Why Motherwell have the perfect manager in Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson has signed a new Motherwell deal with assistant Keith Lasley. Picture: SNS
Stephen Robinson has signed a new Motherwell deal with assistant Keith Lasley. Picture: SNS
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"We will keep moving forward and developing."

On Thursday morning Motherwell announced a contract extension for the management team of Stephen Robinson and Keith Lasley.

The decision to hand the duo new deals until 2022 was met with a largely positive reaction from Well fans, one supporter noting that, despite the arrival of nine players, they are the "best signings of the season so far".

As ever with football fans, such an announcement is never going to get unanimous backing with supporters always looking at what appears to be greener grass on the other side.

What can't be disputed is the influence and transformative effect the Northern Irishman has had at Fir Park after taking over on an interim basis in late February 2017.

Days after a 5-1 humbling by Dundee at home, Mark McGhee was relieved of his duties with the side in 11th place. Suspicions were raised regarding Robinson's position after he had only returned to the club for his second coaching spell earlier that month to assist the outgoing manager.

In addition, the Steelmen were in a desperate position - two points off bottom with 12 games to go. An in-house appointment very rarely stimulates the home support but he was handed the permanent role in March.

Working with what he had, Robinson ignored the outside noise and manoeuvred Well to safety with one game to spare.

That was a mere, but also necessary, precursor to what was to follow. He ripped up a side which had slipped from the heady days of a second and two third place finishes under Stuart McCall and got to work.

Having experienced a shambolic situation in his previous managerial gig at Oldham Athletic where he started with just three professional players, the requirements at Fir Park seemed a doddle. Seventeen players were moved on with the same number arriving.

Of the starting XI which secured safety with a 3-1 win over Kilmarnock in the penultimate match of the 2016-2017 season, there were only three starters come the first game after the summer transfer window of the following season - also against Killie.

But more than simply moving players on and bringing players in, Robinson forged an identity, using knowledge picked up as part of the Northern Ireland coaching staff for Euro 2016 where he assisted Michael O'Neill.

He said: "Michael and I didn’t have the best players in the world but maybe they could end up running faster than other guys. Maybe they could end up tackling harder. Maybe they could be better organised. These things don’t take talent.

“I thought at Motherwell there would be that spirit and desire and willingness to work. I knew it was everywhere off the pitch where so many good people do things which go unnoticed."

Anyone who watched Motherwell during the 2017-2018 season will know all about their identity. The work ethic, the personality. It rubbed opposition managers, players and fans up the wrong way.

However, they made no apologies for it.

He said: “We study things and we’ve created a reputation for ourselves. We’re physical and we play with a high tempo and lots of energy but we do it well within the rules.

“However, if people are thinking that way about us then they’re not overly comfortable coming up against us, which means once we’ve won that battle we can concentrate on playing football.

“We’ve done that on many occasions but I’m not the type of manager who’s going to bleat about how we want to be recognised for our ability – we’ve created an identity for ourselves."

They pushed the boundaries and even went beyond them - just ask ex-Rangers defender Fabio Cardoso who was left bloodied by striker Ryan Bowman - but it was largely successful. They reached two cups finals, after years of struggles in the domestic competitions, and pushed for the top six.

The football wasn't everyone's cup of tea but it was effective and, in this writer's opinion, entertaining. Direct, in your face and high tempo.

Yet, there was only so long it would be able to last before it got too one-dimensional, too agricultural, too unfashionable to watch.

Speaking back in April, Robinson said: “I’m aware that it needs to be refined and we’ll need to add to that if we’re to keep progressing but we also have to be careful we don’t change what’s made us relatively successful."

The transformation from the robust Motherwell of 17-18 to the slicker 18-19 edition was stark, led by the technical skills of David Turnbull.

The aggression, organisation and pace remained. But there were more strings to the club's bow. In Turnbull, Gboly Aryibi and Jake Hastie, the team had individuals who worked within the collective.

And it is the collective which is paramount at Fir Park.

Under fan ownership, any decision made by the club has to be the right one or the club can be dented significantly, especially when it comes to finances.

Robinson has bought into and understands his role. He needs to provide an environment for young talent to flourish. Motherwell openly talk of themselves as a selling club. It is what they need to do to survive and thrive.

Under Robinson, significant money has been brought in with the transfers Ben Heneghan and Cedric Kipre.

If Chris Cadden leaves another will be forthcoming. If it wasn't for an injury noted during his medical, the club would have received their highest fee for the sale of Turnbull to Celtic. Then there are those players, namely Hastie, who left on a free but would have fetched much-welcomed money.

Now, with a contract extension in place, Robinson is building his third iteration ahead of the start of the Ladbrokes Premiership next month.

At Fir Park it is about trying to move forward, to constantly refine and evolve. In Robinson they have the perfect man in place.