BARRY ROBSON will always have a soft spot for Inverness Caledonian Thistle. But it will not in any way dilute the hard-nosed Aberdeen midfielder’s desire to leave them wallowing in cup final despair on Sunday.
At 35, Robson is enjoying an Indian summer to a fine playing career which he freely admits was rescued from failure by his early years at Inverness.
He joined the Highland club, then still in the third tier of Scottish football, as an 18-year-old who had failed to make the breakthrough at Rangers as a consequence of what he says were his own inadequacies.
“Inverness did a lot for me,” reflects Robson. “I was at Rangers as a kid and it didn’t quite work out. Physically and mentally, I wasn’t ready. So Inverness was a place I could go back to and learn my trade. I learned how to work hard and how to mentally approach the game and your whole life to become a football player.
“I’m lucky that Inverness helped me do that. There are some great people at that club. For the size of the club, they have punched above their weight. I think they would agree with that. They were great to me and it was a great learning curve for me.
“But Inverness is long gone for me now, it was over 10 years ago. I wish the club well, but everyone knows my main aim is to win silverware with Aberdeen.”
Since leaving Inverness for Dundee United in 2003, Robson has become one of Scottish football’s most consistent and admired midfield players. He has tasted the rarefied heights of Champions League football with Celtic, scoring on his debut in the competition against Barcelona at Parkhead, and has earned 17 Scotland caps.
But the man from Inverurie believes helping the club he supported as a boy to win the League Cup this weekend would at least match anything else he has done in the game.
“Whether it’s winning the league with Celtic, playing in the Champions League or winning a cup with Aberdeen, it all means the same to me,” added Robson.
“When you’ve got that feeling of being out there and you’ve enjoyed it, it doesn’t feel any better than doing it anywhere else. It just feels brilliant. So it’s just going to mean as much to me as anything else I’ve achieved.
“I’m not a world class player or anything. I’ve been lucky enough to play in a few big games and enjoy them. But everything you achieve, when you win a league or you win a cup, it’s all that same fantastic feeling. It would just be as good as anything else I’ve done.”
Robson has been an influential figure in the Aberdeen resurgence masterminded by Derek McInnes with the club sitting in second place in the Premiership and now favourites to lift both the League Cup and Scottish Cup this season.
“I don’t know if it has exceeded my expectations,” said Robson. “We’ll need to see how it pans out. But I knew we had a great structure in place with the manager and coaching staff. I knew we had some really talented players.
“I knew if we put a lot of hard work in, we could achieve something pretty good. We haven’t done that yet, but it’s there for us now if we want it. So we have to make sure we give it our best on Sunday against a good team who will make it tough.
“We’ve played a few big games already this season and the boys have handled them well. The younger boys here are the type who are willing to learn and to work hard.
“If you get older players who prepare in the right way, looking after yourself and making sure you are concentrating on what the manager is trying to put across, then the young boys are going to follow on.
“It’s something we have done all season. The manager leads from the front, we try to follow on and put it across to the young boys. There’s been a balance there. If the young boys have any problems, they can easily come to us. They are good kids - they give us old boys a fair bit of banter.
“I thought winning silverware was a possibility when I joined Aberdeen. I think it’s a possibility for any team in the Scottish Premiership to get into a cup final.
“Rangers have obviously had a lot of problems, which everyone knows about. Over the years, there has been a lot of dominance from the Old Firm. But Rangers’ problems have opened the door over the last couple of years and any team should be thinking at the start of a season that they have a really good chance of reaching a final.”
The migration of 40,000 Aberdeen fans to the east end of Glasgow this weekend has left no-one in any doubt as to the significance of the occasion for the Pittodrie club. Not that Robson required any education on that front.
“My family are from Aberdeen and I know what it means to the fans,” he said. “That’s why I was very thankful when the manager brought me to the club last summer.
“The expectation is there anyway, no matter how many tickets our fans have bought. It’s a cup final, it’s a big game for everyone all round.
“I’ll be out of pocket again - I’ve got loads of family and friends coming down for the game. It’ll be one of those ones - ‘I’ll square you up for that ticket later!’. This cup final will cost me money, I’ll tell you that! But it’s great that your family and friends can have a great day out like the rest of the fans.
“Our fans have been really good this season, they’ve put their money where their mouths are. This is a game where we want to do well for them, for our families and for ourselves. We just need to do what we’ve been doing all season and try to make sure we take the trophy back up the road.”