When Liverpool travel to Old Trafford to take on Manchester United on Sunday, the performance of Andrew Robertson will be key.
Had someone said that to the Scotsman aged 15, he would almost certainly not have believed them.
It was as a teenager that Robertson, a talented but fragile full-back, joined Celtic, his boyhood club. His dream, to make it as a professional and don the green and white of the club he supported, seemed very much alive.
But at 15 years old he was released. He was too small to succeed, said the Celtic coaching staff. That setback only further motivated Robertson, who had confidence in his own ability.
He was forced to take a step down, joining Scottish Third Division side Queen’s Park, where he quickly proved himself and broke into the first team.
“Andy’s performances meant that we couldn’t leave him out, even though he was so young,” former Queen’s Park boss Gardner Speirs toldThe Telegraphlast year. “You could see his attitude, determination and ability. He was a first pick for the whole [2012/13] season.”
Robertson’s impressive form earned him a move to Dundee United in the Scottish Premiership. Again, he excelled, confounding his earlier critics. Now, nobody was suggesting he wasn’t big enough.
In the space of two years, Robertson made the leap from the fourth tier of Scottish football to the Premier League, earning a £2.85million move to Hull City in 2014. Even at that point, he was on Jurgen Klopp’s radar.
But he worked his way up, becoming a regular with Hull and helping them return to the top flight in the 2015/16 season.
In 2017, he got the biggest move of his career. Liverpool came calling and secured his signature for a measly £8million. Robertson was still relatively unheralded at the time, though that fee has proved to be an excellent piece of business.
During his first season, Robertson was forced to be patient. It seemed, following his arrival, that he might have to settle for a place in the squad as a deputy, but he soon left Klopp with little choice but to include him in the first team far more regularly.
Slowly, he grew more assured of himself in the German’s high intensity, finely tuned setup. And by the start of this season, he was indispensable, an essential part of Klopp’s team. His contribution in a Liverpool side on course for the Premier League title has not gone unnoticed.
Only Mohamed Salah and James Milner have created more big chances per 90 minutes than Robertson’s average of 0.37.
And it is no coincidence that Liverpool have improved so much defensively with the Scotsman at left-back. Defensively and offensively, he has been exceptional.(
It is easy to forget, too, that Robertson is still only 24-years-old. The disappointment of his rejection at Celtic is not a distant memory. He is still on a mission to prove himself, to establish himself as one of the best full backs in Europe.
The success won’t go to Robertson’s head, though. He will remain as modest and professional as ever, a role model for youngsters attempting to replicate his incredible rise from the bottom to the top.
Off the pitch, Robertson is equally inspiring. He often donates to food banks and charities. He goes out of his way to help people in need. And he does not do it publicly; helping people is something he has always done.
Robertson, already a popular figure in Liverpool, will become an icon if he and his team-mates lift the Premier League title come the end of the season. Success in the Champions League remains a possibility, too.
Robertson, of course, started in last season’s Champions League final against Real Madrid in Kiev. From the modest surroundings of the Scottish fourth tier, from his curt dismissal as a youngster at Celtic, he had reached the pinnacle of club football. And he did not, for one moment, seem out of place.
*Odds subject to change
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by Tom Bodell