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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.”

UEFA Champions League wrap: Dybala leads Juve back with stunner

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While a pair of Premier League sides were thumping visitors, two other UEFA Champions League mainstays had to work harder for their results on Tuesday.

Bayern Munich and Juventus overcame poor starts to record wins, while Real Madrid struggled to a win at stingy Turkish powers Galatasaray.

PSG, however, had zero problems in Belgium.


 [ MORE: Man City 5-1 Atalanta | Spurs 5-0 Red Star ]


Juventus 2-1 Lokomotiv Moscow

Dominayed Lokomotiv took the lead against all odds when Aleksei Miranchuk gave the Russian visitors a lead despite Juve’s 12-2 shot advantage, but Paulo Dybala scored twice in three minutes to send the visitors home sad.

And this one was absurd:

Olympiacos 2-3 Bayern Munich

Youssef El-Arabi gave the hosts a lead, but Robert Lewandowski scored for the 12th-straight game and 17th time this season to level the line and it was mostly Bayern after that (Olympiacos’ second goal came quite late). Lewandowski added another, his 18th, while Corentin Tolisso also scored for Bayern.

Club Brugge 0-5 PSG

Kylian Mbappe is unfair, scoring a hat trick as PSG waxed Simon Mignolet and the Belgian hosts.

Elsewhere
Shakhtarr Donetsk 2-2 Dinamo Zagreb
Atletico Madrid 1-0 Bayer Leverkusen
Galatasaray 0-1 Real Madrid

Five-star Spurs thump Red Star Belgrade

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Erik Lamela set up two early goals and later scored as Tottenham Hotspur broke out of its funk to record a 5-0 win over Red Star Belgrade in UEFA Champions League play on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]

Heung-Min Son scored twice and Harry Kane also scored as Spurs earned their first win of the group stage. Tanguy Ndombele joined Lamela with two assists.

Red Star is now 1W-12L ahead of the return fixture in Serbia.


Three things

1. Sweet release for Harry Kane: Tottenham’s talisman was ready from the first minute, and delivered a perfect header off a ninth minute corner kick for 1-0. There wasn’t much to worry about the rest of the way as Kane scored twice while taking six shots against a team which won’t be pleased to have to do it again come two weeks time in Serbia.

2. Well, actually, for almost everyone: Considering Spurs were an absolute shambles against Bayern Munich and have not impressed in domestic play, the win could be a welcome and positive kick in the pants for many Tottenham men. Serge Aurier‘s day against Bayern was possibly the worst performance of any Spurs player this year, and the Frenchman had an assist and was better versus Red Star (the right opponent at the right time, we might add). Dele Alli had one of his better games in a while, and Tanguy Ndombele hasn’t been poor but his two-assist night is a welcome sign.

3. Lamela helps pulls the strings: The Argentine was simply sensational early (and pretty good late, as he scored in the second half). Kane will get the love for the corner kick goal. but the second assist was all about Lamela.

Look…

at this…

ball.

 

Man of the Match: Lamela

 


The basics provided Tottenham’s opener, with Kane running off the near post to meet a corner kick and turning a header across goal and inside the far post. Pretty stuff, and good timing. Nerves settled after nine minutes.

Son made it 2-0 seven minutes later, getting on the end of a bouncing Erik Lamela cross to volley home.

Spurs’ third first-half goal was Son again, as the South Korean raced 60 yards to become a back post option after Tanguy Ndombele caused a turnover at midfield.

If anyone deserved Spurs next marker, it was Lamela. The Argentine made it so after Harry Kane’s classy long pass to Serge Aurier was turned onto his path in the 57th.

Sterling runs riot as Man City clobbers Atalanta

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Raheem Sterling scored three goals and set up two others as Manchester City came back from an early deficit to clobber Atalanta 5-1 at the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]

Sergio Aguero scored City’s other two goals, but the Premier League champions face an anxious wait after Rodri limped off before halftime.

Phil Foden was sent off in the 82nd minute after picking up his second yellow card.

Ruslan Malinovskiy’s early penalty was all Atalanta could muster, as the Serie A side remains winless in the group stage.


Three things

1. Sterling’s star show: Stymied on an opening dribble, Sterling took over once City went behind on Fernandinho‘s conceded penalty.

He was everywhere.

The English winger set up Aguero’s first goal was a stylish cross from the inside of his boot, then drew a penalty with a quick dribble toward the spot. He then showed clinical finishing in a second-half hat trick which took less than 11 minutes but missed wide with a bid for a fourth goal on a Phil Foden-inspired breakaway in the 75th.

2. Rodri injury breaks up new partnership: Pep Guardiola again deployed Fernandinho and Rodri as his center back pair, the former notably conceding a penalty on the edge of the 18 before the latter left the match after 40 minutes with injury. It looked to be a muscle injury, though there wasn’t a terrible limp from the Spaniard. If he’s out for any long period of time, City’s ambitions will be heavily taxed.

3. One win for an easier December: Man City’s 3-0 start to the group stage means it can be choosy with its lineup for the return fixture in Italy, which comes three days before a massive visit to Liverpool in the Premier League. By the same rationale, City’s visit from Chelsea on Nov. 23 comes four days before Shakhtar Donetsk comes to town. Neither Liverpool nor Chelsea will be in better UCL shape than City in both cases, guaranteed.

Man of the Match: Sterling.


A cutting ball down the left allowed Atalanta a cross to Timothy Castagne, who had an edge on Benjamin Mendy but was bothered enough to head his over the goal.

Ilicic then came from the right to drive a low shot that Ederson collected before it could roll inside the near post.

City found its footing in the second 20 minutes, though Raheem Sterling’s seeing eye pass through the six was a yard behind a stretching Sergio Aguero.

Pierluigi Gollini that made a fantastic save on a longer Aguero drive before the Argentine had another chance and lashed it over the goal. Closer.

Fernandinho conceded a penalty to the Serie A visitors against Ilicic on a dribble into the 18. Ederson went the wrong way as Malinovskiy hammered home from the spot.

Aguero got his breakthrough in the 34th, reaching his right leg out to push a well-chopped Sterling cross past Gollini.

Sterling then won a penalty with a mazy dribble toward the spot, and Aguero beat Gollini to the far post.

Rodri was injured before halftime, and Guardiola brought on John Stones.

The second half started with another injury, as Marten De Roon raked Aguero near his right achilles. The Argentine stayed on.

De Bruyne then tried his luck off another play inspired by Sterling and Aguero, but fired wide from outside the 18.

Sterling wound up with his two goals thanks to sensational team play. The first came when Riyad Mahrez spotted Kevin De Bruyne, who passed to Phil Foden. The youngster took the extra pass and Sterling smashed home.

Then Sterling held up play inside Atalanta’s half before zipping onto an inch-perfect Gundogan through ball and slamming past Gollini.

A missed breakaway, cued by Foden, was the only sour note for Sterling as he missed a bid for four.

UCL AT HALF: Rodri injured; Spurs, Man City lead

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We’ve got goals in the UEFA Champions League!

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

All six 3 p.m. ET kickoffs have seen at least one marker, with five between the two Premier League sides in action.

Juventus 0-1 Lokomotiv Moscow

Turin has been hushed for the moment, as Aleksei Miranchuk gave the Russian visitors a lead despite Juve’s 12-2 shot advantage.

Man City 2-1 Atalanta

Influential midfielder Rodri has left Manchester City’s match against Atalanta with what appeared to be a hamstring injury.

Partnered with Fernandinho at center back again, Rodri, 23, has played in every match save one for City, and had gone 90 minutes in the last five prior to Tuesday’s 40-minute performance.

City went behind when Fernandinho conceded a penalty, but Raheem Sterling has sent Sergio Aguero up for two goals as the hosts have a lead at the Etihad Stadium.

Spurs 3-0 Red Star Belgrade

Tottenham didn’t have any problems dispatching its tepid league form for its Serbian visitors, as Erik Lamela set up Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son for early goals before the South Korean completed a brace before halftime.

Look at the industry on his third:

Galatasaray 0-1 Real Madrid

Some nerves settled for Zinedine Zidane as Toni Kroos’ deflected strike gives Real a halftime lead.

Olympiacos 1-1 Bayern Munich

Youssef El-Arabi gave the hosts a lead, but Robert Lewandowski scored for the 12th-straight game and 17th time this season to level the line.

Club Brugge 0-1 PSG

Mauro Icardi the lone goal scorer in Belgium.