WHILE almost all the other headlines that morning testified to yet more grim findings of football corruption, one stood out for its sheer, knock-your-socks-off uniqueness – “Shock horror: Scottish footballer rated at £30 million.”
All right, we’re paraphrasing slightly, but that was the general gist. So what did Andy Robertson, Scotland’s talented young left-back, think about the price tag placed on him by club manager Steve Bruce? “It’s very flattering but I don’t read too much into it,” he said. Then came a smile and a laugh: “Maybe he’d had a few beers on holiday when he came up with that one!”
“It makes me feel good that my manager holds me in high regard but I don’t read too much into that. We’ll wait and see”Andy Robertson
You don’t get the impression there’s very much which perturbs the Hull City defender. Not rave reviews at Dundee United, not a move to England’s Premier League, not coming up against some of the world’s best. And Saturday’s crunch qualifier in Dublin for Euro 2016? He can’t wait.
First, though, he has to get back in the team. An injury in training required him to give way to Derby County’s Craig Forsyth for the friendly against Qatar. To look forward to the thousand-times-more-meaningful Republic of Ireland clash, the 21-year-old Robertson first looked back to the Celtic Park game between the teams last November: “In the last match people expected [Seamus] Coleman and [Aiden] McGeady to be attacking for Ireland but Ikechi [Anya] and I dealt with them well. We stopped their threat and that will be the aim again, but I have to get into the team first because Craig has just played well and staked a claim for a start. All the boys will be fighting this week to get in the team because everyone’s desperate to play. The manager will have a hard job picking 11 players and he’ll be happy about that.”
Robertson reported that “excitement was building” for Dublin within Gordon Strachan’s group. The players were given the weekend off but today it would be back to full focus on the Irish, who Robertson expects will be keen to show more football this time.
“I think the game will be like the last one, more like a club cup-tie than an international, just as physical. We played well against them last year and I’d say the better football came from us. There were big challenges early doors and that was to be expected, but we managed to get the ball down and tried to play. I’m sure Ireland didn’t do that as much as they’d have wanted but that was because of us pressing higher and winning the ball back. They accepted afterwards they weren’t at their best and will be trying to up their game. But we’ll be aiming to do the same.” Then you got a reminder of Robertson’s steely determination which his boyishness can mask: “The last game, it’s gone now. We can’t be thinking about that anymore because it’s the one in front of us that matters.”
Robertson thought that last night he would watch the Republic’s friendly with England – but not, he stressed, to learn something new about them because Scotland will “know what to expect” come Saturday. Was he surprised the Irish had taken on a much more challenging warm-up than his own team? “Not really because I don’t think it makes much of a difference. We played our game to get up to speed. Ireland may have taken on a bigger game… their focus will still be on us.”
The seemingly-unfazed Robertson did admit, however, that there was one thing which was bugging him – relegation. Hull have just dropped down to the Championship and he doesn’t expect to get over this any time soon. “I think the disappointment of being relegated will stick with me until the end of my career. I don’t think I will get over it until then,” he said. “But at the moment it’s out of my head because I’m focused on the Ireland match. There are no worries that I’m hesitant about this one. Something like the same thing happened last season when I lost the Scottish Cup final [with Dundee Utd] but then I played against Nigeria [in his first start for his country] and that was great.
“Next season at Hull we’ll just have to try and forget about what’s happened and get on with things. The relegation thing won’t go away but I’ve got the chance to end my season on a high if we can win in Ireland.”
Arsenal are rumoured to be interested in offering Robertson a ticket back to England’s top flight and it’s this which has prompted Bruce’s £30 million valuation. “Ach,” he said, “my right foot is useless and hasn’t been on show at all so I can’t agree with the gaffer there.” Bruce pointed out that if Manchester United were prepared to pay £30 million for a left-back – Luke Shaw – then Robertson was every bit as good as the ex-Southampton man. “His comments are very nice. What Luke did at Southampton was amazing and maybe he struggled a bit this season going to such a big club. It makes me feel good that my manager holds me in high regard but I don’t read too much into that. We’ll wait and see.”
Some might reckon that a Scottish double over the Irish would finish the latter’s hopes of qualification – not Robertson. “It’s a massive game but it won’t put anyone out. If we were to fall apart after getting three points then they’d be right back in it.”
One thing, though: Scotland will be going for the victory. “Under the gaffer we always try to win games. You saw that in Poland when we went 2-1 up and they were the ones chasing. He’ll pick a team he believes can go out there and win.”