For a young lad that was deemed “too small” to play professional football; you cannot blame Andrew Robertson for continually pinching himself following his meteoric rise to stardom in British football.
Released by his boyhood club Celtic at Under-15 level; Robertson has now outgrown and outshone his youth career sceptics to become a full Scotland international star and a highly-rated left-back in the English game.
The 21-year-old; who has already earned eight international caps under national team coach Gordon Strachan, sealed a shock move to former Premier League outfit Hull City from Dundee United last summer, a transfer that seemingly went under the radar given the Glaswegian’s unknown stature.
But after being named the English top-flight’s Player of the Month last August, it soon became apparent that the Tigers had unearthed a Scottish gem.
However, 24 Premier League appearances and one courageous debut campaign later; Robertson and Hull suffered the anguish of being relegated on the final day of the season, the ultimate low to cap off what was a fine individual year for the hugely talented Robertson.
After ignoring summer transfer rumours from the likes of Premier League ‘big boys’ Arsenal and Chelsea; the Scottish star is doubly determined to help Hull win back their English top-flight status at the first time of asking.
Shoot spoke EXCLUSIVELY to Robertson about his rise to fame, last summer’s switch to the Tigers, his adaption to the “competitive” Championship, the positive influence of manager Steve Bruce on his career, his gratitude towards Scotland boss Strachan and his country’s aim of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
It is approaching 17 months since you joined Hull City, how are you enjoying life at the club?
“It is a great club to be at. The first season was a little bit tough being bottom of the league and things like that, then at the end getting relegated. So it is a lot nicer environment to be around this season, winning games and being around the top of the league. It is a nice feeling and a great club to be at.”
How did you find adapting to Premier League football having left only the Scottish Premiership last summer?
“Obviously it was tough. I only had a season in the top league in Scotland and it is nowhere [near] the same down here. The fitness and the sharpness of all the boys was up a level. I had to adapt to that quite quickly because I came down the week before the start of the season and luckily I got thrown in for the first game. So I did have to adapt quickly and I think I managed to do that. I learned a lot through last season.”
But to demonstrate just how well you adapted; you won the club’s Player of the Month award for August (2014) and made 24 Premier League appearances overall. How would you sum up your first season in English football?
“It was full of ups and downs, like most players here last season. I did start off well and I was playing week in, week out. Then I got a few niggling injuries, so I was out of the team. But Robbie Brady; to be fair to him, started playing well. When players play well, you can’t really keep them out of the team. But I [eventually] managed to get back in and started playing well again, so it was an up and down season. I had some very [big] highs and obviously the lowest of the lows by getting relegated in the last game of the season. But overall, it was a good season for me to learn everything and take everything in.”
Just how hard was it to stomach relegation at the end of what was personally a superb year for you?
“It was tough. Obviously when you sign for a club, you don’t even think about those kind of things. You don’t think about relegation and the fact that you might not be playing in the Premier League the season after. But that obviously became a reality. It was tough to take, knowing that you were going to face the Championship next season. But we had to dust ourselves down; come back in pre-season, which we were all in fine form and it was good to be back with the boys. This season; we have started well, so it is all part and parcel of football. You have lows and you have the highs. Hopefully this season will end on a high.”
Over the summer transfer window; the likes of Arsenal, Aston Villa and Chelsea were linked with big-money moves for yourself. What did you make of those rumours?
“I have only had one season at Queen’s Park. Then one season at Dundee. So when I came down to Hull, I didn’t want it to be just one more season. There was speculation; it is always nice to be talked about, whether there is truth in it or no truth. It is always nice to have your name out there and getting linked with big clubs. But I was never focused on it. I was focused on staying here this season and learning in the Championship and trying to play every week, which luckily I have done. So I have never taken too much notice. But don’t get me wrong; when you read that big clubs are interested, it is a nice feeling and it does give you a bit of satisfaction.”
So despite that Premier League interest, how have you kept yourself grounded and concentrated on life at Hull?
“It is easy when you play for a manager [Steve Bruce] that is like you. He doesn’t let his boys get carried away and he will always keep on top. He used to play at the highest level and Mike Phelan, who is the assistant, won many trophies under Sir Alex Ferguson. So it is a very good set of coaching staff to not let any of the young boys get carried away, and keep their feet on the ground. The players as well are a great bunch of boys to be around and we all get on so well.”
Hull are currently third in the Championship. Are you confident that the club can return to the top-flight at the first time of asking?
“Of course. I think at the start of this season; we had a little bit of a sticky start, but our home form has been brilliant so far. We weren’t picking up points away and it was a little frustrating. But then we started to get the winning formula away from home. The gaffer tweaked a few things and we do look a force in this league now. Long may it continue! We went on a good unbeaten run; so if we had kept that going, we would have stayed at the top of the league. But at the end of the day; you don’t win the league in December, you win it in May. So hopefully when it comes to May, we will still be up there and we will get promoted.”
Since the start of this campaign; have you been surprised by how competitive the Championship is?
“Yes, we knew what to expect with all the games. We were well warned that it would be Saturday-Tuesday, Saturday-Tuesday and that was going to take its toll on players. We were well warned about that and we have prepared properly, so it has not been too bad. But this league is a very competitive league and there is a lot of people that tune into the Championship because it is so competitive. You look back at the last couple of seasons and the league has been decided on the last day or last couple of weeks, so there are five or six teams that could easily win the league. That is always interesting and you didn’t really get that in the Premier League. There was probably only two or three [teams] that compete for that league. But look at Bournemouth last season; no one expected them to do what they done and now they are doing well in the Premier League. Anything can happen in this league. We were favourites at the start of the season, so hopefully we will stick behind that.”
Moving on to the manager; what sort of impression has Steve Bruce had on you since joining the Tigers?
“He has been brilliant. From day one; when I came down, he helped me with houses and getting everything sorted and made sure that I settled in. So he was brilliant at the start and it has continued. He is always talking to me and asking how I am getting on and things like that. Even out on the training pitch; he is always giving me tips on how to improve my game, which I need because I am still young and I still have a lot to learn in the game. I take everything he says and everything that Mike [Phelan] says on board and hopefully if I keep doing that, I will become a better player and they can hopefully see the rewards. I couldn’t ask for anyone better since I came down and I am delighted I made the choice to come with him.”
With Bruce being a former defender himself, how has he developed you as a player?
“When he played, he was probably one of the best defenders in the league at the time playing for a massive club like Manchester United. So you can learn from the best and being a good defender himself, he can talk to the whole defence. He knows how he wants his defence structured and how it works as a four or five or whatever we play. So even as a unit, we are a lot stronger due to him drilling into us where we should be and when. We have got to listen to him. Even someone like Michael Dawson; who has been there and done it, is probably learning every day off the gaffer. He is a brilliant manager and maybe that is why we kept all the clean sheets we did. Of course we are going to concede goals; but we kept clean sheets for something like five or six games on the bounce, so that was probably down to him managing us.”
How much have you also enjoyed working alongside club captain Curtis Davies and fellow centre-half Dawson?
“It has been brilliant. Dawson has been in the Champions League and got England caps, while Curtis has been there and done it. Both are great lads and they are great people to have off the pitch and I get on really well with them. But on the pitch, they obviously help as well. They talk me through games and they can help with whatever I need. Ever since I came in; I know I can always turn towards those two. They have been a massive help, so I can’t thank them enough and hopefully that continues. They still turn to me and have a laugh and joke at things, but they have helped me a lot and I can’t thank them enough.”
Rewinding back to March 2014 now, when you came on against Poland in Scotland’s 1-0 win in Warsaw to make your international debut. What can you remember from that groundbreaking day?
“I had only just turned 20 when the squad got announced, so it was a nice birthday present! Then the game was a couple of days after my dad’s birthday, so it was a nice present for him as well. It was a great feeling. I had played for the Under-21s; I think two games before that, and even that was an honour for me. Just pulling on your country’s jersey and singing the national anthem. It is a great honour for whatever age group, but to do it in the first-team was brilliant and I will never forget that night.
“I just remember getting sent out to warm up and I didn’t think anything of it. Not that I was there to make up the numbers, but I was young and it was kind of unexpected. So I thought I was just coming along for the experience. Then the manager quickly called me back and I didn’t really have time to think about it. But once I was standing on the touchline, I was like, “Oh no!” Luckily the manager [Gordon Strachan] was brilliant with me and he just said; “Look, just go out and do your thing. Do what you are good at. That is why you have been called up”. So I managed to do that and luckily my first involvement was a positive one, so it calmed my nerves. It was a perfect debut and luckily we won; although it was only a friendly, it was always nice to make your debut in a win.”
Your first international goal came against England last November at Celtic Park. What was that moment like for you?
“It was a weird one because we were 2-0 down at the time, so I scored, but I sadly didn’t really get to enjoy it because I was too busy trying to run back and get the ball! But after the game; you realise that you have just scored for your country and against our biggest rivals, so it was a great feeling and I always think about it and my family will always think about it. It is a proud moment for all of us, we will never forget it. It was brilliant and of course me supporting Celtic; it was at Parkhead [Celtic Park], so it was what dreams were made of. Even that whole week was just an absolute pleasure for to play and win against [Republic of] Ireland in such a big qualifier. That week will be a tough one to beat in my footballing career!”
However, Scotland fell short of their mission to qualify for Euro 2016. Just how disappointing was that?
“It was devastating for all of the boys. The first half of the campaign; we did well and picked up the points that we had to pick up and we knew that we were in with a chance. But we did get a really tough group, probably the toughest group out of the lot of them. But at the end of the day; in the second half of the campaign, we didn’t really play as well as we should have done and that resulted in us not qualifying. If we had beaten Georgia away; that was probably a game that dented our hopes, we would have been in the play-offs. If you look at Ireland; they are on the flight to France after beating Bosnia, and that could have been us. But it is all if, buts and maybes. At the end of the day, we weren’t good enough and three teams finished ahead of us. We need to dust ourselves down and hopefully get to the World Cup and focus on the next campaign.”
Gordon Strachan has since agreed a new deal as national coach. Was that the right decision?
“Yes! After the Gibraltar match; throughout the game, the fans were singing his name and I think he was a little bit uncertain during that match. But I think that probably made up his mind. We were all uncertain after that game. But I think everyone came out in the press; when we were asked questions, that we wanted him to stay and we all stuck by that. He was a great manager for us and he has improved us as a nation. Yes we still failed, but I think he has got the right formula to take us to a Championship and hopefully he can do that for the World Cup. But we were all delighted; especially for me, the manager that gives you your first cap, I will always hold him in high regard and I am glad he is staying on.”
Scotland have been drawn in Group F; alongside England, Slovakia, Slovenia, Lithuania and Malta for the 2018 World Cup qualifiers. How do you fancy your chances of finishing in the top two?
“Everyone looked at the England game and got a little bit excited about the first competitive game since 1999 in that play-off game. We have played a couple of friendlies, but it is in no comparison to being in a competitive game, especially a World Cup qualifier. So those two games will be tasty and we will look forward to them. But Slovenia and Slovakia, you cannot mess about with them because they will be tough games. I think our home form is going to be crucial. Even Lithuania is going to be a tough game. You would think that Malta will probably be down the bottom, but you just never know. We have always got to take precautions. It is another tough group; but hopefully we can play well in the full campaign, instead of half this time and we’ll be in with a chance, I am sure of that.”