Ed note: The Whitecaps formally introduced Carl Robinson as their new head coach Monday, December 16.
The Vancouver Whitecaps have found a replacement for head coach Martin Rennie, who was fired at the end of the 2013 MLS season. And they didn't have to look very far.
Rennie's former assistant coach, Carl Robinson, will be officially announced as Vancouver's new head coach on Monday, bringing an end to the club's six-week search for Rennie's replacement. This will be Robinson's first job as a head coach after serving the past two seasons as an assistant coach in Vancouver.
I knew Robinson as a player when we were on opposite sides of the 'Old Farm' derby in England; I played for Ipswich Town, while Robinson played for our biggest rivals, Norwich City. He was a difficult opponent to play against, and someone who was clearly a leader on and off the field. He never suffered fools and was never afraid to call someone out if they weren't performing up to the required standards. He had a very strong tactical understanding of the game as a player, and the fact that he has taken this and other leadership skills into his career as a coach is not a surprise.
Robinson didn't jump straight into a head coaching position after calling time on his playing career, though. It was a transition he took gradually, taking the time to educate himself and gain experience as an assistant coach first. He holds the UEFA 'Pro' license - the highest coaching license awarded by Europe's governing body.
One of Robinson's strengths as a coach is his conviction; he has a clear philosophy about how he wants the game to be played and he believes in his coaching ability. He is, however, open-minded; he is the first to admit that he still has a great deal to learn.
Robinson relates very well to younger players, something that will be important for the Whitecaps, who have stated their desire to see more young players graduate from their academy to their first team. Players like Russell Teibert have already made that breakthrough, but others - like Sam Adekugbe, Bryce Alderson, Marco Bustos and Kianz Froese - are expected to do the same in years to come.
Critics will argue that being the head coach requires a different approach to being an assistant, that you sometimes need to be ruthless with players when you are the man in charge. They will suggest that Robinson might have a difficult time making the transition from being someone the players look to as a friend to being someone who now holds their professional aspirations in his hands.
Those critics don't know Robinson very well, though. He won't change the way he interacts with the players - because he won't have to.
He has always been a straight talker, and even as an assistant coach was never afraid to offer players praise or constructive criticism, depending on what was required. This is one of the reasons that so many Whitecaps players wanted Robinson as Rennie's replacement in the first place - he is honest with them.
As a player, more than anything you want your coach to be honest with you. If you know where you stand, what you need to do to get in the first team and what you need to do to stay there, you're happy. Because playing time is the currency that means the most to players.
There won't be any mind games with Robinson. Players won't be strung along, taken advantage of or treated poorly. Every player will know exactly where they stand with him, and those that aren't pulling their weight will know what areas of their game they need to improve to warrant more playing time. He won't keep everyone happy (no coach ever does) but the players will get nothing but honesty from Robinson, which means he will earn their respect.
Critics will suggest that Robinson was third or fourth choice for the Whitecaps, that Bob Bradley and Jason Kreis were always their preferred options, and that Robinson is simply the best of the rest.
Those critics might be right - but that doesn't mean the Whitecaps have made the wrong decision hiring Robinson. In fact, I think it is a blessing in disguise and might just be the best decision they've ever made.