Andy Robertson’s Fight for Validation at Liverpool

WHEN Andy Robertson was unveiled as Liverpool’s answer to their long standing left back problem, the majority of the club’s supporters were left underwhelmed. The Scotsman had just been relegated with Hull City for the second time in three years and Liverpool’s only competition for his signature came from Watford and Burnley.

Since the retirement of John Arne Riise, Liverpool had always struggled to find a man to emulate the Norwegian at left back. Fabio Aurelio, his immediate replacement came closest due to his undoubted talent, but was marred by injuries. The list to follow them in the position includes Paul Konchesky, Jose Enrique, Aly Cissokho, Andrea Dossena, Emiliano Insua and Alberto Moreno, which doesn’t make great reading. It was so bad last season that James Milner had to fill the position, arguably doing a better job than any of those who came in after Riise and Aurelio.

With this in mind, it is understandable that Liverpool supporters were a bit concerned when images of the smiling Scotsman adorning their jersey were released. Add to this the fact that Manchester City spent over £100 million on full backs the same summer, Arsenal had stolen Sead Kolasinac, a member of the Bundesliga Team of the Season, on a free and the likes of Ricardo Rodriguez were moving across Europe and to many, the move for Robertson seemed almost criminal for a side aiming to be battling at the top, in both the Premier League and Champions League.

Through no fault of his own, from the moment he walked through the doors at Anfield, Andy Robertson had a fight for validation on his hands. However, he is no stranger to having to prove himself. Having been released by his boyhood club Celtic for being too small and weak, Robertson had to drop down to the amateur divisions of Scottish football as he joined Queens Park, going into the first team. Though he did have an unusually big opponent during his break out season, as Rangers were also in the third division at the time, due to their demotion after going into liquidation. Something, which put more of the limelight on the league.

He was only in the third tier for one season, as he signed for Dundee United, who had already shown their ability to move a player on to England’s top tiers with their sale of Johnny Russell to Derby County. The Terrors threw Robertson in at the deep end, as they started their new acquisition from the off, despite the jump in competition that he would be facing. Robertson thrived and was moved on again after just one season, joining Hull City, where he was once again thrown into the side and impressed again, whether The Tigers were in the Championship or Premier League.

His move to Liverpool completed his rapid rise from a fresh-faced youngster in the Scottish third tier, to a signing for one of the top sides in the UK, a rise that took just four years. Jurgen Klopp praised this journey upon the full back’s arrival on Merseyside, but the German did something that Robertson’s previous managers had not; made him wait for first team action. With many already questioning Robertson’s credentials to play for a Champions League side, his reputation among Liverpool fans was not helped by the fact that he was selected in just two of the opening 14 Premier League games of the season and left out of every Champions League group game Liverpool featured in. This is also worsened by the fact that it was Alberto Moreno being picked ahead of him, following a season where James Milner had been moved to left back, mainly due to doubts around the reliability of the Spaniard and others who had played in his position.

However, in his two appearances during this period, Robertson was given Man of the Match on his debut, a 1-0 win against Crystal Palace. He was also widely recognised as one of the better performers in his second league appearance, which came in a 1-1 draw against Burnley. However, following the game against the Clarets, he was left out for nine games, having also been left out in the weeks following his Man of the Match debut performance.

He was brought back into the first team fold following this time out of the team, when he came in for the injured Moreno for a 1-1 draw against Everton, but was never truly considered a key member of the team by most. However, there was one game in particular that finally earned Robertson the validation and recognition that he deserved. Having been left on the bench against Burnley, Robertson was brought in for the home game against a Manchester City side that were unbeaten at the time. The Citizens had breezed past the majority of their opponents to that point, meaning that there was a rare occurrence where Liverpool were seen as underdogs.

The Reds were incredible though. A tireless performance in which Liverpool were able to impose themselves on City through their aggressive pressing saw Liverpool do what no other team in the league had done. Goals from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah meant that despite a late comeback from City, Liverpool won the game 4-3.  However, it wasn’t just these three who were getting plenty of recognition following the final whistle. Robertson, who had managed to keep Liverpool’s pantomime villain Raheem Sterling quiet all game, was being raved about with one action commanding the most attention. A goal? An assist? A last ditch, goal saving tackle? No, it was a sprint from the halfway line into the opposition box. The ball went from Bernardo Silva, to Kyle Walker, to John Stones, back to Ederson and finally to Nicolas Otamendi, with Robertson tearing across the pitch after it, hot on the heels of every recipient. The Anfield crowd roared him on and despite the chase ending with Otamendi dropping to the floor and winning a free kick, Robertson was applauded like he had just scored a goal. The grit that he showed epitomised Liverpool’s performance, which was without doubt, up there with the best the Premier League has seen all season.

Since that day Andy Robertson has been one of the first names on Jurgen Klopp’s team sheet. The Scotsman has since made his first Champions League start, as he played 90 minutes in an emphatic 5-0 win against FC Porto, having not played a single game in the group stages. The Scotsman’s rise is not purely down to his work rate though, as Robertson has been able to get up the wing and showcase his exquisite delivery, as was highlighted by his ball in against Watford to set up Salah’s second of the game. He is also solid and resolute defensively, helping a Liverpool back-line, which has been notoriously leaky in the past. The mixture of skill and determination that Robertson possesses has led him to this point and caused Liverpool supporters to take their new left back into their hearts.

The Scotsman has even endeared himself to the Anfield faithful off of the pitch, as well as on it. When he found out that a young Liverpool fan had donated his pocket money to The Fans Supporting Foodbanks movement, a partnership between Everton and Liverpool supporters, Robertson decided to reward the youngster. He sent him a personally written letter, saying: “For you to give that up for people who are having a tough time and need some help to get by is absolutely amazing. Let me tell you now, that is brilliant from you and sets an example to the rest of us that showing a little care and thought for others is really important – it’s also very Liverpool!”

The full back also went to Roberto Firmino, getting the Brazilian forward to sign a match worn shirt to send to the boy. In the letter he added: “I’ve got one of Roberto Firmino’s match shirts from this season and asked him to sign it for you, by way of a thank you for what you did for the foodbanks. Let’s be honest Alfie, no one wants the left back’s shirt – which is why I got you Bobby’s instead. Hope that’s okay.”

You’d be surprised Andy, you’re more popular than you realise. From the third division of Scottish football, Robertson has gradually risen up the footballing pyramid, taking each step as smoothly as the last. The Scotsman now has his name sung by the Kop almost as much as Mohamed Salah, one of the biggest revelations in Premier League history. From the time he was released by Celtic, he has had to fight for respect and validation, whether that was as a youngster in the lower divisions of Scottish football or a 23-year-old arriving at Anfield, as the answer to Liverpool’s generation long wait for a left back worthy of calling the position their own. He has now achieved that. He may no longer have to fight for validation, but Andy Robertson will continue to fight on the pitch for the Liverpool fans, who now sing his name.

By Danny Lewis with artwork by Karl Thyer and his Man Like series

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