Robson heading for Barcelona

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The Independent Online
The notion that former England managers just fade away, their experience jettisoned almost as soon as they clear their desks at the Football Association, received a corrective jolt last night as Bobby Robson was on the verge of taking over at one of the most famous clubs in the world: Barcelona.

The 63-year-old coach of Portugal's Porto was having talks in Madrid yesterday with Barcelona's president, Jose Luis Nunez, although those discussions appeared to be about when he would assume control at the Nou Camp in succession to Johan Cruyff rather than whether, and last night a Portuguese radio station reported that Robson had signed a two-year contract.

England's manager between 1982 and 1990 was reported as saying: "The job is mine. I am signing a two-year contract with Barcelona. That is all I want, then I will bow out of football. There are only a handful of really top jobs in world football - Manchester United, Inter Milan, Real Madrid, Juventus and Barcelona. They are big, big clubs. I am so excited by this, even at my age.

"I have come abroad and got my nose down and worked hard. My record is good. I know that and, obviously, Barcelona have done their homework on me. Having just won the league in Portugal again with Porto I did expect to stay here, but what an opportunity this is."

Robson, who was twice asked to manage Barcelona while he was at Ipswich Town in the 1970s and 1980s, is believed to have been offered a contract worth 20 million pesetas (pounds 100,000) a month. This follows a spectacularly successful club career after giving up the England job.

Whereas Sir Alf Ramsey, Don Revie, Ron Greenwood and Graham Taylor have either retired or had less than illustrious sequels to their time as manager of the national side, Robson's reputation has been steadily enhanced since he led England to the 1990 World Cup semi-finals. In addition to winning the FA and Uefa Cups with Ipswich in 1978 and 1981 respectively, he has since claimed the Dutch championship twice with PSV Eindhoven and won two Portuguese titles with Porto.

His new job also marks a complete rehabilitation for Robson, who had a facial cancer removed at the end of last year, and confounds the growing trend in Britain for younger managers. Robson is comfortably older than any of his peers in the Premiership, although Arsenal were understood to have wanted him before they appointed Bruce Rioch last summer.

According to the Spanish sports daily Marca, Robson's appointment will be an interim one until Barcelona acquire their main target, Louis Van Gaal, the Ajax coach. He is likely to succeed at the Nou Camp next year, when his current contract ends, with Robson taking a back-seat role.

Robson still has a year to run on his contract with Porto, who were refusing to comment yesterday, although it is understood they have given him permission to speak to Barcelona.

Cruyff's position, meanwhile, is unclear. Barcelona have strenuously denied reports of his dismissal and the Dutchman was in charge of training yesterday, but an announcement is expected in the next few days, possibly after the home game tomorrow with Celta Vigo. Certainly his leaving would conform to expectation, given his increasingly tense relationship with Nunez.

Cruyff's eight years at Barcelona have been the most successful in the club's history. They won the European Cup for the first time in 1992 and were Spanish champions for four successive seasons from 1991-94. After two unsuccessful seasons, however, there have been calls for Cruyff to be replaced.

Robson is almost certainly the replacement. "What is happening to me now is absolutely marvellous," he said, "the coming together of a lot of dreams."