Liverpool's Andrew Robertson hoping to mimic predecessor Alan Kennedy's heroics vs. Real Madrid
Andy Robertson has become a cult hero at Anfield. The 24-year-old has made the transition from being a squad player to one of the team's mainstays in the second half of the season. His vigour, athleticism and appetite for the game have given Liverpool a much more solid look at left-back.
Robertson can get forward, too. He provides balance and width. The Scot is one of the campaign's success stories.
The season did not begin so well. Robertson started just two of the first 14 Premier League matches. Until December, Alberto Moreno was Jurgen Klopp's first choice on the left of defence. Eyebrows were raised when the £8 million summer signing from Hull City failed to displace Moreno, a player whose four-year Liverpool career has been characterized by mistakes and mental lapses. It took Robertson six months to win his manager's trust. Klopp made it clear to the left-back what he needed to do to win a place in the team. The defender's attitude and application impressed the German.
Robertson is not the first left-back to be granted cult status by the Kop -- and not the only one to get off to a rocky start. Alan Kennedy made 359 appearances for the club between 1978 and 1985 and was given the nickname "Barney Rubble" - after the Flintstones cartoon character -- for his slightly scruffy, all action style. If Robertson emulates Kennedy's exploits then he will enter the pantheon of Anfield's greats but the Englishman got off to an even worse start than the Scot.
Kennedy made his debut against Queens Park Rangers and had a dreadful first half. At the break, the new boy expected words of encouragement from Bob Paisley in the dressing room. The Liverpool manager had some words for his recent signing but they were not inspirational. "I think they shot the wrong Kennedy," Paisley said.
It was typical that Liverpool's most successful manager should interpret history -- in this case the assassination of John F. Kennedy -- in football terms. Robertson can take heart from the past, though. Barney Rubble not only won Paisley's trust but was instrumental in bringing trophies to Anfield. Kennedy developed the knack of scoring in big games as well, hitting the net in two League Cup finals, first in 1981 against West Ham United and two years later against Manchester United. Liverpool went on to win the silverware on both occasions. His greatest moment, however, came in the European Cup, the predecessor to the Champions League, against Real Madrid.
When Liverpool face Real in Kiev later this month it will be the second time the teams have met in the final of the competition. The first showdown was in 1981 in Paris and the match belonged to Kennedy.
The game was tight, tense and contained few chances. The Liverpool left-back -- in common with Robertson -- loved to range forward and, with eight minutes left, charged upfield and took possession from a throw-in. Kennedy drove into the area, bundled through a challenge and drove towards the byline. Seeing few options for a pass, he shot across the face of goal into the far corner of the net. The strike was enough to give Liverpool a 1-0 victory and provide a third European cup win for Paisley, the manager who had delivered the devastating and threatening quip at half-time in Kennedy's first game for the club.
"It was said in jest but the message was that I had to improve or I was out," Kennedy said. "You didn't last long if you weren't up to scratch."
Robertson received a similar message from Klopp, albeit in a much more subtle and instructive form. The Scot has risen to the challenge and has made the left-back position his own. Since Robertson began playing regularly and the arrival of Virgil van Dijk in January, Liverpool have been more composed at the back and much less prone to silly errors that gift goals to the opposition.
Kennedy and Robertson share many attributes. Supporters love their commitment to the cause. Both men are humble and willing to subvert their own game for the greater good of the side. Neither has the technical ability of some of their teammates but more than make up for it with their work rate.
Scoring a goal against Real in Kiev is the stuff of dreams for Robertson but a Liverpool left-back has killed off the challenge of the Spanish giants before. Like his predecessor, Robertson had a questionable beginning to his career at Anfield. The lesson from Kennedy is it's not how you start, it's how you finish. Robertson is travelling in storied footsteps and, so far, is doing an excellent job of it.
Tony Evans has been a sports journalist for more than 20 years. He writes for ESPN FC on the Premier League. Twitter: @tonyevans92a.