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Carl Robinson on Alphonso Davies, MLS, and what’s next for him

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Canada named its Gold Cup squad this week, but you didn’t need to check a list to know one name was included on coach John Herdman’s list: Alphonso Davies, the 18-year-old Bayern Munich youngster who scored his first Bundesliga goal this March.

The Canadian teen hasn’t necessarily been top of mind this side of the Atlantic since his transfer; He’s being brought along slowly by Bayern, and didn’t quite get the publicity worthy of his immense talent while with Vancouver in Major League Soccer, either.

[ MORE: 3 key battles in UCL Final ]

So what should we expect from Davies at the Gold Cup, as the 18-year-old looks to build off a 3-goal performance at the 2017 edition which labeled him the youngest goal scorer in tournament history? Pro Soccer Talk asked the man perhaps most responsible for Davies’ development, former Whitecaps manager Carl Robinson, as part of a wide-ranging interview that touches on Davies, Tyler Adams, the future of MLS, and his desire to get back in a manager’s chair.

A former Norwich City, Toronto FC, and Welsh national team mainstay, Robinson is eight months removed from his first foray into management. From 2013-18 with Vancouver, Robinson led the ‘Caps to the MLS Cup Playoffs thrice, earning 50-plus points on all three occasions, and the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals once. He also became part of a select group to win the Canadian Championship as a player and as a manager.

PST: Let’s start here, how did you go about the development of Alphonso Davies with Vancouver?

Carl Robinson: “I used a plan that Arsene Wenger had with Aaron Ramsey, having known Aaron through the Wales set-up. When Aaron moved from Cardiff to Arsenal at age 17 for six million quid, he couldn’t understand why after every fourth game he got left out no matter how well he played. When he went to speak to the manager, the manager explained to him that this is what he’s done with young players, whether Cesc Fabregas or whomever.

“I used that, not letter of the law, but I used that plan with Alphonso. When I sensed a little drop off in training, I’d leave him out. People thought he should play every minute of every game, but I disagreed. I knew the fans wanted to see him as a wonder kid, but I knew the right plan for him. We tried to keep him away from the media, because he needed to concentrate on his football only. Looking back on it, it was the correct way of dealing with it and all credit to him for understanding.”

PST: At 16, he was being linked with Chelsea, Liverpool, reports even went as far as a reported trial with Manchester United. How did Bayern Munich become his destination two years later?

Robinson: “There were lots of rumors, but nothing ever concrete. The summer of 2018, everything went pretty quickly. A number of clubs explained their interest. Some were serious, some were very serious, and some weren’t serious because when a top club like Bayern Munich comes in, it alerts the other top clubs.

“Bayern did their homework. They watched the player, met the player, got references from people around him, then sat down with him and his representatives and laid down a five-year plan for him. In that plan was opportunities with first and second team, and that’s what people don’t understand with young players. It’s not just about what they do on a Saturday in front of 30,000 people. It’s what they do off the field. It’s what they do from Monday to Friday.

“When I saw the plan from Bayern Munich, and Alphonso saw it, it was an unbelievable opportunity for him. He’s been part of lifting two trophies but there’s still a lot left for his development. There are a lot of fantastic players in Bayern’s U-23 side who haven’t gotten a chance. He’ll have a fight on his hands but he’s got the right mentality to do it.”

PST: It can be difficult for those of us in MLS or American soccer circles to get a gauge for what we should expect from our phenoms, from Landon Donovan to Christian Pulisic to Diego Lainez? What should we be looking for when it comes to Davies? What’s his ceiling?

Robinson: “How good is he? He has got the potential to be an exceptional player. He’s a very good player at the moment, but I’ve seen players with huge potential. Ravel Morrison with Manchester United, Tyler Adams with the Red Bulls. It can go different ways.

“Tyler was in the German Cup final, Alphonso wasn’t in the 18. Tyler’s more suited now because of his positional awareness. The key element for Alphonso is attacking players are judged on outputs, goals and assists. He’s not judged on he worked really hard. Midfield players we can talk about pass location, covering ground, how hard they work, because Tyler’s as good as there is in relation to that.

“Alphonso needs to take his game to the next level when it comes to scoring goals and making assists. And Bayern will help him with all that. He was able to beat players in MLS with his power and his pace, but there are going to be players in the Bundesliga who have his power and his pace.

“Again, I don’t get carried away with saying he’s a superstar already. His football over there will make him a superstar. He’s still got a lot of work ahead of him but he has the mindset and mentality to get there for sure. Look at (Liverpool’s) Harry Wilson and (Chelsea’s) Mason Mount at Derby, there are high value players who are playing in the Championship, so he needs to find regular football. He might need to go on loan. He may break in with Robben and Ribery leaving.

“It’s going to take him some time to adjust, but there might be a bigger upside at the end of it if he can get himself into a rhythm, a groove, and play to a level in which I know he can get. Knowing the kid, and probably being a bit biased, he can make it. But there are also better players than him who have not reached their potential, so I think Bayern is a wonderful place for him.”

PST: MLS is a lot different then 2007, when you arrived from Norwich City and became TFC’s Player of the Season. What’s changed most? What’s your overall take on the league?

Robinson: “Back in 2007, there was a lot of hullaballoo with David Beckham arriving a week after I came over. Since then we’ve had Thierry Henry, Rafa Marquez, David Villa… The league has grown dramatically. The insertion of high level DPs has been important. It’s made people sit up and take notice. The addition of TAM money, even though it’s complicated and like Monopoly money, is increasing the quality over the squad.

“The way they’ve tried to build it slowly is correct. There still should be a big focus on development with the USL teams, which will help the Major League Soccer teams grow, and academies as well. It’s probably grown quicker than I thought it would, but now people don’t want to see it stagnate. That probably means more investment, and more TAM and more DPs. Given the new CBA, they have to figure out the way to do it right.”

PST: So there’s no denying your debut foray into management was a success in Vancouver. For a club spending in the bottom half at best to be a regular threat to host home playoff games… that’s pretty decent. Your numbers compare with the bigger American names in coaching: Vermes, Berhalter, Vanney. What’s next?

Robinson: “I’ve taken a much needed break. I wanted to spend more time with my family. I have two children, ages 17 and 11, and I missed a lot of their growing up because the commitment of being a player, coach, and manager. This is 24-7. I needed that time with them.

“But I’m still watching more football and traveling everywhere. Learning is paramount and I’ve been able to do that more. Spending time with other managers has been refreshing and valuable. There are also some excellent people within MLS clubs that have been great with me. You earn respect and trust. 10 years over here has been great. I know MLS inside out now. Although rules are always changing… These things don’t change. I’ll start to look at opportunities I feel are right. There have a number of conversations I’ve had with a people and teams in different countries, but what I’ve said to my family is I’ll take the right opportunity, not any opportunity. Being a manager for five years and inside one club for seven you understand how it works, and what you need to be successful  I’m looking forward to wherever my next challenge. I’m in no rush but I know my passion is football.”

PST: One more odd note. Your playing resume reads like a list of teams who were playoff-bound or promoted this year: Norwich, Sheffield United, Sunderland, Portsmouth, Wolves. Do you still root for all of them? Any more than the others?

“I follow all my former teams. I have friends and respect for them all. I still follow Red Bulls, Toronto. Wolves staying in the PL is a great opportunity. Norwich & Sheffield United getting promoted, that’s brilliant. Sunderland, that’s heartache. I know the Mackem fans will be absolutely devastated. Portsmouth too. What you learn in football is taking nothing for granted although people have short memories. I genuinely believe where I’m at at the moment, there’s a reason. What I do next, there’s a reason.”

Infantino says closing stadiums only a short-term coronavirus solution

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FIFA president Gianni Infantino has stated that he does not support playing closed-door games as a long-term solution to avoiding the threat of coronavirus.

Serie A will play games behind closed doors for the second straight weekend thanks to the rapid spread of the disease that has infected over 800 people in Italy. Most notably, the game between title contenders Inter and Juventus will be played in front of an empty Allianz Stadium in Turin.

“I don’t think it is sustainable in the long term to play behind closed doors,” Infantino said before a meeting in Northern Ireland. “Every competition organizer ultimately has to decide what is best for him. Obviously, on the short term it can be a solution [to play without fans] in order to move on. But you cannot imagine a few months of a competition being played, several matches being played, behind closed doors.”

Infantino went on to say he “wouldn’t exclude anything” when asked about possible solutions for international fixtures coming up in March, but admitted “I hope we will never have to get into this direction. We cannot underestimate and say it’s nothing but we don’t have to overreact and panic.”

Meanwhile, English tabloids reported Friday that the Premier League could close up shop early, costing Liverpool its league title should it take place before Liverpool is mathematically crowned champions. However, the Liverpool Echo reported that the Premier League is still considering all possibilities as solutions for coronavirus prevention and that scenarios like that are at this point considered “still at a hypothetical stage.”

Some Premier League clubs confirmed they are banning handshakes around the training ground, while others have told players to tone down fan interaction for the time being. Other leagues around Europe have taken more drastic measures, such as the Swiss league which has completely shut down until at least mid-March on instruction from the government.

French goalkeeper throws ball into own net

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There’s own-goals, and then there’s own-goals. French goalkeeper Brice Maubleu scored an own-goal.

The Grenoble goalkeeper, taking on fellow Ligue 2 side Caen on Friday, threw the ball into his own net in the 18th minute to give the hosts a 2-0 lead they would not relinquish.

It appeared that Maubleu was attempting to distribute the ball to one of his defenders only to pull back at the last minute, and upon his attempt to halt the throw, he instead tossed it back towards his own net. The 30-year-old captain attempted to scramble back and stop the ball, and he very well may have, but the referee gave the goal and replays were inconclusive.

You can watch video of the brutal own-goal here.

Maubleu confirmed that was his intention after the fact. “There are dark evenings and this is one of them,” the Grenoble captain said after the match. “On the goal, I wanted to quickly set Jerome (Mombris) away, but I saw that he was not looking at me so I revised my decision and then the ball left my hands”

Maubleu recalled when French goalkeeper Steve Mandanda did something similar while playing for Marseille in 2012, throwing the ball right to an opposition attacker who easily buried the ball into the empty net. “This happens sometimes and people think that it can’t possibly happen to others. In the end, I play the ball thinking that all was still ok but apparently the ball had already gone in,” Maubleu said.

“I am disappointed because it gave our opponent a two-goal lead. I will have to quickly get back working and move on, because it will likely do the rounds on social media. The goalkeeper position is exposed and there are risks. After that, I was back in my match and made saves even though those won’t be remembered.”

The 30-year-old Maubleu has played for just Tours FC and Grenoble in his career, making two Ligue 1 appearances in 2009 before spending the rest of his time in Ligue 2.

Arsenal posts loss as Champions League absence felt

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Arsenal announced Friday a loss of £27.1 million ($34.6 million) for the most recent fiscal year, citing the combination of high player wages and a lengthy absence from the UEFA Champions League competition as the main contributing factor for the poor financial performance.

The loss is the club’s first since 2002, according to Chairman Sir Chips Keswick.

Arsenal Holdings plc released the after tax total for the fiscal year ending May 31 2019, down from a $72.1 million profit the previous year. Commercial revenues were up significantly, increasing profits from $495.6 million to $504 million. Still, operating profits rocketed to $295.8 million thanks to what the club called “continued investments in player wages.”

“Our player trading profit for this financial year was limited and this combined with a second consecutive season of Europa League football has meant the club recorded its first overall loss since 2002,” Keswick said in a club statement. “For 2019-20 we will see increased commercial revenues from Adidas and our renewed deal with Emirates, but another season outside the Champions League will continue to apply pressure to our financial results.”

The Gunners were shockingly eliminated from the Europa League on Thursday at the hands of Olympiakos in extra-time, meaning the only way they end the Champions League drought will be to charge into the Premier League top four. Currently Arsenal sits ninth in the table, six points off fourth-placed Chelsea.

Back in July, Arsenal director Josh Kroenke – son of owner Stan Kroenke – warned that the club “had a Champions League wage bill on a Europa League budget.”

3 things to know about Inter Miami and Nashville S.C.

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The Major League Soccer gets under way this weekend, and for those fans who would like to get a better feel for the league as a whole, a good place to start is the two new clubs.

[ MORE: MLS Week 1 preview ]

Inter Miami and Nashville S.C. will both get a difficult welcome to the U.S. top flight this weekend, with Nashville hosting Atlanta United on Saturday while Miami travels to LAFC on Sunday. Neither clubs are expected to be immediate playoff contenders, but as both their debut opponents will tell them, there doesn’t always have to be a learning curve for new introductions.

[ MORE: 2020 MLS season predictions ]

So, with that in mind, let’s learn more about the two expansion clubs that take the MLS total to 26.

INTER MIAMI

Seven years after David Beckham retired from Major League Soccer franchise and began pursuit of club ownership, his team finally takes the field. It has been a brutally long journey for the South Florida side, but the beginning is finally here. The roster looks solid and the coaching staff is well built, so don’t be surprised if they put up a fight in the playoff race.

1. The team is stocked with MLS veterans

Inter Miami had a clear strategy while building its initial squad – hoard experience. The team acquired USMNT midfielders Lee Nguyen and Wil Trapp, former champions AJ DeLaGarza and Alvas Powell, longtime NYRB goalkeeper Luis Robles, journeyman Juan Agudelo, and former NYCFC defender Ben Sweat. The players may or may not click together, but if one thing is for certain with Inter Miami, the club doesn’t feel as brand new when looking at the roster.

2. Matias Pellegrini will lead the way

While the squad is loaded with domestic experience, the club looked abroad for its first two Designated Players. 26-year-old Mexican international Rodolfo Pizarro joined from Monterrey for a hefty fee, and he will be critically important moving forward in midfield. Young striker Julian Carranza is injured for the first month but will be a major factor up front as well. However, 19-year-old Matias Pellegrini will likely be the club’s most important player. The Argentine is an electric player, and how he integrates with a squad full of veterans will make Inter Miami an intriguing watch early in the campaign; if he doesn’t hit the ground running, the Inter Miami attack will sputter.

3. Depth is a strength

This team may need time to gel, but it is a well-constructed roster that is built to weather a storm. The only position that looks thin is center-back where Powell and Nicolas Figal are backed up by just inexperienced Grant Lillard, 19-year-old Christian Makoun, and 20-year-old Andres Reyes. Everywhere else is covered by experience. DeLaGarza provides excellent cover for Sweat and recent college graduate Dylan Nealis. Nguyen may not be an everyday starter any more but he is as good as bench options come. Robbie Robinson will likely begin the season up front but eventually take a back seat to Carranza and be a solid option off the bench, while Jerome Kiesewetter brings European experience as well.

NASHVILLE S.C.

Making less of a splash than Inter Miami is new Western Conference members Nashville S.C. Unlike Inter Miami, Nashville isn’t starting completely from scratch, having two years in USL under their belt. Still, there are plenty of questions to be asked about how Nashville can compete on a consistent basis this season.

1. This team is strong defensively, and not so much up front

This squad is clearly built for one thing – defensive strength. Nashville brought in USMNT veteran Walker Zimmerman from LAFC who will be partnered with 26-year-old former LA Galaxy defender Dave Romney. Dax McCarty provides good cover in midfield, and while Daniel Lovitz can get forward, the full-back group doesn’t exactly scream “attack attack attack.”

On that sense, going forward may be an issue. Nashville scored nine goals in preseason, but playing against other sides’ backups for much of the time it’s hard not to take that with a grain of salt. Dominique Badji’s MLS numbers with Colorado and FC Dallas are mediocre at best and Hany Mukhtar’s production abroad doesn’t jump off the page either. David Accam can create for himself but only has 17 assists in 124 career MLS appearances, so while goalscoring can be there, the creativity is lacking greatly. Abu Danladi hasn’t quite lived up to his expectations thus far and will be hoping a change of scenery can unlock a new level, but it’s hard to see the season-long consistency there.

2. The roster is full of scrappy players

A number of guys on the fringe of the Nashville S.C. roster may actually end up contributing more than expected. Randall Leal is an exciting player who could find himself a fan favorite with his swashbuckling style of play. With the expected inconsistency up front, Daniel Rios could get a look if he can translate his USL goalscoring numbers (40 goals in 62 games) to the MLS level – obviously a major question, but also one deserving the time of day. McCarty is a well-liked player who puts in a shift in midfield, and his partner Anibal Godoy plays the crunching style expected of a Central American defensive midfielder. This team will be a grind to break down.

3. Nashville probably needs to look for a few more pieces

With only Mukhtar signed on as a Designated Player, Nashville is probably a few more key contributors away from a playoff spot. Should they hold down a respectable start to the campaign, a summer signing could push this team into contention, but as it stands the cohesion brought on by two years in USL likely won’t be enough to see them keep pace with the stronger teams in the West. With an opening trio of games against Atlanta United, Portland, and Toronto FC, it will be difficult for the new boys to hit the ground running this season, and at times it could feel like a slog.