I was absolutely stunned last Friday when I saw the news that Paul Robinson had left the club. There are always plenty of casualties within the playing squad when a team changes manager, but this announcement was a genuine shock, and the timing especially took me by surprise.
On July 5, Paul Cook named Robinson as club captain. On July 30, squad numbers were released, with Robinson switching from the 16 that he wore last season, to his preferred number 5. On July 31, he had left the club.
I’m not suggesting the squad number announcement is the clearest indicator of his importance to the club, but something must have changed between the captaincy decision and the point we are at now, because I don’t know too many clubs who would pick a captain that they believe could become surplus to requirements a matter of weeks later.
I wrote a blog halfway through last season stating that Robinson should wear the armband based on the leadership qualities and the fantastic levels of professionalism he has shown throughout his career. But also, and I guess this is why I just cannot get my head around his departure, his ability on the field made him a certainty to start every game he was available for.
For me, he was the most obvious captain appointment since Sol Campbell was chosen in the summer of 2007. Had he been Andy Awford’s skipper, it would maybe indicate that Paul Cook wanted to clear the decks and start afresh. But to show the faith in Robinson himself, only to let him go a month later, is unusual.
We are also now painfully short of experience amongst our defenders. Indeed, Cook even alluded to that at the start of July when he justified his decision to make Robinson our leader. Cook said: “At the back you have the likes of Whatmough, Webster and Burgess, who are young lads. Can you get a better role model than Robbo? I don’t think you can.”
Less than 24 hours after his departure had been announced on the official club website, Robinson turned out and scored for AFC Wimbledon in the Dons’ friendly victory over Cheltenham, so that would suggest he’d had the move lined up.
So why has he moved on? Many people would look at AFC Wimbledon and hope that they won’t be competing for automatic promotion, which is what everyone within Fratton Park has targeted. I also don’t buy the argument that he has been forced to join Wimbledon in order to get the regular football that he wouldn’t be guaranteed with us.
The almost unanimous response to the announcement on Friday was one of total bewilderment, which is normally the case for outgoing players who have been deemed ‘surplus to requirements’. I also believe that if Robinson was actually informed of that thinking, he would want to stay, fight for his place and prove to Cook that he is worthy of a regular spot.
Maybe the decision is down to finances. Robinson was reportedly one of the biggest earners, but with age not on his side, perhaps the club made the decision to prioritise younger defenders. Again, that seems like a slightly odd move, given that we are now in desperate need of a more experienced defender to lead the likes of Webster, Burgess, Matt Clarke and Whatmaugh when he returns. The defence is probably the last area of your team you’d prefer youth over experience, so to get rid of a hugely experienced Football League campaigner doesn’t make sense.
Maybe Robinson was not prepared to comply with Paul Cook’s requirement for all his players to live within a certain distance of the club. Earlier in the summer, Cook revealed he’d missed out on signings because he would not relax this policy, and added: “If they don’t live locally then they don’t sign, it’s as simple as that. And if you do know anyone that is travelling let me know and we will get rid of them!” Whilst the second line about getting rid of existing players may have been a little exaggerated, perhaps there has been a disagreement between player and club.
Whatever the full reasoning behind Robinson leaving the club, I am disappointed. He was a great on-field leader and I feel we are weaker without his presence around the club, the same presence Cook was delighted to have influencing his young defenders only a month ago. I wish Robbo all the best (except in the two games against us) because I see him as a fantastic pro and unfortunately they are not too common in football today. I don’t expect to hear any more from either player or club, but I think it’s fair to say that this has raised more questions than answers.