When Bryan Robson moved to Manchester United from West Bromwich Albion in 1981 for a British record transfer fee of £1.5 million, then United manager Ron Atkinson made a bold statement. “Signing a player like Robson [for such a high fee] is not even a gamble, because he is pure gold,” Atkinson said.

‘Big Ron’ was proved right, as Robson established himself as the ultimate team man in his 15-year tenure at the club. A hard-nosed, tough-tackling footballer, Robson was described by the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson as “the best captain I have ever had at United”.

Robson’s time at United represents a wonderful phase in the club’s history. The same cannot be said about the club’s current status, with performances falling well below the high standards set by past masters. The ‘Red Devils’ were eliminated in the fourth round of the FA Cup by Middlesbrough recently, and are in danger of finishing outside the top-four in the Premier League.

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The Champions League, where the side faces a strong Atletico Madrid in the round-of-16 later this month, offers some hope for a reversal in fortune. The odds are heavily stacked against a struggling United, but Robson believes that the team is capable of delivering.

“Everyone will say that the idea of United winning the Champions League is absolute nonsense. But I’m telling you that United definitely has a chance. Cristiano Ronaldo has won the Champions League before. He knows what it takes. If Ronaldo and his teammates get to that level, they can win," Robson told Sportstar .

Robson is a part of United’s fan event, #ILOVEUNITED, an interactive virtual event for the club’s Indian fans.

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Bryan Robson spent 15 years at Manchester United, where he won the Premier League twice. Photo: The Hindu Archives



Asked if Ronaldo has lived up to expectations since his arrival at Old Trafford, Robson said, “Ronaldo has not scored a goal in six odd games, so he will be under scrutiny. Harry Maguire made one mistake against Burnley, and he is under scrutiny. You cannot always pick on individuals. The group has to unite and perform as a team. They must bond and say, 'We still have a lot to play for this season. Let’s prove all the pundits wrong’. The players cannot focus on individual performances,” Robson, nicknamed ‘Captain Marvel’, said.

Robson gave an insight into what it takes to be a true leader. “When I was playing at Manchester United, I wasn’t the only captain. Peter Schmeichel, Paul Ince, Steve Bruce, Roy Keane - they were all captains. The best captains are center-halves or centre-midfielders, because they are closest to everyone and can organise plays. Captains and senior players must demand the best from their teammates. I didn’t want to be friends with all my Manchester United teammates. I just wanted to be successful for myself, the fans, and the club,” Robson said.

“I know [current United captain] Harry Maguire well. He is a great lad and captain. Scott McTominay, who rose through the ranks from the academy, knows everything about Manchester United. Scott could progress and become a captain. He is a tackler, a worker, and can score goals. If you look at Liverpool, the old boys like Jordan Henderson and James Milner have a real go at teammates when necessary. You tell off a teammate to make him a better player. The players at United have to realise that,” Robson.

Robson was distressed with the actions of West Ham centre-back Kurt Zouma, who was seen kicking and slapping his pet cat in a video posted on social media.

“What Zouma did was totally wrong. I think he should have received a bigger punishment. He should not have played in that first game after the video came out [against Watford]. They should have handled it differently,” Robson said.

The 65-year-old stated that United is keen to connect with Indian fans through the #ILOVEUNITED event. “A lot of people in India love their football. At Manchester United, we know how important it is to connect with fans who love the Premier League and our club. It will be great if India produces footballers who can compete at the highest level. India is a bit like China - both are vast countries with great sportspersons. At Manchester United, we look all over the world to get the best players. India is a vast nation, and there has got to be great talent there,” Robson said.