Vancouver Whitecaps rookie head coach Carl Robinson has hardly made a wrong step during his opening six months in charge at the club. His team is exciting to watch and sitting nicely positioned in the Western Conference playoff places with one match to play before the World Cup break and he has a group of players who are clearly enjoying working with him.
Away from the pitch, Robinson's start has been equally impressive, as he looks to build a club with a distinct identity. The ‘Caps have become quickly known for their youthful, attacking play, but Robinson is determined to make sure he also has a team that conducts itself in the right manner.
In a global sports world where there is always plenty of negative behavior to talk about, the Whitecaps coach has made it clear he wants an open and honest locker room. That was evident this week when he was asked about an incident involving Whitecaps' Uruguayan attacker Sebastian Fernandez during Sunday's 4-3 win at Portland. Fernandez clearly attempted to get Timbers defender Pah Madou Kah into trouble with the referee by pretending to be struck in the face. Replays clearly showed there was no contact.
Robinson was as clear as could be when talking about the incident, stating that there is no place for that behavior within his club.
“I spoke to him (Fernandez) at length and the players as a group,” said Robinson. “I have told them it is not acceptable. I don't condone that, the club won't condone that. It was dealt with internally and won't be happening again.”
“It's not what I'm about as a head coach and it's not what the club is about,” he continued. “It's important they know that. It does happen, but it's not going to happen with our club and I've made my feelings known. We've dealt with it and we move on, but it's important I make him aware that it's not acceptable and he won't be doing it again.”
It's a refreshing approach from Robinson and one which is not seen enough from managers in the global game. A different example of the ‘Caps coach being open in his approach to management is with the club's daily training sessions. Training grounds around the world are usually blanketed in secrecy - it's all smoke and mirrors. In Major League Soccer, most teams allow media to watch their sessions for the final 15 minutes when there is nothing on show that could give away any information – but Robinson has taken a completely different approach. Every one of the Whitecaps' training sessions is open to the media from start to finish. It's certainly a popular decision with the members of the media covering the team on a daily basis, but Robinson's open access policy is about much more than making people happy.
“I opened up to you guys because I think it is an important relationship the club has and you are an important part for us,” Robinson said this week when asked about why he decided to go against the trend. “I've got nothing to hide. You know the way I play and I'm sure, if other teams do their homework, they will know the way we play as well. I want you to see the team spirit and camaraderie we are trying to build. If you watch training and see the way I work and how Gordon (Forrest) and Martyn (Pert) work, it will give you a fair idea of how we want to play.”
Of course, while everything is going well for Vancouver, things are much easier, but from what I have seen of Robinson so far in his management role, I'm certain he will have the mental toughness to deal with difficulties when they come the way of his team. The building process continues - on and off the field – as the Whitecaps look to move forward as a club, but Robinson's values are shining through as he looks to lay a solid foundation for future success.