes of the influential Phil Jagielka (to Everton), and is attempting to transform a side which, under Warnock "played very direct football, whereas I want us to be able to pass the ball in the last third".

However, the manager knows that expectations are "massive", with the faithful impatient toregain the promised land the Blades glimpsed all too briefly and departed acrimoniously following the Tevez affair last season. "I spoke to the chairman and we had a long chat about every aspect of the club. I've just got to get on with the job the best way I can," Robson said. "I know there are certain sections of fans who are disgruntled and I accept that. It's never nice, becauseyou want supporters behind you and to be successful in a club. Everybody has to pull together.

"Having said that, there are a lot of fans who have sent me great messages, wishing me all the best. They understand that sometimes it takes time to turn things round."

For all the magnificence of a playing career in which his name became a metaphor for midfield authority, Robson's management stints have never attained similar heights, despite auspicious beginnings when he achieved promotion with Boro in his first season and galvanised them to reach two cup finals in 1997.

"At Boro I got criticised for bringing in foreign players, at West Brom I had a bit of a fall-out with the chairman over scouting policies when we were well placed in the table, and at Bradford we were in the process of going into administration when I was there," he recalled.

One suspects he could do without the distraction of the Cup. He agrees. "Financially it's good, but we've a vitally important League game against Watford on Tuesday, so in terms of preparation it's not ideal for the players," he said. "I just hope the visit of Manchester City is a good omen, because I always had good results against them with United.I never lost in the League, and I want to keep that going here."

But it is the League that will decide his fate. Only time will tell if one of the game's great survivors can weather this as the storm clouds gather.

News
A Brazilian wandering spider
news

World's most lethal spider found under a bunch of bananas

News
people
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in the win over QPR
footballInternet reacts to miss shocker for Liverpool striker
Voices
Sol Campbell near his home in Chelsea
voices
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
News
Kimi the fox cub
newsBurberry under fire from animal rights group - and their star, Kimi
Sport
Fans of Palmeiras looks dejected during the match between Palmeiras and Santos
footballPalmeiras fan killed trying to 'ambush' bus full of opposition supporters
Arts and Entertainment
filmsIt's nearly a wrap on Star Wars: Episode 7, producer reveals
Life and Style
fashion
News
i100
News
<p>Jonathan Ross</p>
<p>Jonathan Ross (or Wossy, as he’s affectionately known) has been on television and radio for an extraordinarily long time, working on a seat in the pantheon of British presenters. Hosting Friday Night with Jonathan Ross for nine years, Ross has been in everything from the video game Fable to Phineas and Ferb. So it’s probably not so surprising that Ross studied at Southampton College of Art (since rebranded Southampton Solent), a university known nowadays for its media production courses.</p>
<p>However, after leaving Solent, Ross studied History at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, now part of the UCL, a move that was somewhat out of keeping with the rest of his career. Ross was made a fellow of the school in 2006 in recognition of his services to broadcasting.</p>
TV

Rumours that the star wants to move on to pastures new

News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey indulge in some racing at a Point to Point
tvNew pictures promise a day at the races and a loved-up Lady Rose
News
people

Comedian says he 'never laughed as hard as I have writing with Rik'

Arts and Entertainment
Tim Wonnacott dancing the pasadoble
TVStrictly Come Dancing The Result
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past