By Paul Saffer
It seems the saddest possible ending to Sir Bobby Robson's 37-year management career - "relieved of his duties" by Newcastle United FC. But if there has been a theme in Sir Bobby's time as a manager, it has been confounding expectation, and even at 71, yet another twist could be a possibility.
After all, it all started so unpromisingly. Following a brief spell as player-coach of Canadian side Vancouver Royals in 1967, Robson returned to take charge of Fulham FC the following January. Ten months and a relegation later, he was sacked.
But then came the first reversal of fortune. Ipswich Town FC, who since their glory days under Alf Ramsey has slipped into the lower reaches of the English top-flight, appointed Robson in 1969. He built his team gradually, and from 1972/73 until his departure they never finished outside the top six.
Under Robson, unfashionable Ipswich won the 1978 FA Cup final against Arsenal FC and three years later overcame AZ Alkmaar to lift the UEFA Cup. Robson turned down big-money offers to lead the likes of Leeds United AFC and Sunderland AFC, but in 1982 came the job the patriotic Robson could not refuse - England manager.
Capped 20 times as a player, Robson had already run the England 'B' team, and although his time as national team manager was marked by increasingly vicious tabloid attacks, especially after two UEFA European Championship failures, his FIFA World Cup record was exemplary.
World Cup runs
In the 1986 finals in Mexico, he overcame early setbacks to lead his team to the quarter-finals, where only the hand, and genius, of Diego Maradona ended England's run. Having announced his intention to stand down in order to coach PSV Eindhoven before the 1990 finals in Italy, Robson masterminded England's best ever run on foreign soil, losing out to West Germany in the semi-finals.
So to the next incarnation. Robson had been considered a quintessentially English manager, but over the next decade he would bring trophies to PSV, FC Porto and FC Barcelona - only missing out on silverware at Sporting Clube de Lisbon, where he mentored a young translator, José Mourinho.
But there was still one gap on his CV, which was filled on 2 September 1999 when he took charge of hometown club Newcastle United FC. His first home game at the then strugglers was a dream - an 8-0 win against Sheffield Wednesday FC. Robson soon led Newcastle back to the upper reaches of the Premiership, in 2002 clinching a Champions League berth and receiving a knighthood.
Ups and downs
In the 2002/03 Champions League they uniquely recovered from losing their first three first group stage games to progress to the second group stage. The following season they lost in the third qualifying round to FK Partizan on penalties. Despite a subsequent run to the UEFA Cup semi-finals and late league surge that took them to fifth, Robson was told he would not have his contract extended beyond 2005, and a failure to win any of the first four games of this season spelled the end.
Is this really the end, though? "The addiction was still there and I needed the daily injection of adrenalin that football gave me," he said in his autobiography as he explained his refusal to retire in 1995 after the removal of a malignant melanoma from his face. Should another job offer come, Sir Bobby could yet have one more surprise in store.
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