So farewell then Carl Robinson.
The Vancouver Whitecaps coach was “Released” today by the Vancouver Whitecaps just five games before the end of the season and there must be a sense of “release” in more than a few hearts given how flat out strange this season has been.
But Robinson started his time with Vancouver well and gave the club the steadying hand and defensive rigidity it so desperately needed.
But since that first campaign there’s never really been the sense that any significant progress would ever be made under his watch.
When players of genuine quality were brought in they could never quite find a role, leaving the coach tinkering with formations and systems until, with grim inevitability, he would head back to the comfort of two defensive midfielders and the familiar steadying hand and defensive rigidity would return.
And perhaps that really is all his time here ever was?
A constant ebb and flow of chaos followed by order and then order followed by chaos and so on and so on. At best Robinson turned out to be the solution to problems of his own creation and at worst he allowed the constant churn of players to cover up the stasis that had enveloped the club for at least the last two years.
Because Robinson wasn’t just hamstrung by the limitations of the players at his disposal, he was also hamstrung by his absolute belief in those limitations. The comfort of their failings was clung to like unassailable catechisms to become an overarching “Get Out of Jail Free” card for his own tactical timidity.
And that timidity really came to the fore in two defining playoff series.
In the first the Whitecaps travelled to a Timbers team playing on two days rest after a physically demanding ninety minutes, plus extra time, plus penalties against Kansas and, instead of going for the jugular, Robinson settled for a stalemate and was undone by a quick away goal in the second leg.
A braver or more ambitious club would have looked at those games and decided that he just wasn’t the man for the job.
But the Whitecaps didn’t do that. They stuck with their man and we all got to sit through those two playoff games against the Seattle Sounders where Vancouver were barely interested in scoring a goal let alone wining the tie.
Once again Robinson had retreated into a sense of inferiority when the chips were down.
That really, really should have been that but, once again, the Front Office crossed their fingers and hoped for the best and that’s how we got to this debacle of a season.
Players signed for no apparent reason, players played with no regard to form or position and Robinson and his coaching staff becoming more and more embittered with every passing failure.
Firing him now isn’t a brave act at all, it’s the act of desperate people and nobody comes out of the situation looking good.
But what could/should Robinson have done differently? Or even do differently in his next appointment?
Well for one thing he should start coaching like the young coach he is.
More often than not his whole approach to the game is more akin to a sixty-eight year old grizzled veteran of one too many lower league relegation scraps than a man in his first lead coaching role.
Talk of pragmatism and effort and the “boys wanting it” aren’t really the done thing now and the best coaches in the world manage to convey a kind of joy about the game.
Imagine how great that would be?
Not only working in the game he loves but putting across that love through the way his team play on the field.
Trusting gifted players to use their gifts and encouraging limited players to move beyond their limitations.
He might even have fun.
And you know what else might be fun? Engaging with the fans.
I can’t think of a time where Robinson has celebrated a Whitecaps goal with the whole stadium. Losing himself in the collective joy of the moment.
Instead he celebrates within the insular world of the bench. All boys together proving all the world wrong.
True that sense of resentment can be put to good effect in the right circumstance but fans notice these things. They notice the half-hearted applause in their direction on the walk to the bench, they notice how little mention or thanks or acknowledgment they get in interviews and that absence costs a deal of goodwill at the times when a coach might really need it.
Only time will tell where Robinson goes from here and whether he prospers or falters but we need to remember to always keep the distinction between the human being and the job.
By all accounts Robinson was popular with the players, popular with the media who cover the Whitecaps and popular with opponents.
Why that popularity failed to translate in his public persona is hard to say but what we can say is that while we can happily bid “good riddance” to Carl Robinson the coach we can at least wish “good luck” to Carl Robinson the man.