The challenges facing a young manager in English football

By Paul FletcherBBC Sport
MK Dons boss Karl Robinson
Robinson believes Villas-Boas needs to show single-minded determination

At 33, new Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas is currently the youngest manager in the Premier League.

But he is not the youngest manager in English professional football; that title currently belongs to Karl Robinson, the 30-year-old boss of League One side MK Dons.

A former coach at the Liverpool academy, MK Dons and Blackburn, Robinson was 29 when he took over at the Buckinghamshire club last summer and firmly believes that neither he nor the new Chelsea boss should be judged by their age.

"The question is whether or not somebody is a good enough coach," Robinson told BBC Sport. "Villas-Boas will not fail because of his young age. If he does fail it will be because he is not good enough."

Robinson had a short non-league playing career before concentrating on coaching, and had acquired his Uefa Pro Licence by the age of 28. Villas-Boas did not play to any great standard, but started his coaching career in his teens.

The likeable Dons boss is keen to stress that judging a manager purely in terms of their age misses the point. Instead people need to realise that because they started studying coaching at such a young age they have already acquired a lot of knowledge.

"If I had retired as a player at the age of 36 then I would be the equivalent of 48 now because I have been coaching for 12 years," said Robinson.

"Look at many other famous managers with longevity - the likes of Arsene Wenger, Rafael Benitez and Jose Mourinho - they did not have much of a playing career either but they have had extreme success."

However, Robinson quickly realised that his age was frequently used against him when his team lost.

"If results are poor, I guarantee the media will question Villas-Boas's lack of experience," added the Liverpudlian. "It only adds to the pressure of the job, but you just have to get over it and deal with it.

"It is frustrating because sometimes you lose games because you are not good enough but the media opt to point the finger at the obvious.

"There will always be that tag but you just have to get over it."

Villas-Boas takes over a Chelsea squad boasting numerous experienced players, including Didier Drogba, John Terry and Frank Lampard, all of whom are understood to have a considerable influence in the dressing room.

Robinson was on the coaching staff at Blackburn at the age of 27, first under Paul Ince and then working for Sam Allardyce. Rovers had numerous experienced players such as David Dunn, David Bentley, Paul Robinson and former Turkey international Tugay.

It might have been a daunting experience for someone so young but Robinson believes that to succeed as a coach you must always stay true to your philosophies and disregard the issue of age.

"If you show any signs of weakness, footballers will pick up on that almost immediately," he said. "It would be difficult to come back from that.

"The first time I ever questioned my age was when there was an incident on the training ground at Rovers with Tugay.

"He was 10 years older than me and a player I greatly respected but you have to throw down the gauntlet and put your views across. In the end he accepted my point of view and we moved on. Players either abide by that or they go and seek a new football club."

Robinson is a sharp-witted Liverpudlian but has realised that managers must have a ruthless streak if they are to succeed; they must be able to make tough decisions over selection and the future of their playing staff.

"People say that I am always smiling but at times I'm the angriest man in the world, I flip, I do throw things and have that aggression," he said.

"Look at Burnley boss Eddie Howe, who is the same age as Villas-Boas. What he has done in recent years in keeping Bournemouth in League Two and then winning promotion on a small budget the following season is incredible.

"He has proved himself as a brilliant young manager but he would not have done so if he was not forceful in some capacity. He is ruthless."

But perhaps the most important lesson that Robinson has learnt as he attempts to forge a career in the unforgiving environment of English football is to surround himself with experienced people who he can turn to for advice.

On the day that I spoke to Robinson he revealed that he had already spoke to former England international and Blackburn boss Ince, new West Ham boss Allardyce and former Liverpool striker Robbie Fowler. His assistant at MK Dons is John Gorman, a man with vast coaching and managerial experience.

"If you do not sit down and speak to experienced people then you will fall short," said Robinson.

"You have got to find your own footballing godfather, your mentors, people that you can bounce ideas off. They can tell you things that you can only guess about.

"I have got enthusiasm, I want to get to the top and be the best but I understand that I have so many days of learning left in me. That will never stop."