RYAN Bertrand is a decent full-back, I think most would accept that as a given, wouldn’t they?
But that wasn’t always the case.
You see, in the summer of 2014, when Brendan Rodgers was said to covet Bertrand, people baulked at the notion, saying he was a no mark, average at best — the analysis broadly based on a stint on loan at a struggling Aston Villa, fighting relegation. A peculiar prism through which to view the attributes of a player Rodgers had coached as a kid, whose European Cup winner’s medal was then still glistening in his hip pocket, but hey the Twitterati knows best, doesn’t it? Fast forward three years, with Bertrand playing consistently in a different context, within a more successful and progressive system, and for a more successful and progressive club, and hey presto. Despite the fact he’s much the same player as he was back in 2014 (just with three years more experience), he’s in fashion.
When we were linked with him, I remember feeling bemused at the snobbery. People refused to even try and look for the raw tools the player had at his disposal, let alone think how they might translate into a Liverpool side or system. Context was never taken into account. I remember saying, “Bertrand would do just fine”. I also remember saying, as the summer progressed and we flirted with a move for Alberto Moreno, “Why don’t we just sign Andy Robertson?”
“Who?”, would have been the typical response back then, were anybody listening. But three years on, it seems that Liverpool are linked with … you guessed it — Robertson. I’d argue that’s no bad thing, and my argument is largely based on context.
In 2013-14, when Luis Suarez and Liverpool set English football alight, a somewhat quieter footballing renaissance was taking place north of the border at Dundee United. A group of young players made their breakthrough that season, and had suddenly, despite their tender age, found themselves comprehensively outplaying and outscoring teams that were far superior on paper, both in experience and in supposed market value.
The side played with energy, pace, and intelligent movement, and was coached to express itself; pass one touch, play with the head up, and take a chance and play when they saw something was on. The youngest of the group, a playmaker called Ryan Gauld, received most of the media spotlight at the time, but two players truly stood out in that company as potentially ready for immediate propulsion to a bigger stage: Stuart Armstrong (now flourishing under Rodgers at Celtic) and Robertson.
Robertson went on to win the Scottish young player of the year award that season. He had signed for United in the summer of 2013 from Queen’s Park and, then aged 19, Robertson really took me by surprise. A slip of a lad, he was quick, earnest, and positive. He did the simple things well, and was defensively sound. All good as far as things go for a teenage debutant. But then gradually it dawned on you that this kid was able to run a game from left-back. Yes, this was the Scottish Premier League, but at 19, that wasn’t half bad.
What do I mean by run a game? Well, think of full-backs who can run games. What do they do? What are they capable of? This kid could read when something was on, and take the initiative, drive his side up the park, and make the kind of incisive decisions on and off the ball that would cut defences to ribbons. As the season progressed, during games when the young side were struggling, it emerged that Robertson had more in the locker. He’d inject the extra gear the side needed. Urgency can be sparked from anywhere on the park, and he’d up the tempo, sparking the quick incisive passing his team-mates had been coached through their youth system to play. When the air of stalemate set in, Robertson would take possession in a little space, and you’d see that little moment of pause, the shouldering of the bridle, and he’d set off and initiate the kind of penetrative one-two ping-pong passing move that became the distinctive characteristic of that team. Sound familiar? It does to me. Robertson, routinely on the end of what he’d started, would often find himself in on the ‘keeper on the apex of the six-yard box, or squaring to an open man for a clear shot on goal.
He was the only one of the group to gain a Scotland call-up. He shone on his debut. Gordon Strachan raved about his natural bravery on the ball.
That was the pattern.
So where would he go?
The Scottish Premier League is viewed with distrust these days. It’s a sea change from when I was young, when Liverpool cherry picked the finest talents from the Scottish First Division to populate the spine of its side. While the standard has fallen so low these days that the mistrust is maybe understandable, a player is a player. The league you find him in doesn’t matter quite as much when you’re sure you have a footballer. A number of recent movers illustrate this, not least the Celtic triumvirate of Fraser Forster, Victor Wanyama and one Virgil van Dijk (remember him?). But it’s easier for Southampton — they can blood these players and let them develop. It’s more difficult at Liverpool (just look at Danny Wilson). And Southampton might have been fine for Robertson, had they not secured the services of Bertrand. But Hull? Steve Bruce? What a shame — it was like putting a silk hat on a pig (and all for less than £3 million).
You worried that in stylistic terms, having flourished in a setup where he’d been encouraged to lead and express himself, he might find life in Hull difficult. Bruce had his moments, but you’d never have held him up as a champion of progressive football. Robertson would need to learn to operate within more defensive strictures, and to defend first, and think about countering later. In spite of this, though, there were early flashes of potential following his move — a game away at the Etihad that saw him singled out for praise on Match Of The Day, and an opening month that saw him win Hull’s player of the month. His first international goal followed soon after. Playing against Roy Hodgson’s England, and having had a fairly torrid evening all round, Robertson scored Scotland’s only goal in what ended a 3-1 defeat, but the goal was typical of his key strength — another moment of penetrative initiative, a one-two ping-ponged pass and move exchange, and a finish at Joe Hart’s near post as the return ball found him advancing on the apex of the six-yard box.
But the Robertson story then lost momentum, perhaps inevitably given his destination. The winter brought injury and, on returning after a lengthy spell on the sidelines, the requirements of a relegation-battling side began to take hold. The more conservative of the Hull faithful would comment on his defensive solidity, saying he still had a lot to learn. They expected things of him that to date hadn’t been natural to him. But learn he did … 111 games’ worth of learning in total.
The last three seasons’ worth of statistics thus portray a player transitioning to a more prosaic brand of football, with the setup under Bruce and Mike Phelan more traditional fare. His numbers for tackles, interceptions, blocks, clearances, all are strong — stronger than Bertrand, for example. You’d have been forgiven for thinking he’s a solid, unremarkable journeyman of a player. But it’s no surprise given Hull spent most of that time defending for their lives. It was only in the last six months under Marco Silva that Robertson seemed to revive his natural instincts, and he began to shine again. Funny how that works, isn’t it? Introduce the right manager and system, and a positive, high energy brand of football, and Robertson is elevated to a different level. A manager inclined to encourage players to express themselves, to take the initiative, and to lead. Sound familiar?
Like Bertrand, Robertson is much the same talent he was in 2014, just with three years of defensive drilling and a bed of solid top flight experience behind him. All that’s lacking is the right context, and at the key point in the development of his career. Drop him into this Liverpool squad and you’ll see a player that fits. Energy, stamina, initiative, positivity and teamwork. We know what Jürgen Klopp wants from his players in terms of the basics, and of character, and of work ethic. But more than that, Klopp wants clever players. He wants players who can pick a pocket, and who are calm and ruthless in their decision making. The evidence for that doesn’t always jump out in the stats if the setup doesn’t encourage that approach, or if those who might capitalise from such qualities aren’t quite as capable or emphatic. Those things aren’t a problem at Liverpool.
Robertson is quick, and he’s as technical as he needs to be, but it’s between his ears that he has that little bit extra. He’s a fish out of water who craves the kind of setup Liverpool will give him. Drop him in and he’ll feel right at home — and so will we. The question then is how high his ceiling could be.
If we do sign him, and you think he’s just a stop gap, wait and see. He’ll prove you wrong.
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda Photo
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Good read. A deviation from the stale, plagiarised, obvious articles that’s published and republished on so many sites.
Regarding Robertson, I will leave it to JK and the coaching and scouting staff, for they know far better than I ever will.
I could not agree more with this article. I have seen him play for Scotland on numerous occasions and he never fails to shine. He would be a great addition to our squad and is an upgrade on Moreno for sure. Let’s put it this way, if he was English he’d be pressuring Bertrand for the left back slot.
It’s almost like your asking Liverpool fans to use their imagination, or perhaps their brains, or perhaps even to trust their manager. Such folly.
Well, you sold me – here’s hoping Herr Klopp has time to read this article
his aeriel duel win % is low, moreno level 20-25% along with clyne who sits around that
Milner is 45%
Kyle walker is up over 60%
He is not good enough going forward to get over that
This comment reminds me of a Bible quote:
‘Let no man speaketh his mind lest The Almighty Blade of Statdom smite him with terrible finality.’
Stats can not –and will never– tell the whole story.
I really despair at the fact that LFC have a small army of scouts dotted all around the country and across Europe and basically instead of spotting a raw diamond here or there (e.g. Mahrez, Kante, vDijk), while they can be had for a mere 7 fig sum, we have to wait for Soton (or someone else, but usually them lot), to unearth someone and then we spunk 5 times their aquisition fee on a transfer.
WTF are all these scouts getting paid to do? Beggers belief.
Rough diamonds need time and space to make mistakes. Most fans aren’t willing to let that happen. So they go to smaller clubs, get game time and experience and then bigger clubs pick them off paying exorbitant fees.
Do you see any irony in making this point in an article about a promising young player who LFC might be picking up on the cheap? No? Just me then.
I think there is a big overlap in the people who complain that our scouting doesn’t identify players before they cost £20m+, and those who complain every time we are linked with a player who might cost less than £20m+ (“we need established stars, not promising players…” “Moneyball… FSG out….” etc.)
Great read. Real insight and expertise. Thank you!
Brilliant as ever chaps. He sounds like the player we would have bought in the 70’s or 80’s or 90’s. I hope he comes our way
Yeah, he does. Great point.
We need more Scots at LFC. I miss the strong Scottish link we had in the 80’s.
Really good read that. It’s convinced me. Not that I needed that much convincing. Up the Reds.
Great read as always Roy. Hope you’re well.
Ha, I’ve gone from praying we sign someone better to him being my number 1 target for left back in the space of 10 mins.
He Seems like a Decent lad with Full of Potential.He’s the Kind of Player that Klopp needs given that he’s played in the PL before with Hull & moreover that he’s Scottish. The latter Statement is Crucial in that Liverpool have always given opportunities to Local English,Irish & Scottish players which also conforms with FA & UEFA Requirements.John Flanagan is Another local lad that I’d Love to See given a Trial @LB by Klopp.
Well if you are ever looking for a job Roy, Liverpool could do with a scout or two. Fine article.
Nice one Roy, great insight.
Him or Tierney? I said go direct to Celtic and snap up Tierney, rather than our usual route
Celtic -> Mid-Table Premier league Club -> By the time we show a keen interest, player’s value would have risen through the roof.
If they wanna continue this moneyball thingy, our scouts hv to do a lot better and spot those talents way way back while they are relative unknowns…
Ta for the comments all. I made an error with the Queens Park bit – McNamara had been manager at Partick Thistle. Apologies!
(Oh and you shoulder a yoke, not a bridle. Doh!)
Oh, and Tierney? He’d do just fine.
Good article twitter really is getting worse by the day.It’s so tough and you need so much luck to fulfil your potential i really hope Andy gets this break he deserves for his attitude and hard work and in no doubt for me his ability.
Can’t see what would be wrong with this deal. He doesn’t improve much, he can stay back-up and we get a first choice left back when Milner moves on. He kicks on, he becomes first choice.
Roy Henderson you made my day. Very refreshing – bordering “old school Liverpool” logic and I like you article a lot. The ability to seek out the gems – though they may not all come off. If only we could do it under the radar in this media hyped transfer age.
well written roy, enjoyable read.
I am fucking *in*.
Twitter is a festering bag of shite.
I’d be perfectly happy with Robertson He’s got the energy to cover defensive and attacking positions and is purposeful going forward. He also looks like he could do a good slide tackle as well. As mentioned ealier by others, Tierney would do nicely too.
Just Brilliant as always Roy, welcome back!
Great article Roy. I agree with you . He has always caught my eye with his intelligence and his movement during the rare moments that hull would foray forward. He will be a great fit for liverpool
I loved reading this. Nice one Roy.
PS – your profile pic is harrowing.
Spot on article.
From a Dundee United fan who had the pleasure of watching Andy for a season I can tell you that you have signed a diamond – he came to us when it was genuinely “Andy Who?” He was signed expecting to be a back up LB but proved that good in pre-season he started the first game of the season (against Patrick Thistle on a sunny Friday night). He stood out in that very first game and just got better and better.
He is the sort of player LFC fans will love if they, and JK, give him a chance. Gutsy, dynamic, energy and pace allied to good ability.
James Milner is a fine player and did a great job last season but he will have a battle on his hands I feel.
A-Rob is at a great age, and stage of his career- this is what he has been working for and I really think he will grasp this opportunity with both hands.
He will be playing with much more talented players which will ultimately favour him.
He appears to be a great lad as well (United have been in free fall the last couple of years) but he was at the recent playoffs final chatting away to fans etc.
In summary, a very good footballer, a switched on good guy, a Scottish international at the perfect age.
All the best Andy, and all the best LFC
i remember phil neal not costing much the history books will tell you the rest at Liverpool football club
And what a player he has turned out to be. One ofte top 5 left backs in the world the last 9 months. Fantastic scouting job Mr Henderson.
Reading this article now one year later is just mindblowing…
This has aged a bit well.