World Soccer: You’ve been away from management since losing your job at Sheffield United. How did you end up taking over from Peter Reid as Thailand manager?
Bryan Robson: I was happy in the ambassadorial role that I have with Manchester United, things were going along nicely with that, but when you’ve been in football since you were 15 – when I joined West Brom – you miss the everyday involvement of training the players
or being out on the training ground.
I was missing that coaching side of it. When I worked with Terry Venables at the European Championships in 1996, I really enjoyed it and thought: “Yeah, one day when I have more experience I fancy that role.” I had a look at the history of Thai football and the challenge ahead. I just thought the Asian Cup finals would be a good challenge in the early period, trying to qualify for that, and then looking further forward to the World Cup and trying to qualify for that.
Has the fact that Peter Reid resigned to return to work in the Premier League had an impact on the perception of you in Bangkok?
There have been quite a few people asking me how long I intend to stay. But I think it’s always got to work both ways. If the Thai FA are happy with me and I’m happy with them, and things are going well, then I can see me staying for quite a while. I think the city’s good, the hotels are great and the people are really courteous. But things can change very quickly.
How do you view the job in Thailand?
It will be an interesting challenge as a manager and, really, I don’t see where I’m going to go unless I have success with the Thai national team. I’ve come here to try to enjoy it as much as I can and get as much success as I can. I haven’t got my sights on anything, I haven’t got my heart set on going back to the Premiership, because the one thing that overrides that is the Man United role. I’m lucky that I have an international job which is near enough part-time anyway. Hopefully, I’m going to work with the Thai league as well as the Thai FA to try and bring together some sort of structure within the country for youth development because there’s not really anything in place at the moment.
How do you look back at your time at Middlesbrough?
We just didn’t have a big enough squad to cope with the success we had in the cups. I was relying on the same 14 players all throughout the season and then after every big cup game we’d get beaten 1-0 in the league game because they couldn’t raise that extra yard to get a goal. We got to two cup finals and then there was the replay in the League Cup Final, a replay in the semi-final of the FA Cup, and it all worked against us. If I could have had a little bit more funding just to add a couple more defenders to the team at that time I think we could have had a really good team.
Do you see this as a chance to rebuild your reputation out of the glare of the media spotlight?
Since I’ve been over here I’ve got quite a bit of media and there’s been quite a lot of press. But I don’t think I’ve got to prove anything to anybody. If people look back at my record in Middlesbrough, I was really successful there from where we were to where we went to. With West Brom, I think it’s been proven by Gary Megson and Tony Mowbray and myself that, because of the budget the chairman wants you to try and stay in the Premiership with, it more or less makes the job impossible. That’s why, even the year we were eight points adrift at Christmas and stayed up, I would class that as success, especially on the budget you have to work with.
The only disappointment for me was that the Sheffield United fans didn’t take to me and they got me out. I was only there for five months and I thought I was turning things around. Because of the fans’ pressure, the chairman sacked me, but the chairman didn’t want to do that because they asked me to be director of football. They wanted me to run that side of the club and offered me a great contract to do it, but I’ve never been one for directors of football. That would have gone against my principles if I had taken that job on.
The Thais have talked for a long time about qualifying for the World Cup. Is that the long-term goal that you’ve been set and is it realistic?
It can always be a realistic proposition but you need to have a batch of good young kids all coming through at the same time. I’ve studied the under-20 team and seen some of the lads currently in the national team. But when we play some of the better teams in this area that will give me a gauge of how good some of the younger ones are. We have got four or five younger players who are around that 22-years-old mark, so I think that there’s potential there. We just need to get another couple of youngsters so they can develop together. Then you have a realistic chance.
Interview by Michael Church