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The tale of Australia’s boom young midfielder has taken yet another turn

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Alex Robertson, Socceroos, Australia

He was the centre of a multi-nation tug-of-war, but Alex Robertson is committed to the Socceroos. But let’s learn more about the young midfielder, after the unfortunate news he’s been ruled out for the remainder of the 2023-24 season.

Born in Dundee, on Scotland’s Eastern shores, to a Peruvian mother and Australian father, a one-cap Socceroo in 2001, football was in Alex Roberton’s blood from the beginning.

Viewed by many devout disciples of Australian football as the nation’s next great midfield hope, following the likes of Aaron Mooy and Mark Bresciano before him, it was thought Robertson’s career in the green and gold would be over before it started.

Even with a silhouette of Australia inked permanently on his forearm, concerns about his Australian allegiance persist, fuelled by his exclusion from Graham Arnold’s Socceroos 2024 Asian Cup squad. This decision was likely taken to free Robertson to increase his involvement, and development, at Portsmouth, where he’s spent the 2023-24 season on loan, as well as minutes with the Olyroos.

Despite the speculation, Graham Arnold insisted the young star is committed to Australia, confirming prior to the Asian Cup that Robertson will spend the entirety of his senior international career donning the nation’s distinct green and gold.

Breath, Australian fans. Release the relief. Our great midfield hope is fending off international interest and seemingly remains ours.

His story of emergence has taken an unfortunate turn, though; the 20-year-old suffered a serious hamstring injury in training with Portsmouth. And plenty of readers, at this point, are probably wondering who exactly Alex Robertson is… and just how hyped we should be about the prospect. So let’s get to that.

Alex Robertson with Portsmouth in England.

Who is Alex Robertson?

For years, Australian football fanatics have heard the name Alex Robertson, even if the optimism about his allegiance to the land down under was quiet at best. With confirmation that young star is set to become a Socceroos’ stalwart, it’s time to look deeper at who he is and what profile of player he is.

An England youth international, Roberton is a central midfielder with a preference for playing in attacking spaces, finding pockets of space to pick the right pass or go for goal himself, though more than capable of cutting it in more withdrawn, defensive midfield roles.

In March 2023, a half an hour cameo in a friendly against Ecuador provided a snapshot into the player Robertson is – he touched the ball 22 times, won six duels, and two tackles. Even if brief, and without clear attacking phase highlights, it was enough to curry excitement.

Following a faltered loan spell at St. Mirren in Scotland, Robertson found a new temporary home at fallen English giant, Portsmouth, in the 2023-24 League One season, the third tier of English football. This spell afforded Robertson a chance to flourish in a more established environment.

As far as first tastes of professional football go, they go get more physically scrutisinising than England’s League One. While flashes of good football are evident through the division, its physical profile is revered throughout the English pyramid.

Put simply; if you can match League One’s physical demands, you’re on the right path to matching it physically anywhere.

Coming from youth football, where Robertson was a successful goalscoring attacking midfielder, finding the net 13 times in 25 outings for City’s under-18s, into the third tier of English professional football always posed a challenge.

After a period of adjustment, Robertson took to life at Portsmouth like a duck to water, constantly impressing and improving in a Pompey side fighting for promotion to the Championship. In manager John Mousinho’s 4-2-3-1 system, the young Aussie has featured in every central midfield role, highlighting his tactical versatility and technical astuteness.

Admittedly a player who ‘loves getting stuck in,’ Robertson’s not shy to fulfilling the nitty-gritty defensive duties; his two League One starts in defensive midfield saw him win 11 of 13 ground duels, make four clearances, and two interceptions.

Going forward is where the young Australian midfielders talents are best extracted. As with all City academy graduates, Robertson is comfortable with the ball at his feet, capable of excellently executing simple passes or pulling off dazzling dribbles and touches to remove himself from tight, pressured situations.

Before a hamstring injury ruled him out of the back half of the 2023-24 campaign, Robertson had found the net once and provided four assists for his teammates. His goal, against Burton Albion, came from a by-line cut back and exemplifies his the presence of an instinct within all great attacking midfielders possess; ghosting into dangerous goalscoring positions and find the back of the net.

Away from the penalty box and Robertson can have an influence everywhere. His comfort in possession means he can receive the ball anywhere, under any type of pressure, turn and positively progress the ball up the pitch.

For the Socceroos, it wouldn’t be hyperbole to say his skillset is a God-send. Outside of Aaron Mooy, Australia’s lack a midfiedler of Roberton’s profile for some time now. An offensively inclined central midfielder who excels with the ball at his feet as opposed to out of possession is not only the profile of player Australia needs now, but also in the future.

Possession is gold in football. It’s not that the best teams hold the ball the most, because that’s not always the case. It’s that the best teams are purposeful with the ball and comfortable with being positive, either patiently holding the ball until a gap or half-space appears or being so in-possession brilliant they’re able to carve their own spaces.

Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, for example, aren’t just the master of death by 1000 cuts. If need be, they can also slice through you at speed. They have options and at the heart of it all is nippy creative midfielders, who Roberton’s moulded after, capable of knitting play together, breaking down deep opposition defensive blocks, and bypassing presses with a pass, turn, or dribble.

It’s no coincidence that after barely a full season at Portsmouth the club were impressed enough to express interest in retaining his services for the 2024-25 campaign, when they’re all likely playing in the Championship, where his injury-free development is likely to continue.

John Mousinho, Roberton’s manager during his first season at Portsmouth, constantly sang his praises, particularly applauding the midfielder’s versatility.

“He’s been playing a position we knew he could play in, but one we didn’t necessarily bring him in to play. So now playing as one of our holding midfielders, one of our sixes, where he’s excelled – he’s been excellent,” Mousinho said.

It’s not just his manager raving his performances. Many fans online herald the midfielder as one of the finest talents the club’s possessed, if temporarily, for some time.

Add to this reported interest from Everton, as well as City’s undoubted desire to keep him around for longer and push his development further, and you get a clear understanding of his multi-faceted talent.

There are worse places to develop a foundational footballing education than Manchester City, who in recent years have developed the likes of Jadon Sancho, Phil Foden, Rico Lewis, Brahim Diaz and Cole Palmer. Roberton’s career could go the way of Foden and Lewis, who both appear likely to consolidate their place as City stalwarts

Should his future from 2024-25 and beyond lie outside of Manchester, both Palmer and Sancho’s careers highlight how exceptionally City academy products are able to transition, and impact, different sides, leagues, and tactical systems.

FPL gameweek 18, Alex Robertson
Chelsea’s Cole Palmer of there being life outside of Manchester City for the club’s academy graduates

From a Socceroos perspective, there are worse scenarios than one of the nation’s brightest attacking products, a midfielder who, along with others in this revitalising era of young Australian footballers, can shoulder the expectations of a nation.

For good reason, Robertson, alongside Nestory Irankunda, Patrick Yazbek, Jordan Bos, and several other young Socceroos cutting their teeth in various European leagues, will be a mainstay of the Socceroos for the next 15 years.

Yet within this cluster of high-potential talent, Robertson is the jewel, perfectly shimmering at the forefront of the nation’s crown.

Kyle Robbins
Kyle Robbins
Kyle is a senior sports writer and producer at Only Sports who lives and breathes sport, with a particular burning passion for everything soccer, rugby league, and cricket. You’ll most commonly find him getting overly hopeful about the Bulldogs and Chelsea’s prospects. Find Kyle on LinkedIn.

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