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The Laurent Robert thread


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Personally I thought he had a shocker today, another lazy performance, no commitment, little tracking back, in fact I hardly noticed he was there !

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Where's the yawn smiley?


Or is this thread ironic?




I thought a sense of humour was a minimum requirement when signing up for this board ? :D

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Where's the yawn smiley?


Or is this thread ironic?




I thought a sense of humour was a minimum requirement when signing up for this board ? :angry:



Maybe just for signing up, but not for creating... :D


It looks to me that as soon as you become a Admin you also get deadly serious.

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Where's the yawn smiley?


Or is this thread ironic?




I thought a sense of humour was a minimum requirement when signing up for this board ? :angry:



Maybe just for signing up, but not for creating... :angry:


It looks to me that as soon as you become a Admin you also get deadly serious.





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  • 14 years later...

“The first time I was here, I was having dinner with Sir Alex Ferguson. I’m not sure anyone knows that.”

Laurent Robert is sitting at a table at Le Bistro Romain, at a window seat overlooking Montpellier’s Lez river. We have spent the morning together and he is now reflecting upon a “wonderful” career,  recalling the moment in the mid-1990s that bolstered his youthful belief he would make it to the top.

“I was in my early years as a professional when Mr Ferguson came to visit,” Robert explains, as he tucks into his lunch of veal a la Milanese with spaghetti, to which he adds a liberal helping of Tabasco sauce. “I was still a young player, doing well for Montpellier, and Mr Ferguson came to watch me and a couple of team-mates.

“I didn’t speak much English, but my agent, Pape Diouf, was there. Mr Ferguson told us that we were good players; he wanted me to know that Manchester United were aware of me.”

An official approach from Manchester United never arrived, but Sir Alex would follow Robert’s progress closely. He even lauded the Frenchman’s performance during a 4-3 victory for Newcastle United against the Scot’s side in September 2001, when Robert curled in a sublime free-kick.

Back then, Newcastle were competing for Europe’s most prized assets, and Robert was among them. It was another Sir, Bobby Robson, who would lure the winger to Tyneside, as the former England manager built a Champions League team.

“Those were special times, at a special club with a special manager,” Robert says. “I was at my happiest at Newcastle — even scoring against Mr Ferguson, who gave me so much confidence.”

Earlier in the day, on a brisk Tuesday morning in December, Robert is waiting in a video analysis room at Montpellier’s Bernard Gasset Grammonet training centre, six miles outside of the city centre. He is sitting alongside his eldest son, Mathieu, and there is a white paper bag filled with croissants and pains au chocolat on the desk in front of them.

“Please eat, my friend,” Robert says. “Good French pastries. It’s what we’re famous for.”

Stroking his unkempt beard, which is going grey in places, he leans forward, taking a bite out of a croissant. He appears a more serene character than he did during his playing days, when, as he repeatedly admits, he had a “strong mind” and he “would say whatever I thought”, even confronting a reporter who had questioned his efforts: “Let’s say I ‘slapped’ him, yes,” he says.

Mathieu describes his father as “crazy, always speaking his mind, even when it isn’t wise to.” The 22-year-old, who studied at what was Newlands Preparatory School alongside the children of fellow Newcastle players including Alan Shearer and Gary Speed, speaks fluent English, and is helping to remind his father of specific words and phrases.

“When I went to Newcastle, I didn’t speak a word of English,” Robert Snr explains. “My English now is bad, but it was nothing then. It took time, but every day it got better.

“Some of the first words I learnt were swear words. I remember Craig Bellamy every day on the training ground, every other word would be, ‘Prick, fucking prick, shit.’ He still makes me laugh now; he is crazy, but he is great.”

It is more than 14 years since Robert made an appearance for Newcastle, but his affection for the club remains undiminished.

The initial £9.5 million move, completed in August 2001, “came as a big surprise” to the Frenchman. “I had been at Paris Saint-Germain for two years and we had done well, I was playing for the national team,” he says, adding that he would tell “genius” Ronaldinho how he should be taking free-kicks during their time together at the Parc des Princes.

“But then we changed managers. (Philippe) Bergeroo was replaced by (Luis) Fernandez. I won the Confederations Cup with France that summer, playing all the games, but when I returned it was very difficult with Fernandez. Lots of clubs, like Rangers, wanted to sign me, but my agent told me Newcastle really liked me.

“Newcastle were in a difficult moment (finishing 11th in 2000-01) but, when Bobby Robson wants you, as a player, you want to say yes. I told him I would come and visit with my family. He told me, ‘No problems here, son. Come, we have a good team and we will do well. We have Shearer, Speed, (Nolberto) Solano — many good players.’ I couldn’t say no to him.”

There were other reasons why Newcastle proved an attractive move. Born on the island of Reunion, a French overseas territory in the Indian Ocean, Robert’s family did not have a television when he was young, and only bought a black-and-white set when he reached his teens. His father, Pierrot, was a legendary footballer on the island — “both his feet were like my left foot, he scored goals from everywhere” — and was his inspiration as a child.

But when Robert did eventually visit mainland France to pursue professional football, the first player he admired was a Newcastle academy product — Chris Waddle.

“When he was at Marseille, I always sat close to my TV in France to watch him,” Robert says of the ex-England winger. “He is the player I idolised, and I even had the same haircut (a mullet) for a while. I found out about Newcastle because he used to play for them. Unfortunately I never got to meet him, even when I was at Newcastle.”

Another former Newcastle winger, a compatriot to whom Robert would inevitably be compared, also alerted him to the club’s potential.

“Of course I knew about Newcastle before — David Ginola played for them. Respect!” he adds. “When David played for Newcastle, all the French TV stations spoke about the club. I saw St James’ Park was always full, and thought, ‘Wow!'”

The pair had actually been together at Brest in north-west France back in 1992, though Robert was only briefly at the academy, while Ginola was in the first team. “I thought Brest was cold, and I couldn’t cope there, but then I arrived at Newcastle…” Robert says. “But David was great for me. He was at Aston Villa when I arrived in England and he gave me advice, told me what a great club Newcastle was. He told me, ‘If you play like I did, the fans will love you.’ So I tried my best…”

Now, whenever a French forward signs for Newcastle, Ginola and Robert’s respective legacies precede them. For the likes of Remy Cabella and Florian Thauvin, such expectations proved unattainable. Yet, rather than be overawed by Ginola’s iconic status at St James’ Park, Robert embraced the hype.

“When I signed, everyone said to me, ‘David was a very good player.’ I said, ‘OK, he’s good, but I’m good too,'” he explains. “I knew I needed to prove myself every day and to take Newcastle to the top end of the league. I think I proved that.

“But you need to enjoy it when you play, too. Every time I play, I’m happy because it’s my life. The fans at Newcastle will support you if you give everything. I also had my family close by, and they helped me. So did the manager.”

No matter what the topic of conversation across the course of the day, Robert repeatedly returns to Sir Bobby, who the Frenchman describes as “like a father to me”.

“When I came to Newcastle, he protected me and gave me confidence every day,” Robert says. “After games, he would drop me off at home, then he would pick me up and we would speak a lot. When you have a manager like this, you need to play for him, and for the team.”

For Sir Bobby, their relationship was somewhat more complex. Sir Bobby once described Robert as the “most infuriating player I’ve worked with”, and would rarely hide how exasperating he found the winger to be.

Tracking back, or a lack thereof, was one of the root causes of Sir Bobby’s frustration. However, when asked about the subject, Robert is initially somewhat bemused by this line of questioning. “I don’t know what you mean,” he says. “I always tried to get back into position quickly when we lost the ball.”

Reminding him of Sir Bobby’s comments, he offers up a smirk. “OK, sometimes I know I had problems with this. When I was young, I just thought that my job was to take the ball and score. But then I realised if they take the ball off me and the opposition score because I didn’t get into position, that’s my fault. He did used to speak to me about it sometimes, yes.”

Yet Robert’s enduring devotion to his former coach highlights Sir Bobby’s much-heralded man-management skills. “Sometimes he needed to be strong with me, but that was OK. I understood,” Robert says. “Always with Bobby Robson, he would explain things to me. Then you know why. Sometimes he’d put me on the bench and he’d say, ‘It’s no problem. You need a rest, and if I need you, I’m sure you can win me this game.’ But he’d always explain, and that keeps your confidence high.

“Three and a half years I played for Bobby Robson, and he was my best manager. He would tell us all the time about how he made Brazilian Ronaldo into a top player and how he would do the same for us. He also coached Barcelona and England, so he deserves respect. When he talks, you listen. I only have very good memories of him.”

After speaking for 45 minutes, Robert leans back in his chair and puts his hands up in the air. “Can we stop for now, please? My head is tired from speaking English. We’ll train now, and continue speaking later.”

We leave the video analysis room and weave through a maze of buildings, which are decorated in Montpellier’s colours of orange, blue and grey. The blocks house classrooms, gyms and changing rooms. Towering behind is the first-team building, bright orange with a blue mesh surrounding it, which Robert points to and says, “That’s where all the players are trying to get to one day.”

Robert is wearing a black Nike hat, black gloves, a blue Montpellier coat, fleece and tracksuit, and orange-and-black boots. He is wrapped up warm as the December breeze whips through the training complex. “It’s very cold for me,” he says. “Maybe not as cold as Newcastle, though.” When the clouds overhead pass and the temperature rises slightly, he points to the sky, “Ah, the sun — it’s my friend!”

Now 44, Robert admits he never envisaged being a coach post-retirement. But, after spending “five years doing nothing, just relaxing” in Paris once his career ended with Greek side Larissa in 2009, he realised he needed to work again.

“I remember one of my sons turning to me a few years ago and saying, ‘Dad, you don’t work and you stay at home, why is that?'” he explains. “They were young when I played, so they didn’t know I actually did something before. I told them, ‘Look, your daddy played football before, now I’m retired.’ But then my wife, Stephanie, said to me, ‘Do you not want to be a manager?’ So I thought I would try for my coaching badges, and here I am.”

A return to Montpellier, where he played between 1994 and 1999, followed. He has since gained his UEFA B Licence, and was in Paris and Toulouse last month as he studies for his A Licence, which he hopes to complete by May. Next comes the Pro Licence, which would permit him to coach at all levels across Europe.

For now, Robert is happy to allow his coaching career to progress slowly by the Mediterranean. He aids the first-team manager Michel der Zakarian by coaching the Ligue 1 team’s forwards, while he is also in charge of the Under-19s. Robert is also keen to say that he works with Teddy Richert, the club’s goalkeeping coach, who he scored a free-kick past during Newcastle’s 4-0 win over Sochaux in the UEFA Cup back in November 2004. “I like to remind him about that regularly,” he laughs.

We are stood on a gravel path, with the women’s stadium to the left, and an artificial pitch to the right. In front, beyond a wire fence, is the field where Robert’s Tuesday-morning session is due to take place. But he is being made to wait.

“I hate being late. This I don’t like,” he hisses, looking at his watch, which has ticked past the scheduled starting time of 10am. “They should be here and ready now.”

Robert goes off in search of his charges, and returns two minutes later. As the players filter past, they all say “Bonjour” and shake my hand. There is a polite and respectful culture at Montpellier, and Robert believes in this ethos. “We want to make good people as well as good players,” he explains. “We work with them on and off the pitch.”

The session starts with some physical drills, with players jumping over small hurdles, carrying medicine balls and running with weight bags over their shoulders. Individual dribbling and shooting practice follows — and, though Robert refrains from delivering one of his trademark long-range efforts, he does curl in a few delicious crosses.

As his father shouts instructions, Mathieu strolls across to the adjacent pitch and points to a skinny forward wearing pink boots, and who has a snood partly shielding his face. “That’s my brother,” he smiles.

Thomas, Robert’s middle son — the youngest of the three, Leo-Pierre, is 10 — is a versatile forward who is on the cusp of becoming a professional. The 19-year-old plays for Montpellier’s Under-21s and has been training with the first team all season, though he is yet to make his debut. Mathieu “hopes Thomas will go to England one day, because that’s where all the best teams are”.

Back with the Under-19s, Robert Snr is overseeing a drill designed to encourage crosses to the far post, with goals scored in such a way earning three points. “Plus rapide”, “bravo”, “encore”, “marquer”, “voila” Roberts shouts, while also taking individuals to one side to demonstrate how they can improve.

As the 105-minute session come to a close, he calls the players into a huddle and delivers a short debrief. “I love sessions like that,” he says. “You can see the players are listening and learning. That’s what every coach wants.”

“Come in here, I just need to get my things,” Robert says, beckoning me into another of the academy buildings.

A surreal moment follows. Inside this small coaches’ locker room, Robert begins to get changed. It brings back vivid memories of the day in May 2005 when he stripped down to his pants on the pitch at St James’ Park in a famous farewell.

He was an unused substitute against Chelsea that afternoon and handed out all of his clothes, including his shin-pads, to Newcastle fans, departing the field in his Y-fronts.

This time he is wearing boxer shorts.

“I have seen the pictures of me in my pants, yes!” he says. “I did not organise anything. It was the final home game and I knew that Graeme Souness had big problems with me. He wanted me to leave Newcastle, so the reason why I gave my shorts, my shirt, my socks and my shoes — all of my clothes — to the supporters was because I appreciated them so much. It was instinctive, in the moment. It felt right, even if the pictures look strange now.”

(Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Almost 15 years have passed, yet Robert’s resentment towards Souness remains undiluted. The Frenchman scored 32 goals in 181 games across four seasons at Newcastle, but he still had 12 months remaining on his five-year contract when Souness sent him on loan to Portsmouth.

“We were were both strong characters. I didn’t understand him, and he didn’t understand me,” Robert explains. “I always tried my best for him, and he knows that, but he wanted different things from his players. He signed Michael Owen and others that summer, he had a new project and wanted his own players.

“When he told me to move, I really wanted to stay in Newcastle because to go to Portsmouth at this time, after Newcastle, was not a good move. The supporters wanted me to stay, I wanted to stay, but Souness wanted me to move. I have big regrets because I preferred to stay in Newcastle.”

Before joining Portsmouth on an initial one-year loan deal, Robert was fined two weeks’ wages by Newcastle following comments in which he questioned Souness’ “intelligence” and management skills. Robert does not recall these specific comments, even when they are read back to him, but adds, “I don’t remember that, but I probably said it. You know, he’s a crazy guy, I’m a crazy guy. We clashed. I speak bad about him? Pfft, almost certainly, yes. He deserved it.

“Souness used to say to me, ‘You are not a good player, you’re shit.’ I just can’t understand that. I scored goals, I gave assists and I always played for the team. Managers like Bobby Robson always gave me confidence because he is a good man with a good mentality. But Souness, he was so different.

“When I left for Portsmouth, my wife was upset because she did not want to move our family from Newcastle, living out at Heddon-on-the-Wall, where we were happy. After that, Newcastle were very bad. Souness changed the squad, and for what? For nothing. I wish I had stayed. That is my big regret.”

Robert has finished changing and is now wearing a dark-grey fleece, jeans, a black coat with a fluffy trim, and black boots. He walks outside, opens the door to his black Smart car, and says: “Let’s go. It’s lunchtime.”

We drive for 10 minutes, towards the centre of Montpellier, until we reach a white-stone building overlooking the river. Robert is a regular at Le Bistro Romain and is warmly welcomed by the waiting staff, who show us towards a table by the window.

“I know what you’ll like,” Robert says as we peruse the menu. “You’ll like the speciality.”

A rectangular dish topped with salmon carpaccio, accompanied by a bowl of fries, soon arrives. Once that is finished, another plate, this time lined with thin slices of beef carpaccio, replaces it. “This is usually a summer meal,” Robert says, explaining why he has chosen the veal ahead of the delicious, if protein-filled, raw-fish-and-meat feast. “But I wanted you to try it.”

Once he reveals his previous dinner date with Sir Alex, the conversation again returns to Robert’s St James’ Park days. He repeatedly ends answers with, “Wow, great memories.”

He recounts tales of Jonny Wilkinson visiting Newcastle’s Benton training ground to practise place-kicking, Solano “waking up the squad every morning with his trumpet, playing salsa music in the dressing room”, and “wild” nights out on the Quayside.

“I love the Quayside,” he smiles, “and I have many stories, but those ones aren’t for sharing, sorry… We had some big characters in that dressing room.”

None more so than Lee Bowyer, who infamously fought team-mate Kieron Dyer out on the pitch — “I just remember looking round and thinking, ‘What the fuck is going on?'” Robert says. “It’s a one of those moments in life I will never understand.”

He still struggles to comprehend what happened when he inadvertently knocked out close friend Olivier Bernard when attempting to clear the ball against Leicester City, either.

“Oh my God, I remember that,” he replies. “I didn’t want to kill him. I said before, ‘Olivier, when the ball comes to me like this, I will smack the ball off the Leicester player.’ But I hit it really hard into Olivier’s face! When he finished the game, he didn’t remember anything. I was very close with Olivier, but that whole dressing room was close. We had quite the team.”

During his first season on Tyneside, Robert helped Newcastle secure a fourth-placed finish, including winning a penalty and scoring during the famous 3-1 win away to Arsenal in December 2001. “We were brilliant and it was great to be competing with the best teams. At Highbury, I was a substitute and Bobby Robson took to me one side and he said, ‘Come on Laurent, I need you to win us this game.’ My speed helped us win that game; I remember Robert Pires chasing behind me when I was through on goal, but he couldn’t catch me. A great day and a great season.”

Third and then fifth-place finishes followed in each of the next two campaigns, as did European nights. “The Champions League is for the top players and the top teams, and that’s what we were at Newcastle then,” Robert explains. “We played against Inter Milan, Juventus, Feyenoord, where Bellamy scored in injury-time to secure qualification. That was special. Bobby Robson led us to be one of the very best teams in England and we were competing in Europe. He told me that’s what would happen, and he was right.”

While Solano caressed crosses in from the right flank, Robert would whip balls in with venom from the left, providing Shearer with the ammunition he needed. “I always knew if I crossed the ball in, Shearer would score,” Robert says. “It was easy for both of us because we worked hard in training. He’d say, ‘Put it at the front post and I’ll be there,’ and he almost always was. We were a good combination with a real understanding. That whole team was set-up to attack and I loved that style of football.”

The Frenchman’s left foot was pinpoint accurate, but it was also thunderous. Few Newcastle players have boasted such a sledgehammer of a shot, as Tottenham Hotspur discovered to their detriment. As well as providing two assists for Shearer during a 4-0 win in December 2003, Robert scored two wonder-goals – the first a vicious volley from 25 yards out when the ball dropped from the air following a spurned clearance, and the second a missile from 40 metres that dipped ferociously into the net.

To compound Spurs’ misery further, Robert reveals he was ill for that game. “I was sick that morning,” he recalls. “I had missed training on Friday with a 40-degree temperature. I was in bed, wrapped in my duvet, when the physio, Derek Wright, and the doctor came to give me some medicine. Then Bobby Robson came to see me. He said, ‘Laurent, I know you’ve been ill, but I need you today.’ I said, ‘It’s difficult for me, I feel weak.’ But he said, ‘Son, you’ll be great. I know I can count on you.’

“So I took lots of vitamin tablets and I got to the ground 90 minutes before the game. I started to feel better. Mr Robson came to me, he said, ‘You’re playing this afternoon son. I need you.’ That made me feel strong.

“I scored two goals and had two assists for Shearer. The first goal was a volley. It was coming down from a height and a I just hit it, beautiful. The second, Gary Speed gave me the ball, I controlled it and from 40 yards I decided to take my chance. Always when I received the ball, the fans screamed, ‘Shoot!’ So I thought, ‘Okay, if you need me to shoot, I shoot!’ I always wanted to make them happy. It was a special day, and not what I expected when I was in bed wrapped in my duvet a few hours before.”

YouTube compilations of Robert’s best goals for Newcastle are several minutes long, and he recounts each one with glee. But perhaps the strike he is most proud of is the acrobatic overhead kick he scored against Fulham in January 2004, when he had to manoeuvre his body in the air before somehow flicking Kieron Dyer’s cross, which was angling away from him, into the net.

“I’m better than Zlatan (Ibrahimovic), no?” Robert smirks. “I was the first to score like this… No, I’m joking. But, for this goal, Dyer crossed, I came into the box and it was all instinct. The ball was behind me and it was not possible to head it, so I made myself like a ninja. It was some goal. I don’t think I could do it again.”

Robert scores his extraordinary goal against Fulham in which he flipped his body around and backheeled it over his head into the top corner (Photo: Matthew Ashton/EMPICS via Getty Images)

Thankfully, he was not asked to recreate it for the film Goal! although they did use both that strike and a free-kick against Liverpool. “They are my goals and my feet during the movie, when Santiago Munez is dribbling, because they came to film me at St James’ Park,” he says. “It’s very nice that they used my goals.

“My youngest son, now, regularly he watches Goal! He doesn’t believe me when I tell him they’re my goals, though, so I have to show him on YouTube. But nobody will ever take away those special memories from me. Hopefully Newcastle fans still enjoy them now.”

In March, Robert was in England to coach Montpellier against Chelsea in the UEFA Youth League, and he was serenaded by Newcastle supporters. “I know I gave my best for this club and I really enjoyed playing there. It makes me proud,” he says.

“I look at the club and see them in a difficult moment. We need luck to get back to where we were when I was there. We believed we were going to win trophies, and we should have won the UEFA Cup in 2004. Against Marseille in the semi-final first leg, we should have been 4-0 up. We also came close in the Premier League. It is very difficult to think of Newcastle in this way now because the top teams are so strong, but that’s how we were then.”

It is seven years since Robert last visited Tyneside, and he yearns to return. “I really want to go back,” he says. “The club have not invited me — nobody has called. I would come to a game, no problem, and bring my family. St James’ Park is like my home, so I want to go back.”

As Robert sips his sparkling water after finishing his lunch, he outlines why he is “different” now from the hot-headed player who rowed with Souness, vexed Sir Bobby and frustrated his team-mates with his lackadaisical approach.

“I was 27 or 28 when I was at Newcastle and I had a strong mind,” Robert says. “I’m different now I’m 44. Day after day, I need to understand everything. I played in France, England, Portugal, Spain, Greece and Canada. I had a difficult time at Portsmouth, a very difficult time at Derby County — we had a bad team and none of us stayed very long — and those experiences change you.

“I’m a good man. Everyone who knows me will say, ‘Yes, Laurent is a good guy.’ But I don’t like people being overly critical. If you say something to me, if it’s constructive and you explain, I understand. I know I make mistakes, everyone does, but there’s a way to help me learn from those mistakes without talking shit about me.”

Robert has learnt from all of the managers he has worked under, both positive and negative. “I have taken a little bit of knowledge from them all,” he says. “Ronald Koeman in Benfica, Fernandez in Paris, Souness and Bobby Robson at Newcastle. I look back at what is good and bad.

“Roger Lemerre, who was France manager in 2002; he taught me how not to treat players. After I signed for Newcastle, I never played for France again, even though I was playing in the Champions League. Yes, France had a good team, but Pires got injured before the 2002 World Cup. I thought, ‘Come on Laurent, this is your time.’ He had coached me for the French army side, and I scored 15 goals in five games for him. But he never picked me and he never explained why. Bobby Robson always explained why, and that’s what I try to do with my players now.”

Although Robert is taking his time transitioning to be a coach, he admits that returning to English football is the ultimate aim. “I’d love to manage in England,” he adds. “I need to prove myself in France first but then, after that, you never know. The pace and attacking intent of English football suited me as a player and it suits me as a coach. Who knows, why not coach at Newcastle one day? I’d love that, but we’ll see.”

With that, as we leave the restaurant, Robert steps forward for a hug. “A bientot,” he waves. “I hope to see you in Newcastle.”

Whether returning as a fan, or as a coach, Robert is desperate to come back “home” to St James’ Park soon.


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