A midfielder with a big heart, Carl Robinson typifies the sort of character Wolves Academy take pride in producing.
Plucked from Wales as a teenager, Robinson made 191 first-team appearances in gold and black and became a popular figure amongst supporters. Having retired in 2011, he is now Vancouver Whitecaps manager but takes time out to reflect on his ‘special’ time with the Wolves Academy.
Carl, can you start by telling us how your move to the Wolves Academy came about?
I was playing locally in Wales and as a 12-year-old I was asked to train at the Academy, but I turned it down so I could stay in Wales and play for my local team under the guidance of Mike Smith – a former Wales manager. I wanted to develop as a player in comfortable surroundings in Wales, but when I joined Wolves as a schoolboy at 14 it was one of my best decisions.
What are your earliest memories of being a young professional at Molineux in the 1990s?
The initiations. When you became a young professional, the senior players like Steve Bull and Keith Curle would stich you up. I had lots of good friends and I still do. You create bonds with players, some who’ve gone on to be coaches. We got to the latter stages of the FA Youth Cup, those times are special, and when you go on trips together – they stick out because you build a camaraderie.
You made your debut in 1997, how did you find the transition into the first-team at Wolves?
I was surrounded by senior players, which made it easier – players like Neil Emblen, who is Colorado Rapids assistant currently, Simon Osborn, John de Wolf and Steve Bull, so they treated me like I was their son. I get tired of seeing players spend a lot of time at clubs and leave under a cloud. There’s an appreciation factor I have for all of my clubs. You appreciate what’s given to you and I was given a fantastic opportunity at Wolves.
What did it mean to represent Wolves, having been at the club from schoolboy age?
The club is special for me because I signed as a schoolboy and made my professional debut there. I was called up to Wales while I was at Wolves, I’ve got gold and black in my blood. That’s what you get when you’re a lad coming through at Wolves and it’s one of the first results I look for now. They were some of the best times in my life. You appreciate when people are good to you, Wolves were good to me and my family. I spent many good years there and have nothing but positive words to say about the football club.
The Academy produces many players, what was it which made the set-up so special during your time at Wolves?
The people in charge at the Academy were top class. Chris Evans and Rob Kelly were my two coaches at that period of time. Ron Jukes was the Wolves scout who came and found me in deep, dark Wales but he has sadly passed now. I’m thankful for him spotting me and my coaches. Without their knowledge and background, I wouldn’t have had the career I did and be where I am today.
Having watched from afar, what has been the secret behind Wolves’ recent success in your eyes?
Every year they want to strive to be better. There’s never a standing still period, there’s always a self-reflection on the club. They’ve had disappointments and success, but the big plan has always been in place. Now the plan is coming to fruition. Last season they won the league quite comfortably and now they’re enjoying life in the Premier League. It’s not about one year, but three, four or five – stabilising in the league but we know that won’t be easy.
Finally, on a personal note, how have you found the transition between playing and management at Vancouver Whitecaps?
As a player, I always thought about others, not just myself. As a coach, you try to tap into players’ minds and see some focus on themselves, others focus on the team. It was a natural progression for me to go into coaching, it’s been in my blood since 15 when I left home. I’ve been in football so know what works and what doesn’t. I’ve got so much to learn so I listen to people. If you want to listen, you’ll progress. If you don’t listen, you might take a shortcut but end up back where you started. I enjoy being around the place at Vancouver and I’ll continue to do that for as long as I’m there.