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Friday, 13 July 2018 12:16

Andy Robertson looks to inspire new generation with Pro Academy

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By now we all know the story.

Ever since he broke into the Liverpool first team at the turn of the year, reminders of Andy Robertson’s humble journey have followed the 24-year-old Champions League finalist wherever he’s gone.

A mere five years before he was competing against the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos and Luka Modric on the grandest stage in European football, the former Celtic youth player was turning out for Queen’s Park in front of a few hundred fans a week in a near empty Hampden Park.  

It was called a remarkable rise. It was fairy tale stuff.

But the truth, for the Scotland left-back, is that the path to stardom began long before his days in the fourth tier of Scottish Football.

As a youngster growing up in Giffnock, Robertson recalls it was at an early age that he discovered a love of football that would start him on his journey:

“As a young boy I was always running about kicking a ball.” He said. “I used to go and watch my big brother until I was at an age where I could join a team.

“I played with my local team [Giffnock Soccer Centre] and my dad coached us. I remember being four or five years old and playing 4-a-side football. I played there, with my dad as a coach throughout, up until I had to move to Celtic where I stayed until I was nine or ten.”

Unsurprisingly, Robertson is still thought of incredibly highly at Giffnock Soccer Centre, and his story is one the club hopes can inspire more up-and-coming young players.

Club Chairman Donald MacLennan said: “Andy joined us at a young age, before his talent was spotted by Celtic and he left to start his pro youth career.

“He was and clearly still is a very hard working, grounded young man.

“All of us are delighted to have been a part of Andy’s journey and he is regularly held up as an example to all of the boys and girls at our club.”

Despite being coached by some of Europe’s best, Robertson insists he still carries some of the lessons he learned as a youth player into every game:

“I think the most important thing – especially at that age – is to enjoy it.

“That’s what I always tried to do and to this day I still try and take that into every game. It’s served me well so far.

“You see a lot of the top players have a smile on their face and I think that’s key.

“I still go and watch some kids football, and I think that some coaches can take it too seriously at times and put a lot of pressure on the players. [My dad and other coaches] were very much of the ‘go and enjoy the play’ mindset.

“Of course, we wanted to win the games, but it was more important to enjoy than to win, and because we were enjoying it we won more than we lost.”

Robertson recalls that he was playing so much football at that age that remembering particular highlights or matches is a struggle; what he remembers most is the enjoyment he got from the sport.

“I think I was playing three or four games a weekend so trying to remember them all is hard, but I loved my time as a youngster just playing all weekend.

“Going to school on Monday was always a bad thing.”

However, he does admit that one game stands out – even if it’s not a particularly fond memory:

“We never quite managed to get to any cup finals or anything, but I did get to a school cup semi-final [with St Ninian’s High School].

“We got beat and I got sent off, so I think that one’s remembered for all the wrong reasons.”

But semi-final defeats aren’t the only adversity he’s faced; famously, he was released by Celtic at under-15 level. Looking back, Robertson believes the disappointment helped motivate him, and urges any other young players in a similar situation to follow his example:

“To get let go from the club you support is that wee bit harder, but I just used it as my motivation and tried to prove to the people that maybe didn’t think I was good enough wrong,” he said. “Luckily, I’ve managed to do that, and for people in the same position I would say try and do the same because there have been a lot of good players that I’ve played with at different ages that haven’t kicked on because they’ve had one rejection and not known quite how to deal with it.

“I think up and down this country there’s a lot of talent goes to waste. If people can try to use the rejection in the right way, then hopefully it can be positive for the country because there will be a lot more players making it.”

And now, with a wealth of experience under his belt, Robertson has returned home to help inspire the next generation of Scottish talent.

Ahead of his return to Merseyside for pre-season, he took the time to make an appearance at a ProAcademy session at Rouken Glen in Giffnock.

ProAcademy is a coaching initiative that aims to provide professional coaching to kids, and was launched in association with Robertson.

The Liverpool and Scotland star answered questions and signed autographs for the young players and is hopeful that ProAcademy will help pave the way for these kids to have bright careers in football.

“Although my dad was a good enough coach, I’d much rather be coached by someone like [Technical Director and former professional footballer] Simon Donnelly,” he said. “We’ve got Simon and other coaches that are so enthusiastic about it. The kids can come and get excellent coaching and, more importantly, try and enjoy it.

“I worked closely with Simon at Dundee Utd and I know how good a coach he is, so if he could transfer it to younger kids then that would stand them in good stead and it’s proven that way. It can only be positive for Scottish Football and we hope that it can make even a small difference, and that maybe we can find one or two players that can hopefully pull on the Scotland jersey one day.”

For the kids taking their first tentative steps into football, the thought of playing for Scotland must seem like a pipe dream.

But, as Andy Robertson has proven, nothing is impossible.

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