Mark Robins: out of the frying pan, into the fire
By Graham Hill
Mark Robins is the man credited with making sure Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United era was not nipped in the bud before the trophies started piling up at Old Trafford. But now Robins has been charged with the task of turning around one of football’s more impossible looking managerial tasks.
As a player, it was Robins, a late substitute, who scored the all important goal at Nottingham Forest as Ferguson’s United won their third-round City Ground tie. Had they lost, the speculation was that Ferguson would have been sacked and one of football’s most impressive runs of success would never have happened. United won the FA Cup that year and Ferguson never looked back.
But Robins proved to be just as straight-talking as Ferguson. He certainly does not dine out on the Forest game in 1990. And his achievements as a manager have been far more modest. It is fair to say that Robins does not do glamour. Just look at his CV.
He graduated from player to manager at Rotherham and almost lifted them to an unlikely promotion despite a 17-point deduction imposed by the Football League. In 2009, Robins moved to Barnsley and steered them away from relegation danger before falling out with the Oakwell board. Robins then joined the Premier League as a club support manager. But then crisis club Coventry came calling.
Robins sensed another bout of fire-fighting - and decided it was another task he could warm to. Ten managers in as many years might set alarm bells ringing with some. And Robins did not flinch from the fact that Coventry are a club on the slide.
Boardroom politics and financial problems behind the scenes saw the once proud Sky Blues slide into League One. Twenty-five years ago, City famously won the FA Cup for the first time with an epic 3-2 win over Tottenham. But, after the early season sacking of Andy Thorn, Coventry found themselves in freefall and stuck in the relegation zone.
In the early 80s, Coventry band The Specials wrote their No.1 hit Ghost Town about inner city decay. And the song could still loosely be applied to match days at the Ricoh Arena. The club’s fortunes need to be turned around. And Robins know what must be done.
Robins admitted: “There’s been a 10-year slide here in terms of results.” As well as revitalising Coventry, Robins believes he also has unfinished business as a manager.
Robins already has one eye on promotion for struggling City. But he knows the most important thing right now is to rediscover a winning mentality. Robins, 42, said: “It’s a tough act, but we’ve got to make this work.
“This could be such a great club. It’s something that can be moulded into something special. But the first thing is to make sure the team start winning football matches. Results like losing to Shrewsbury 4-1 before I came in are unacceptable. Players need to take responsibility, there has to be a work ethic. I want players who will fight for the shirt and the supporters. I’ll make sure we move forward in a proper manner. It won’t be pretty at times, but it will change.”
Robins is ready to pick up where he left off as a manager. He added: “Through the period of administration at Rotherham, I rebuilt the team and that took us to the top of the league. But I should have stayed and seen the job through, there was definitely a promotion on the cards that season. People will say I can fire fight. But I also that I can build something that will get us a promotion. Coventry is a similar situation to the one I took over at Barnsley after seven games.”
Robins hopes he can use his top flight contacts to bring in new faces. He added: “I’ll be backed to the hilt, but we’ll balance the books and I won’t spend for the sake of it. I hope I’ve got unfinished business as a manager after my time at Rotherham and Barnsley. The players need to take responsibility. Let’s get back to remembering why we started playing in the football in the first place - players should enjoy it, there should be an element of fun I’ll make it fun at times, but we also have to be serious and do the job properly.”