‘A huge part’ - The MK Dons lowdown on Bristol Rovers manager target

The former Blackburn Rovers and Leeds United coach had his biggest success at MK Dons - and now we get the lowdown on the
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Bristol Rovers have a series of candidates interested in the vacant managers job, but one name seems to fit the bill the most.

Majority shareholder Hussain AlSaeed said he wanted a young manager that had the experience of winning promotion from League One or being in the Championship. One name that matches that description is former Leeds United coach Karl Robinson.

It was reported last week that he was 'very keen' on the job at the Memorial Stadium, amid reports of talks with the likes of Dean Holden, Garry Monk, Neil Harris and Ian Holloway. Robinson's been out of work since his brief stint under Sam Allardyce at Elland Road, where the former England boss was unable to keep the Whites from being relegated from the Premier League.

Robinson's last job in management was at Oxford United, and his last game in charge of the U's was against the Gas, who inflicted a 3-0 defeat at the end of February. It resulted in him losing his job and he was replaced by Liam Manning, who looks set to become the next Bristol City head coach.

Robinson was recently linked with the Bradford City job, but was said to have turned it down as he does not want to manage below the third tier. The 43-year-old has been in management for 13-years, and has a League One promotion on his CV with MK Dons in 2015. He also led Oxford to the play-of final in 2020 but lost to Wycombe Wanderers, and then the following season lost at the semi-final stage.

To help paint the best picture of Robinson, sports Editor Toby Lock from the Milton Keynes Citizen gives us the lowdown on one of the key candidates for the Bristol Rovers job.

How would you describe Karl Robinson and What was his management style like at MK Dons?

Karl is and will be a huge part of the way MK Dons have developed. The longest-serving manager by some margin at six-and-a-half years, he brought in a footballing style which people enjoyed watching, made the club feel a part of the community and developed a link with the supporters they are yet to see replicated from any manager since. It’s not really a surprise that so many of them pitch his name whenever there is a managerial change at Stadium MK.

What was Karl Robinson’s favoured formation at MK Dons - or did he change his approach depending on the opponent/player availability?

He stuck very rigidly to his 4-2-3-1 formation, and recruited for it, though he would have his clear and obvious first choicers. Rotation would come in around the three behind the main striker, but for the most part, it was a pretty consistent team he’d pick.

How did Robinson operate in the transfer market during his time at MK Dons? Did he have a specific profile of player?

He loved wingers at Stadium MK, and there were plenty of young up-and-coming Premier League loanees he would chance his hand at.

I believe that began to change a bit at Oxford but certainly for Dons, he would always be looking for the next big thing to snag early and give Dons a bit of a ‘surprise’ element to them.

What are his strengths and weaknesses?

Karl is a people person, for sure. He honed in on exactly what it was to be a successful MK Dons manager. Outwardly, he knew when to rollick the players to give the fans the anger outlet they needed after a loss, but also knew his core of players would back him to the hilt. It galvanised the club when they went through rough periods, and it made the fans feel a part of it.

His weaknesses were exposed when his teams got ‘found out’ and there was a way of stopping what they did well. His sides didn’t often have a mythical ‘Plan B’ aside from their default a lot of the time.

Robinson guided the club into the Championship which is Rovers aim in the next two seasons - what was the main factors behind that success?

They had an England international in midfield! Actually it’s harsh on the rest of that 2014/15 team to say it was entirely down to having Dele Alli in the side just a few months before he made his England debut but it’s a bit hard to look past the fact. He also had Benik Afobe - the first half of the season at Dons earned him his move to Wolves where his career took off - and Will Grigg, which began the hype around him in the following years.

Of course it was a culmination of Robinson’s building over the previous years, but that promotion season was a perfect storm which quickly cleared when Dons got into the Championship and were without those sorts of players.

If Robinson were to be appointed, what kind of coaching staff would he bring, and could you see him reuniting with any former players?

I’d have no idea to be honest. He left Stadium MK seven years ago, and he went through a series of assistant managers and coaches when he was there. None of them were at Oxford with him, only Richie Barker went with him to Charlton, and a lot of them are working in jobs elsewhere.

In terms of working with former players, he has his soft-spots for some. He re-signed Josh Murphy when he was at Oxford, who was Dons’ Player of the Year during their season in the Championship, and also gave Sam Baldock, the first MK Dons academy product, a deal at the Kassam despite the striker’s injury issues at the end of his career.

While he was at MK, he was at the very start of his managerial career so there were not many former players he could really call upon, but he was often linked with big names from his time at Blackburn - David Bentley and Tugay were two of note, but they never came to fruition.