Wednesday 15 August 2018

Robertson's rise continues to amaze

Liverpool left-back has been one of the bargains of the season - only behind Mohamed Salah

Liverpool’s Andy Robertson: ‘His performances meant that we couldn’t leave him out of the team again until he left us, even though he was so young’. Photo: Getty
Liverpool’s Andy Robertson: ‘His performances meant that we couldn’t leave him out of the team again until he left us, even though he was so young’. Photo: Getty

Roddy Forsyth

Andrew Robertson might be an object of adulation at Anfield now but no Kop stalwart can look him in the face and say - if one may borrow from Harry Enfield's predatory shopkeeper - 'I saw you coming'. Robertson's credentials, after all, initially underwhelmed followers of a club who would pay £75 million to make Virgil van Dijk the world's most expensive defender.

He was acquired last summer from newly-relegated Hull City and had an international pedigree gained with Scotland - a team excluded from the finals of major tournaments for 20 years - but his £8 million transfer represented the sort of loose change Liverpool reserve for squad players.

Now, however, as Jurgen Klopp's players prepare for next Saturday's Champions League final in Kiev, the full-back is second only to Mohamed Salah as steal of the season.

One man, though, did see it coming - or, at least, he guessed something of the sort. Gardner Speirs, now in charge of the Queen's Park academy at Hampden Park, base of the only amateur club in British senior football, was the Spiders' first-team manager and in charge of summer preparations for the 2012-'13 campaign.

Speirs, formerly a midfielder with St Mirren, Hartlepool and Airdrie, had to address a gap in his squad. "We were due to go to Largs on the Clyde coast to play a couple of matches inside four days but we didn't have a left-back," Speirs says. "Andrew was just finishing a season with the under-17s, so we took him and that's how it happened."

What might have counted as an innocuous promotion for a teenager was, in fact, an act of rehabilitation for Robertson, who had played for Celtic's youth teams but was judged not to be of the quality required at Parkhead. "Andy left Celtic when he was about 15 and came into our academy and, obviously, kids can react to the disappointment of leaving such a big club in a number of ways," Speirs says.

"Andy's response was to say, 'I'll prove you wrong'. He played in the first warm-up game at Largs and I don't think he went out of the team again until he left us. Andy's performances meant that we couldn't leave him out, even though he was so young. You could see his attitude, determination and ability. He was a first pick for the whole season."

Robertson made his senior competitive debut against Berwick Rangers in an Irn-Bru Cup tie at Shielfield Park on July 28, 2012 before a congregation of 372 souls. It was the first of Robertson's 40 appearances for Queen's Park and he would almost certainly have played in all 46 of the season's fixtures but for injury and a suspension incurred when he was dismissed in a Scottish League Cup tie against St Johnstone for an out-of-character lunge at opposing defender, Gary Miller.

His earnings for the campaign consisted of the Queen's Park standard of remunerated travel costs - except for a stint as a part-time Christmas worker at Marks and Spencer. "I couldn't have told you that," Speirs says.

"I saw him three nights a week and on a Saturday. He gave 100 per cent in his training and matches, to go along with the talent he had. That's the overriding thing that we remember. He had come from the under-17s and stepped into the first team, so we felt that at some point in the season we would have to take him out and give him a rest, but there was never any suggestion of that. It never crossed our minds because his performances were so good. He had thought of going to university but decided that he would take a gap year and devote himself to football. It certainly paid off in style.

"People talk about having the will to run. He just ran and ran into good areas and with the energy and quality he brought, he could put quality passes and crosses in. That was the season when Rangers were in our division. He played in those four games against them and did well. It's difficult to say that he has exceeded expectations because, at the end of that season with us, I was trying hard to keep him for another year.

"He comes from a very grounded family, as you can see from the way that he's been brought up. He's prepared to work hard for everything he gets and every challenge he's faced - whether it be coming into our first team, going to Dundee United and into their first team, then Hull City and now a club the size of Liverpool - has always been met.

"On Saturday I'll be watching and hoping for a Liverpool win and an Andy Robertson performance - which I'm sure we'll get."

Telegraph

Telegraph.co.uk

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