Sir Bobby Robson is number 41 in 90min's Top 50 Great Managers of All Time series. Follow the rest of the series over the course of the next 10 weeks.
"What is a club in any case? Not the buildings or the directors or the people who are paid to represent it. It’s not the television contracts, get-out clauses, marketing departments or executive boxes. It’s the noise, the passion, the feeling of belonging, the pride in your city.
It’s a small boy clambering up stadium steps for the very first time, gripping his father’s hand, gawping at that hallowed stretch of turf beneath him and, without being able to do a thing about it, falling in love."
One of the most iconic quotes in the history of football reveals just what kind of manager, and man, Sir Bobby Robson was.
Robson penned these words in his book Newcastle: My Kind of Toon back in 2008, just one year before he would pass away due to lung cancer. One could argue that this statement, more than any other, reflects a wonderful footballing mind who understood the game from a fan's perspective like few people ever have - or ever will. It was this understanding - this genuine love for the game - that endeared Sir Bobby to fans, players and coaches the world over, and has cemented his legacy as one of the great men in football history.
Sir Bobby had a fairly extensive playing career which spanned two decades, playing as a forward for Fulham, West Brom and the Vancouver Royals. He also made 20 appearances for England's national team, scoring four goals.
Of course, Robson isn't typically remembered for his career as a player, but rather his accomplishments as a manager across Europe.
Indeed, it's rare to see a manager have success in multiple countries - especially a British manager. But Robson was cut from a different cloth.
Between 1969 and 1982, Robson proved his pedigree as a tactician and motivator, turning Ipswich Town into one of the best teams in Europe. Under Sir Bobby's stewardship, the Tractor Boys won the FA Cup and the UEFA Cup, instantly turning the great man into an Ipswich legend.
With such success at Portman Road, it was only a matter of time before the FA came knocking at Robson's door, and in 1982 he took the reins as the new head coach of the England national team.
His tenure with the Three Lions didn't get off to the best of starts, with England failing to qualify for the 1984 European Championships - despite only losing one match in the qualifying campaign. But it was the upcoming World Cups - in 1986 and 1990 - where Robson endeared himself to the nation.
After being cruely dumped out of the tournament in Mexico to Diego Maradona's Argentina, Robson addressed Maradona's claim that his infamous 'hand of God' goal was the product of divine intervention.
"It wasn't the hand of God. It was the hand of a rascal. God had nothing to do with it... That day, Maradona was diminished in my eyes forever."
Four years later, Robson would take England to the semi-finals of Italia '90, further than any manager had accomplished since Sir Alf Ramsey in 1966 (it took 28 years before that feat would be matched by Gareth Southgate).
Once again, England would suffer heartbreak on penalties to West Germany, but it was Robson's ridiculous yet impassioned jig in the prior win against Belgium, and his subsequent mentorship of Paul Gascoigne prior to the penalty shootout against the Germans, that revealed Robson's heart and compassion and unique understanding of the impact football can have on all of us.
|Texaco Cup (1972/73)|
|FA Cup (1977/78)|
|UEFA Cup (1980/81)|
|Eredivisie (1990/91, 1991/92)|
|Johan Cruyff Shield (1998)|
|Primeira Division (1994/95, 1995/96)|
|Taça de Portugal (1993/94)|
|Supertaça Cândido de Oliveira (1993, 1994)|
|Copa del Rey (1996/97)|
|Supercopa de España (1996)|
|European Cup Winners' Cup (1996/97)|
|European Manager of the Year 1996/97)|
|English Football of Fame Inductee (2003)|
|BBC Sports Personality of the Year Lifetime Achievement Award (2007)|
Following his time with England, Robson took his first steps into continental management, joining PSV Eindhoven. It was here that he was first diagnosed with bowel cancer, but successfully defeated the disease after three months of treatment.
Robson moved to Sporting CP in July 1992 where he would begin working with a young interpreter named Jose Mourinho.
After Robson was sacked in December of 1993 - despite Sporting sitting top of the league - Porto moved quickly to sign the Englishman, which proved to be a masterstroke. Robson guided the Dragons to back-to-back league titles, as well as victory over Sporting in the Taça de Portugal final.
Sir Bobby Robson and Jose Mourinho at Porto. pic.twitter.com/xId0F9uwrr— 90s Football (@90sfootball) March 20, 2016
What makes Robson's achievements with Porto more astounding is that he was battling malignant melanoma - which required surgeons to take out his teeth and tunnel through the roof of his mouth, leaving him with a partially prosthetic upper jaw.
Now, after undergoing an operation like that, many managers would be forgiven for taking a prolonged break from the game - if not retiring completely.
Not Sir Bobby.
In 1996 he moved to Barcelona, with the unenviable task of replacing the legendary Johan Cruyff in the dugout at Camp Nou. Robson was not exactly a popular appointment in Catalonia, with many questioning his tactical ideas and pedigree to succeed a club icon in Cruyff. The pressure on Robson was intense - and let's not forget the man was recovering from a life-saving operation!
Rising to the challenge, Robson made a crucial signing which would come to dictate world football for years, breaking the world record to sign a 20-year-old Ronaldo from PSV for £13.2m.
Ronaldo was an integral member of Robson's Barcelona side, scoring 47 goals in 49 games as he helped La Blaugrana win the Copa del Rey, Supercopa de España and European Cup Winners' Cup.
Robson himself was voted European Manager of the Year for 1996–97, yet despite bringing a treble to Catalonia, Robson's style of play never quite meshed with the Barcelona faithful, and after one season he was moved to an executive position at the club, with Louis van Gaal assuming command in the trenches.
Eventually, Robson would make his way back to his native England, following a brief stint at PSV in 1998. He would take charge of his beloved Newcastle United, a club he had grown up supporting and dreamed of playing for. Robson took the Magpies from bottom of the Premier League to a fourth-place finish in the 2001/02 season, securing Champions League football for the Toon Army.
If that wasn't incredible enough, the next season Newcastle finished third, and once again found themselves in Europe. The Magpies haven't graced the Champions League since.
Throughout his tenure as a manager, Robson showed a remarkable will to fight and succeed - not just against his critics or in the dugout, but also against the disease that was ravaging his body.
He was sacked by Newcastle owner Freddy Shepherd in 2004, and in 2006 he was diagnosed with lung cancer. Later that year, after collapsing at Portman Road, doctors removed a brain tumour that left Robson partially paralysed on the left side of his body. In 2007, he received his fifth diagnosis of cancer - this time, the doctors informed him it would be terminal.
But Sir Bobby wasn't ready to give in just yet. In March 2008, he launched the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, which raised over £1m to fund equipment for the Sir Bobby Robson Cancer Trials Research Centre. The Foundation funds projects within the Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust that directly benefit cancer patients from across north-east England and Cumbria – and which also contribute significantly to international research into the disease.
On 31 July, 2009, Sir Bobby Robson passed away from lung cancer, aged just 76. Upon the news of his death, tributes from the footballing world came flooding in.
"Bobby Robson is one of those people who never die, not so much for what he did in his career, for one victory more or less, but for what he knew to give to those who had, like me, the good fortune to know him and walk by his side."
"In my 23 years working in England there is not a person I would put an inch above Bobby Robson. I mourn the passing of a great friend, a wonderful individual, a tremendous football man and somebody with passion and knowledge of the game that was unsurpassed. His character was hewn out of the coal face, developed by the Durham County mining background that he came from.
"His parents instilled in him the discipline and standards which forged the character of a genuinely colossal human being."
-Sir Alex Ferguson
Robson was so much more than a football manager. He was a warm and kind soul, a mentor, an entertainer, a trailblazer, a fighter - a legend. Few people have ever had the impact he made on so many people in the world of sports, nor the success he enjoyed at so many different clubs in numerous countries.
Make no mistake - we will never see the likes of Sir Bobby Robson again.