A Cultured Left Foot – An Anachronism called Andrew Robertson

Born in Giffnock, Scotland with a cultured left foot and never-say-die attitude, Andrew Robertson is channelling the spirits of great Liverpool left backs of yore.
A Cultured Left Foot - Andrew Robertson and his meteoric rise at Liverpool FC.
Art by Debanjan Chowdhury.

 

It’s 1954, and every bookstore in the streets of Dublin has the bestselling book of the year — My Left Foot by Christy Brown — displayed in the storefront windows. It’s an autobiographical tale of triumph, a tale of never giving up and a tale of expressing yourself in whatever manner possible, because art never discriminates. Although born with a severe case of cerebral palsy, Brown never looked back when it came to painting his words, or penning down his images. He had all the requisite talent in his left foot, from holding the brushes to mixing the colours to finally, applying paint on canvas to create mesmerising pieces of art which made his neurological condition seem like a blessing rather than an excuse. Fast forward more than sixty years, and the simplicity of utilising one’s own left foot through human cognition is often forgotten in a footballing world full of improvised goal celebrations, eccentric hairstyles and virtual referees. What it means to control the ball without any gimmicks or tantrums is often overlooked in this existing world of show business. What has not been overlooked of late is the defining image of Liverpool’s season, the left foot of a Giffnock-born working-class hero — Andrew Robertson.

Contrary to popular belief, it’s the Scottish throwback of a left-back and not the Egyptian king who has been epitomising Liverpool’s spirit this year with his adamant display of drive and desire. Andrew Robertson is someone who has been on a constant course of jumping over the hurdles from the tender age of 15 — the age when Celtic rejected the sparkly-eyed, red-haired teenager because of his stunted growth. After years of an unnoticed upward curve, what woke fans and pundits alike to his brilliance was this lung-bursting, supercharged 80-yard press against Manchester City earlier this year, putting the likes of John Stones, Nicolas Otamendi and Ederson in serious spots of bother. The fifty-four thousand present at Anfield weren’t sure what they had witnessed, but they knew that it was some form of possessed art — the like of which they have almost forgotten, the art of being a proper left-back in the Liverpool red.

Witnessing such a phenomenon in the 24-year-old Scotsman must have tickled the memory banks of many Kopites, reminding them of Steve Nicol, the last proper left-back in late 80s, who also had a partnership with a dark-complexioned, lanky, right-footed attacker just ahead of him. Channelling that sense of nostalgia has helped a lot of fans be captivated by Robertson, who himself has paved his way to recognition through his devilish low crosses into the penalty box, assisting four goals in the process, and his show of perseverance. The most recent showing being the Man of the Match performance against Liverpool’s bogey-team, Crystal Palace where he never gave up a single sniff of the ball on the pitch even after being played out of position, as a wingback in the latter stages of the game.

Honing all of his talent into his left foot and reaching the highest stage of European football has been no easier than climbing up Mount Doom for Robertson — an uphill trek spanning the best part of a decade. Ever since Celtic disapproved of his height, he took to the beautiful game with more vigour, soon joining Queens Park in 2012/13 from his childhood second home, St. Ninian’s High School, Giffnock. In two years, promotions came aplenty for him, as he moved up the ladder joining Dundee United in 2013/14, where he won the PFA Scotland Young Player of the Year and got featured among the league’s best in the PFA Scotland Team of the Year in what was his second season in professional football. Soon after the national team call-up, the English Premier League came calling for him the very next season, when Steve Bruce got the 20-year-old youngster to join Hull City where he suffered two relegations in three seasons. Surprisingly, his growth was neither inhibited nor was his soul was dispirited, as Robertson had other plans to perfectly play his part in the Sisyphean task of gaining The Tigers Premier League accreditation – much like what Brown had faced throughout his childhood in his battle with attaining speech and any coherent movement in his body.

Robertson didn’t sway from his course and got back up on his feet, only to be dazed by a near-miraculous incident,  something which even Nostradamus could not have predicted. In what reality does a Champions-League-playing club go after a relegated wingback? Liverpool did, and it’s all down to the fact that the man at the helm, Jürgen Klopp, is a self-proclaimed romantic fool. Twitter exploded with surprise and pundits from major media houses alike doubted the incoming Andrew Robertson. Whether it was the absence of an exotic name or a transfer fee in the range of £52 million that caused the very first Scouse reaction to be “he can’t be worse than Moreno” is unknown.  

Honestly, it doesn’t matter now, taking into account how he moulded himself to Klopp’s plans even when the plans didn’t have a place for him. By never giving up, never accepting defeat and never being content with whatever he has, Robertson made good use of his knocks on the gaffer’s door last October, as to what he should be doing better to warrant more than just three appearances in his first three months. Opportunity came knocking for him in a similar fashion when his Spanish compatriot, Alberto Moreno succumbed to an injury in December last year, and Robertson has never looked back since. For Andrew Robertson is a man who draws inspiration by always looking for the thing that hasn’t yet happened for him.

Just like the left-footed Irish genius Christy Brown, Andrew Robertson had more than enough stumbles and hiccups on his adventure trip from working at a retail store at the age of 17 to playing in a Champions League quarterfinal. Maybe that is what lured Klopp to make him a part of the family, understanding how a good team needs good men in it to be successful. Andrew Robertson by all accounts is a humble man who is slowly transforming into a model of professionalism, “a captain by example” in the words of Alex McLeish. His never-say-die attitude has kept him in the driving seat of his career, and he’s just getting started to make the left-back position in Liverpool his.  

Gone are the days of Paul Konchesky and Aly Cissokho, because in Robertson, Liverpool now has an old flavour of assurance with them — defensive stability and attacking wittiness, all the while growing into a fan favourite as often men of his ilk are. Perhaps the biggest compliment is the silence so far, as the media have been overtly vocal about his positional rival Alberto Moreno’s shortcomings with the Liverbird on his chest. Constantly fighting the fight under his belly and reminding his Bhoy of a father about Kenny Dalglish, Robertson has embarked on a journey to solve a decade-long problem for the Reds, never taking his feet off the ground. Never flustered, never stifled and obviously, never demoralised considering the line of incompetent predecessors he has had at the club, barring a certain Norwegian. That’s where he brings a new flavour to it all, with his inclination towards the simple aesthetics in a heavy-metal system, unlike John Arne Riise’s canon of a left foot. Adapting to an intensity never known before and learning while taking risks has even acquired him the nickname of “Robertson Carlos” from the over-enthusiastic Liverpool Twitter fanbase. While he doesn’t dwell on such exaggerations, he most certainly appreciates the love and often credits the supporters for that extra ten-percent that he pushes for, on or off the pitch.

Consistently challenging to be the league’s best in his position with his ever-hungry pursuit of the ball, and limiting forwards to mere bystanders, the Scottish left-back has truly been a revelation. To sign a player of Andrew Robertson’s talent and personality for free has to be the bargain of the season, but then again, another fluffy-haired left-footed player will certainly put a claim on that non-existent prize, who himself has benefitted from the ex-Dundee full-back’s assists in Liverpool’s last two league games.

Reports from the wilderness often suggest that Hullensians still bang the pub-doors on their way out and go crazy ranting on Reddit threads in frustration over the Stewart/Robertson deal last summer. Because they know how the Scottish inclusion in the Scouse family is a matter of unbridled joy, as the man himself tugs at the heartstrings of the people with his backstory, tickles the funny bone of younglings in dedicated letters, and finally, and, perhaps most importantly, restores the fan’s faith in humanity. Just like the sixty-four-year-old autobiography of the specially-abled artist still does for many around the world. Whether or not, Andrew Robertson will go on to inspire people with an unique tale forged by his own left foot is yet to be seen, but his arrowlike whips and possessed pursuits overcoming the many odds, make his journey for a page-turning read for the years to come.

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Debkalpa Banerjee

Loves the deft nutmegs, time travel paradoxes, existentialist films, scrambled eggs, and some unhealthy fanaticism of the boys in the Anfield red.