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Red Icons: A look back at the career of Captain Marvel, Bryan Robson

Bryan Robson joined Manchester United from West Bromwich Albion for a then-record £1.5 million in 1981 and went on to be one of the most important players in United’s history. He wore the number 7 shirt for the club but was very different to those who would wear it after him, the likes of Eric Cantona, David Beckham, and the Cristiano Ronaldo, to name the most decorated. He went on to make 461 appearances, falling just shy of a century of goals on 99.

Very few players can be truly considered the ‘complete midfielder’, but the man who was nicknamed ‘Captain Marvel’ has a genuine claim to that. He had a strong passing range, was aggressive in the tackle, and had an eye for goal as his goals to games ratio suggests. He became an important figure in the United dressing room too, taking over from Ray Wilkins as club captain.

His skills were recognised by his country too, as he also wore the armband for England. He was capped 90 times, and in that time he scored 26 goals, putting him 13th on the all-time top scorers for the Three Lions. Robson was greatly appreciated by his first manager at United, Ron Atkinson, who was also his manager at West Brom. He knew of Robson’s ability when he brought him to United, saying:

“With this player, you’re not taking a gamble, what you’re buying is pure gold.”

But it was not just his ability which made him a firm favourite with his team-mates and United fans alike. He appreciated the importance of team spirit and this was embodied best at the end of the 1982-83 season in the FA Cup final replay against Brighton and Hove Albion. United won the game 4-0, with Robson scoring two of the four goals. It was remembered more for Robson’s decision to allow designated penalty taker, Arnold Muhren, to take the penalty rather than trying to grab his hat-trick.

The following season saw what may have been an even more memorable brace from the man from Chester-Le-Street. Needing to overturn a 2-0 deficit from the first leg of the European Cup Winners’ Cup quarter-final against Barcelona, Robson scored two goals to inspire United to a 3-0 victory. The euphoria around Old Trafford was evident as some fans invaded the pitch, lifting Robson aloft.

Despite Atkinson winning the FA Cup twice whilst Robson was at United, Robson’s mentor was sacked and replaced by a certain Scot, Sir Alex Ferguson. Despite a mixed start to Ferguson’s United Career, Robson continued to put in stellar performances. Despite Robson being a pivotal part of all the United teams he played for, ironically United’s first league title since the 1966-67 season came in a season when Robson lost his place as one of the first names on the manager’s teamsheet.

The following season saw United win the league again, with Robson once again playing a far smaller role than he was used to. However, it was a fitting moment when he joined Steve Bruce, who had captained United for most of the season with Robson spending most of the season on the bench, to lift the trophy.

He stopped playing after he left United and began a managerial career which included spells at West Brom and Middlesbrough. He has since re-joined United in an ambassadorial capacity, promoting the club on a global level as a brand along with the likes of Dwight Yorke, Dennis Irwin, and Dwight Yorke. Robson remains a club legend and was fully deserving of his nickname, Captain Marvel.

Written by Rob Potter

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