Competing With World-Class French Fuelling Robinson's Motivation

Antonee Robinson is the epitome of the modern-day full-back: mobile, athletic and with an engine that could power a 747.

He conforms to today’s norms off the pitch, too. Take Robinson’s plans for his summer holiday.

“I am going to have a week to myself, just chill and let my body rest after a long three weeks of travelling and training,” the Everton Academy graduate tells “Then it will be the same as always: back in the gym, working hard, keeping myself fit and looking forward to the season ahead.”

For all that his summer plans are grounded in routine, it would be not be entirely accurate to suggest that Robinson’s life today is “the same as always”. For more than a fortnight now, he has been able to call himself an international footballer, following a dynamic debut for the USA against Bolivia on May 28.

Cap number two arrived on Sunday in the rarefied surrounds of Lyon’s plush Stade des Lumiere and in opposition to a France team chocka with “fantastic athletes, all so fast, powerful and skilful.”

Robinson rather fancies France will win the forthcoming World Cup and manager Didier Deschamps sent out his A-team to tackle the US, Messrs Griezmann, Mbappe, Kante, Matuidi, Pogba and all.

There were 58,000 people in the ground to afford their nation’s footballers a rousing send-off to the tournament in Russia.

“The noise levels were incredible, I could not hear anyone talking when we were warming up,” says Robinson, whose team led through Julian Green's 44th-minute goal, before teenage superstar Kylian Mbappe struck late to salvage a draw for the hosts.

“I could not get the smile off my face when I was out there playing. Without a doubt, they were the best team I have ever played against… so in tune with each other.

“I wouldn’t say any one of them stood out above the others. They are all on another level and so talented and clever on the ball.

“I was probably a bit nervous at the outset, in front of so many fans and in such a great atmosphere. But when I got into the game I did not feel out of place.

“I wanted to play, to prove I am not afraid of playing against anyone, and hopefully that showed.

“I have never played competitively against individuals of that calibre. But when you are in the game, you realise they are just men and have to get on with it and do what you are there to do.

“In the second half, once our nerves had passed, we settled into it. We started to play, as well.”

Robinson’s season would have been viewed as an unqualified success had it finished following his integral part in loan team Bolton Wanderers’ gripping conclusion to the Championship campaign.

The 20-year-old played 30 league matches for the Lancashire club and was on the pitch for the full 90 minutes of their topsy-turvy final-day encounter with Nottingham Forest, when a 3-2 victory levered Bolton out of the bottom three at the expense of Burton Albion and Barnsley.

Robinson had been invited to a training camp with his country in March but did not feature in a friendly match against Paraguay.

It was more in hope than expectation, then, that he considered a post-season round of fixtures for the States following loan team Bolton’s heart-stopping escape, promising to "tick over in the gym" in case the call came.

Equally, when he was included in the pool of players selected to take on Bolivia, Republic of Ireland and France, he quickly discovered on landing in Philadelphia that his previous involvement would not act as a cure-all for butterflies.

“I will be honest, I was nervous,” says Robinson. “I could tell in training that I was nervous. And I was trying to adjust to the heat in Philadelphia.

“The manager and coaching staff called me into their office and said, ‘We are planning to start you against Bolivia, you are here for a reason, you have earned this cap, so do not worry about it or be nervous. We just want to see you play your game’.

“That settled me down and I had a good game and provided an assist. I was really happy with it.”

Robinson omits to mention that he could conceivably have had more than one assist. He created four chances in the match, won 3-0 by the States, and his decisive delivery crowned one of the four dribbles he embarked on down the left flank.

The Everton player’s pinpoint cross, after some neat footwork to outfox an opponent, was converted by Timothy Weah, the son of AC Milan legend and 1995 world footballer of the year George.

Weah was one of four teenagers in a team containing four full debutants and boasting an average age of 22 years, 160 days.

This is a nation smarting from its failure to qualify for Russia and investing in the young talent they envisage smoothing the USA’s passage to Qatar 2022.

Robinson qualifies to participate in this mission – alongside fellow emerging Premier League talents Matt Miazga of Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur’s Cameron Carter Vickers – by virtue of dad Marlon’s American citizenship.

“This is massive for him, he is over the moon for me,” says Robinson of Marlon, who, despite being born in England, spent a significant chunk of his early life in New York and for three years from 1981 represented North Carolina’s Duke University at football.

“Before I signed for Everton he was my coach, so for him to see me do well is brilliant – he has played a massive part in my development.

“My family and friends are all made up for me. One of my friends texted to say, ‘You started the season away at Accrington Stanley [in Everton Under-23s' 3-3 friendly draw on July 15] and finished in France.

“All my family are buzzing, they were watching at home and cheering me on. It is a really warm feeling, making everyone proud.”

Robinson and his young USA colleagues are going the right way about restoring pride to their country’s football. The States finished fifth in a six-team World Cup qualifying group, trailing in behind Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama and Honduras to snap the nation’s sequence of competing in every finals tournament since 1990. The nation was given a boost this week, though, when the USA was chosen to host the 2026 World Cup finals along with Mexico and Canada. 

“Everyone is disappointed we are not in the World Cup but we have dealt with that and now have to look forward to the next one,” says Robinson, who is also targeting a place in the USA squad to feature at the Olympic Games in Tokyo in two years’ time.

“We have a lot of talented young players. It is a really good squad and starting out as a group now will allow us the time to grow and play together, then there is no telling what is going to happen.

“It helped against Bolivia that a lot of us were in the same boat. It was a very new team but we gelled quite well.

“My assist showed how I want to play. I like to get at people, put crosses in and provide assists. I am glad everyone got to see that is what I am about.

“Once I realised I was comfortable, I started to gain more confidence and get forward more. And I felt I had a pretty good game.

“There is definitely a chemistry building in the squad. I know the players a lot better than I did on the previous camp, three weeks is a long time to spend with a group of lads! I have learned a lot with them and it will only get better.”

The USA’s matches against Bolivia and France sandwiched a trip to Dublin to take on Republic of Ireland. Robinson watched that one from the bench. It is nevertheless enlightening and refreshing, on two counts, to hear him talk of his night at the Aviva Stadium.

Thoughts of simply being glad to be there vanish, as Robinson makes no effort to suppress a pleasing competitive streak. Then he recalls the moment he crossed paths with Goodison Park colleague Seamus Coleman, who captained the Irish to a 2-1 victory.

“The only thing that could have made the past few weeks better would have been if I had played against Ireland,” says Robinson. “But I certainly cannot complain about making my international debut and playing against the side I think will win the World Cup.

“Seamus ran over to me when we were on the pitch warming up and said he was made up for me and to keep working hard.

“It meant the world to me but it was nothing I would not expect from him. I have known him for a few years now and he is a top man on and off the pitch.

“It does mean a lot. He is an established international. But I know he is a good lad as well.”

The modest, courteous and amiable Robinson meets any reasonable criteria for what constitutes a ‘good lad’, too. In keeping with his reflective nature, he appreciates he has a way to go to match Coleman as an established international – and as befits his driven personality is ready to give it a right good go.

“The game in France was an eye-opener,” says Robinson. “If you can compete with those players, on that stage, and not look out of place after your first proper season, then you think to yourself, ‘Right, if I keep improving, I can stay at this level’.

“It is a huge motivation for me. I have come a long way since the start of the season with Bolton and I am still learning now. Even in France, there must have been times I was out of position, especially playing in a formation I am not fully used to [Robinson was deployed at wing-back in a 3-5-2] and which we have not worked on much with the USA.

“You learn and then it sticks in your memory and you will not do it again.”

There were vast numbers of footballers in bygone eras for whom the final whistle on the season would trigger a Pavlovian response involving a dash to some party island for what could be euphemistically described as a week or two of letting their hair down.

Robinson is a product of his generation. The young Milton Keynes-born player – with a strong Scouse accent and who joined Everton's Academy aged 11 – would be more likely to associate the term 'active rest' with a jog around the block than high-jinx on a dancefloor.

Robinson belongs to a peer group which embraces the physical graft and clean living necessary to cut it at the pinnacle of their sport.

His outlook should go down well with new club manager Marco Silva, who, in his first interview after being appointed, pledged to consistently “demand a lot from my players”.

Robinson hopes the Portuguese has been “taking note” of his young left-back’s international exploits. But the player knows his best chance to present a compelling case for inclusion in his boss’s plans will come when he clocks in for his first shift under the new man on July 2.

“If I go back and do as well as I have with Bolton and the US, then hopefully I will get a chance,” says Robinson.

“But you are not just handed anything. You have to earn everything you get. The manager has not seen me play for Everton yet, so I cannot expect anything.

“I just have to go back and try as hard as I can to do well.

“It has been a very long season. I have enjoyed every minute of it but I am looking forward to relaxing now. Then the hard work starts again in a few weeks.”

Same as always.