Name: David Robertson
DOB: 17 October 1968 (age 45)
Position: Left back
Clubs: Aberdeen, Rangers, Leeds United, Montrose
International caps: Three
David Robertson’s career underlines both the abundance of talent Scotland once possessed and the contrasting dearth of quality players we now have to choose from. In the early nineties we had a player performing excellently on a consistent basis for a team that regularly romped to the title and competed in the Champions League group stage, and yet he earned only three caps. It seems almost unthinkable nowadays that someone of Robertson’s talent would not even hit double figures. And yet that’s what occurred. He waited patiently behind Maurice Malpas for a number of years, and then when Malpas became too old for international consideration he found himself stationed behind Tom Boyd and Tosh McKinley in the pecking order. His debut came in early 1992; two years later he played his final match. Two friendlies (versus Northern Ireland and The Netherlands) and one competitive appearance (against Switzerland) in a 1994 World Cup qualifier was all he had to show.
There are those, however, who believe he got exactly the right amount of recognition his talent deserved. There are even Rangers fans who now believe that Robertson, while a good player, was not quite on the same calibre as some of the other stars of that early 90s team. His talents were obvious to anybody that watched him: blistering pace, limitless energy, a solid tackler. However, while many considered him capable on the defensive side of his game, there were those who weren’t convinced he was really a top defender. Also, his crossing into the box often left a lot to be desired.
One group of football supporters who would disagree with such an opinion, albeit grudgingly, is Aberdeen fans. Robertson showed up on the scene as a 17-year old in 1986 and found himself thrust into the first team while the ink was still drying. The left-back position had been a problem at Aberdeen for a number of years – it would be a problem for a number of years after he left – and they were desperate to find someone capable on the left side of the back four. Despite just turning 18 in October of that season, Robertson played 39 times as the Dons finished fourth in the Scottish Premier Division, though they did have the second best defence.
His appearances dropped down for the next three seasons through a combination of injury and his obvious youth causing concern to the managers. However, he still played at least 20 league games in each of those campaigns and was no doubt the favoured left-back, starting in both the 1989 League Cup and 1990 Scottish Cup finals as Aberdeen recorded a cup double triumph over Rangers and Celtic, respectively.
The following year was to become his finest in a red jersey, though it was also to become his last following a bitter transfer saga that left his former supporters cursing his name at every opportunity. Robertson played 35 league games as Alex Smith’s side started the season slowly before putting together a string of incredible results down the stretch to lead Rangers going into the final day of the season. The problem was that the final match would be played at Ibrox, but Aberdeen had won 11 their last 12 matches going into the decider and experts wondered whether new Gers manager Walter Smith had the metal for handling such a pressurised situation. Turns out he did. Aberdeen lost 2-0 on a dark day that still haunts the fans unfortunate enough to have witnessed it.
The dust soon settled and the more optimistic supporters looked forward to the following campaign. Along with Robertson, the club had guys like Eoin Jess and Scott Booth; a core of young exciting players who could lead them back to former glories. Then, still reeling from their heartbreak, they got a kick in the stones from one of their own. Robertson was leaving. He was joining Rangers.
Today it wouldn’t be considered quite the betrayal. While the fans would not be happy about a player joining their most hated rivals, they would no doubt understand the desire to further a football career and earn more money in the process. But today’s fans have been acclimatised to the harsh new realities of money and success mixed with football. It was different back then. Plus, Aberdeen were a good side who were challenging for titles and winning domestic cup competitions. The fans believed they could continue to do that. Robertson was an Aberdeen supporter. Why didn’t he believe as well? Regardless, he was on the road to Glasgow and a tribunal set the transfer fee at £910,000.
From many years they hated the man. He was even chased out of a Scottish Cup game at Ibrox, with Aberdeen playing Celtic, when he tried to sit in with his former bredrens in the stands. When he first returned with Rangers he received a constant volley of vitriolic abuse that shook him to his soul. He was a 21-year old man and perhaps had been a little naïve to presume that the support would understand the desire to further his career.
And further it he certainly did. Robertson joined the side that had just won three in a row and stayed for the next six championships. He was a first team regular almost immediately, and though he soon become popular he only truly became loved once another hero came to town: Brian Laudrup. The Great Dane arrived in the summer of 1994 and instantly became the country’s best player on a team that steamrolled the opposition en route to another title. The pair worked superbly well together down the left-hand side. Laudrup’s masterful technique made fools of many a top flight defence, but any attempt to double up on the attacker was thwarted by Robertson careering down the outside, offering support. It allowed the full-back to become even more attacking in his approach and aided his ability to facilitate by shortening the length of pass he had to make into the penalty area.
Injuries saw his appearance total slip somewhat for the 1996/96 season where Rangers won their ninth consecutive league championship. Perhaps sensing that he would have to fight for his place the following campaign, or maybe he just wanted a change of scenery and a new challenge, Robertson made it clear to Walter Smith that he would like to try his luck in the English top flight. He was approaching his 29th birthday and had never played outside of Scotland after all. Leeds United were the team who came in and paid half a million to take him to Elland Road.
He was making a jump up in class at an age where it is very difficult to pull off such a move successfully. His displays in a white shirt weren’t terrible but they weren’t enough to get the crowd excited either, many of whom would rather have seen a younger player signed to fill the gap. In a roundabout way they soon got their wish. He was injured early into his first season and became haunted by terrible luck as he tried to rehab and get himself back into contention. In total he spent four years in Yorkshire but made a measly 26 league appearances in that time. At the end of the 2000/2001 season, at the age of 32, he decided to give up the constant battle and retire from football.
Where is he now? After struggling stints managing Montrose and Elgin City, Robertson took off for the sunshine of America. Earlier this year he was hired as head coach of Phoenix FC which play in the third tier – if you can call it that seeing as they don’t have promotion and relegation – of American professional soccer.
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