Robson's new life a white knuckle ride

Ex-Boro manager gets career back on track with an even younger chairman but far less to spend
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The Independent Football

It was somehow apposite that Bryan Robson should return to management this week at a club whose chairman runs a North Yorkshire theme park which is home to a series of attractions within White Knuckle Valley. Among the rides at Bradford chairman Gordon Gibb's Flamingo Land are to be found the following: Top Gun, Cliff Hanger, Terroriser... and The Bullet. For many managers, they all too accurately reflect the stages of running a football club.

Certainly, in his seven years at Middlesbrough, the former England captain enjoyed an erratic - indeed, at times stomach-churning - management career which began, in 1994, with promotion to the Premiership in his first season as player-manager. Defeat by Leicester in the Coca-Cola Cup final replay two years later followed, and in the same season relegation and an FA Cup final loss to Chelsea. "Robbo" survived to galvanise Boro to promotion a season later, during which they lost to Chelsea in another Coca-Cola Cup final.

But Robson could not sustain his initial progress, despite chairman Steve Gibson's undiminished faith, and a generous budget. By 2000, the end was nigh, Terry Venables was brought in as head coach, and though Boro eluded relegation Robson departed the following year.

Yet, say what you like about his stewardship, those were vibrant times up on Teesside, when it was another day, another Brazilian (Juninho), or Italian (Ravanelli), or England international (Gascoigne and Merson).

Now Robson is back with an even younger chairman than Gibson, and a considerably smaller budget, attempting to set his career back on the rails, so to speak. "It's slightly different to Middlesbrough," agreed the 46-year-old Robson. "The set-up of the club is a bit more advanced than when I first went to Boro, but the difference is that there was money there and there isn't here. Boro didn't have financial difficulties."

The former West Brom and Manchester United midfielder added: "I had some very good years at Boro and I'm still friends with Steve Gibson and Keith Lamb [the chief executive]. Part of the crowd turned on me at the end, which was not nice but it happens in football. It's that type of game. I now know you can't plan out your ambitions in this game. You just have to get on with the job in hand and it's up to other people to decide how well you're doing."

Gibb, at 28 the League's youngest chairman, is half Yorkshireman, half Scot. He is the son of the late Robert Gibb, who was chairman of Hamilton Academical. Gibb junior, who took over the family's entertainment business when his father was killed in a car crash in 1995, injected nearly £2m of his own money into the club which graced the Premiership only two seasons ago to help it out of administration. On his arrival 15 months ago, he had warned the Bantams faithful: "I'd love to give a sexy-player acquisition plan, but unfortunately the financial restraints are obvious."

City had experienced the chill blast of near financial calamity when they were relegated but still had to pay the salaries of players like Benito Carbone, who was reputedly earning £40,000 a week. These days, reality rules under the regime of Gibb and his chief executive Julian Rhodes. The top earners are said to earn no more than £2,000 a week, with the average wage reportedly £650.

This is the environment into which Robson, unemployed since his departure from Boro in June 2001, and his assistant Colin Todd, have ventured. Any acquisitions are likely to be in the form of loans. Their own salaries, which include generous bonuses for avoiding relegation, are understood to have been effectively financed by £500,000 invested in the club by the Rhodes family.

Gibb provoked some amusement when, at the unveiling of Robson and Todd on Tuesday, the doors of the banqueting suite at Valley Parade swung open to reveal not the new management team, but Sadie and Molly, respectively an Alsatian and Great Dane, belonging to the family, and both sporting City scarves.

When the real management duo arrived, Robson, whose proud international playing record included 90 caps, with 65 as captain, participating in three World Cups and scoring 26 goals, conceded that the hiatus in his management career had been too prolonged.

He had applied for the West Ham job after Glenn Roeder's dismissal, had been linked with Reading and had agreed to coach Nigeria in their African Nations' Cup campaign, only for the deal to fall through. "I had to be a bit patient waiting for a job, but I've been very impressed with the way the chairman has turned the club round," said Robson who has obtained his Uefa B coaching badge and is halfway through his Uefa A course. "Our first job is to instill a bit of confidence in the players."

He added: "I haven't really changed since leaving Boro; my beliefs about how the game should be played and about discipline are basically the same." Unfortunately, the financial support for his second venture into management definitely is not. Whether he can stand the culture shock on this particular ride remains to be seen.