He may be just 25, but England's Paul Robinson plays like a veteran, says his club coach Hans Segers.
Paul Robinson may be just 25, but the England goalkeeper plays like a veteran, says his club coach Hans Segers. If he could take a joke he’d be perfect.
How is it that Paul Robinson has established himself as England’s number-one goalkeeper with such little fuss? Probably because he has looked so completely at ease since he first appeared in his country’s jersey that he hasn’t generated many headlines.
It’s a theory that Hans Segers, the former Wimbledon and Nottingham Forest number-one and now Robinson’s coach at Tottenham, firmly believes. He has monitored Robinson’s rise and is in no doubt that the 25-year-old keeper’s understated assurance will serve him well for club and country
"The first couple of times he played for England he maybe didn’t have too much to do, but everything he did, he did well," says Segers.
"It’s no use making a blinding save if you then go and concede a silly goal, it’s about having a nice steady performance. England have a goalkeeper there for the next ten years."
Travelling to Portugal in 2004 as second choice to David James, Robinson was then just a promising up-and-coming keeper whose displays for a struggling Leeds United team had landed him a £1.5million move to the capital.
Just months later, however, he has emerged as one of the Premiership’s most dependable stoppers who has started the last four games in the England goal.
"When he came [to Spurs] we needed to get him leaner and quicker because he’s a big guy and he was carrying a bit of weight," says Segers. "But he did a lot of work himself in Portugal over the summer and came back in pre-season six or seven kilos lighter, so full credit for that."
Born in Beverley, East Yorkshire, Robinson came through the Elland Road youth set-up to make his first-team debut for Leeds against Chelsea 10 days after his 19th birthday, keeping a clean sheet.
Injury blighted his first two seasons with Leeds, but by late 2000 he was at the forefront of the club’s thrilling journey to the Champions League semi-final.
Already England’s Under-21 regular keeper, he made his full international debut in the second half of the 3-1 defeat to Australia in February 2003. This season, Robinson kept 11 clean sheets in the first 26 games for Tottenham, making him the club’s most miserly keeper for over a decade.
Robinson started his first competitive game for England against Poland in a World Cup qualifier last September (left).
His performance in the 2-1 victory sealed his position and he became the first England keeper to save a penalty for over three years when he kept out Raúl’s spot-kick at the Bernabéu in November.
"Every time he plays in an international he gets experience and hopefully Tottenham can get into Europe, which will be great for him," says Segers, who after working closely with Robinson for less than a year, is raving about his student’s abilities.
"Goalkeepers reach their peak at 29 or 30, so he has a long way to go yet and he can get better. To be England number one takes a lot of courage at his age. It’s easy to forget he’s only 25.
"You can teach goalkeepers, and you can try and improve them, but the talent he has is natural. His reflexes are unbelievable. His distribution is awesome - the best in the Premiership at the moment without doubt.
"With the back-pass rule changing a few years ago, 70 to 75 per cent of the work a goalkeeper does is with his feet, so that has become a very big part of the game and Paul is excellent at it."
Much of Tottenham’s training involves working with Robinson and his back four as a unit, improving communication and understanding. It’s a solid base that has helped Spurs surprise many this season.
"We’ve mainly been working on his positional play and the way he commands his area, but the best thing about Paul is that he’s always willing to listen and he trains really hard," says Segers. "Even though his distribution is so good already, we don’t just stop there, we keep working at it to make it even better."
At Spurs and England, Robinson has quietly established himself as a cult hero. When Spurs were chasing Arsenal in their 5-4 derby, Robinson was urging the team forward, waving his arms and volunteering to take free kicks.
But there is one area in which Segers would like Robinson to improve: "His sense of humour - he can’t take a joke." With Germany 2006 looming, let’s hope Robinson will have plenty to smile about.