“I really don’t understand the question. Tell me! The world is not happy with our left-back or what?”
That was the response Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp gave to reporters, after watching Alberto Moreno make two key mistakes that almost cost his team their 4-3 victory over Arsenal, on the opening day of the 2016/17 campaign.
Having spent £70m on improving his squad that summer, it was peculiar to see him back the former Sevilla defender as a starter, given his, shall we say, error-prone nature. By the end of the season, James Milner had taken his spot in the team, underlining how even the German had eventually realised a replacement was badly needed.
The following summer he ended up signing one – although the name ‘Andy Robertson’ was hardly the star name many had envisioned. Sure, he had Premier League experience and was a consistent performer for a then-relegated Hull City side, but would he really be an upgrade over the likes of Moreno…right?
Three years later and the £8m Klopp spent on the Scot is roundly seen as the greatest piece of transfer business he’s done at the Anfield club.
The 26-year-old has been the tenacious, focused defender that fans have been calling out for years, using his sharp instincts to save his team on numerous occasions. His positioning is regularly spot-on, while he’s shown he’s unafraid of taking on the best wingers in the world – as Lionel Messi knows all too well.
On the other end, he’s since become the Reds’ primary attacking outlet out wide. Few players in the world can deliver a better left-footed cross than him, while his passing range is also impressive. His long balls to Trent Alexander Arnold often catch out opposing teams by surprise and constantly forces them to scramble from one end to the other, much to their frustration.
Yet the most remarkable aspect of Robertson’s game is his incredible stamina and work-rate. Even in the final moments of a game he’s still one of the first to charge upfield after defending a corner, driving his team forward at full speed. His determination and unwillingness to concede any ground to his opponents in every situation has quickly made him a favourite among the Kop faithful.
It’s been an incredible journey for the Glasgow native, who has come a long way since he was released by his boyhood club Celtic at the Under-15 level for being too short. While the pain of rejection stung at the time, he’s since reflected on the experience that would make him even more motivated to succeed in the sport.
Being told that by Celtic made me determined to succeed.
– Andy Robertson, 2013
While he was ready to enrol at university, with his footballing dreams close to being over, Scottish fourth-division club Queens’ Park had other ideas. On the back of a recommendation from then-Celtic youth coach John Gallagher, they signed the teenager, and helped mould him into his customary left-back role, as he had previously played further forward as a winger.
After just one season of first-team action, in which he missed just three games, Dundee United came calling. With manager Jackie McNamara a huge fan, the 19-year-old would play in 44 out of a possible 46 matches for the club that year, with five goals and six assists to his name. As a result, he was awarded the PFA Scotland’s Young Player of the Year award.
Among the growing list of admirers was Hull’s chief scout Stan Ternent, who needed just a game and a half to recommend the player to manager Steve Bruce. After watching him play at Kilmarnock, the 66-year-old went to take a second look at the Terrors’ away clash with Hibernian.
“I think I left after 25 minutes,” he would later recall to Hull Live. “I was gone by half-time to ring Steve Bruce. ‘Are you sure?’ he said. ‘Of course I’m sure’. And that was that. Robbo was the no-brainer.”
A fee close to £3m was subsequently agreed, sending the Scot down to Yorkshire, where Premier League football awaited. He would then start the Tigers’ opening day win at QPR, and make another 23 appearances that year, proving he could make the step-up to excel in the league.
Could I have seen him playing in a Champions League final three or four years ago? No. But you would never have doubted his potential to get to the top.
– Alex Bruce, ex-Hull defender
Ultimately, his efforts weren’t enough to stave off relegation, though the defender would later notch up five assists as they earned promotion after just one season. While their return was brief, it was enough for Liverpool’s scouts to convince the club he was the man to solve their left-back issues, having watched him for almost a year.
Their belief in Robertson has been more than justified ever since, having watched him blossom into one of the best defenders in the world. His contributions have undoubtedly been vital to the club’s recent success, with his 12 assists (only bested by Kevin De Bruyne and TAA) in particular being instrumental to their recent title-winning campaign.
Given his incredible athleticism and endurance, it appears that the Scot will continue to perform brilliantly for the Merseyside outfit going forward. Even with the recent arrival of Kostas Tsimikas, his place in the first-team is secure for now, and Klopp’s trust in him suggests he’ll still retain the bulk of the minutes at the position.
I couldn’t be more happy because all the things I thought about him, he’s much better.
– Jürgen Klopp, Liverpool manager
Having consistently performed going forward, while also helping his team concede the fewest number of goals last year, there’s no doubt that the 26-year-old remains one of the best two-way players in the world.
Robertson’s journey to the top has been nothing short of remarkable, and having hurdled every obstacle that’s been thrown at him so far, it’s certain that he’ll be able to keep excelling for the years to come.