Michael Robinson's playing career in Spain was discreet, with his spell at Osasuna being cut short by a knee injury just two years after his arrival at the club. But it was to be the springboard from which he would become one of the most recognised and beloved figures in Spanish broadcasting from the 1990s until his death.
Such was his fame that he was known simply as “Robinson” and his television programmes drew millions of viewers, who enjoyed his unique perspective on football. A harsh critic of what he saw as the BBC’s formulaic analysis on Match of the Day, he focused instead on the humour and fun of the game, often from the fans’ point of view, as well as examining tactics with the panache and authority of a born communicator.
However much grammar you know, if it's not accompanied by a certain amount of intellect or feeling, the message you're giving is pointless
Robinson first made his name in the studios when commentating for Spanish TV on the 1990 World Cup, shortly after he had retired. He impressed viewers and TV executives even though his Spanish was far from perfect.
In fact, his status as a foreigner almost certainly helped drive his stock higher, given Spaniards’ keen interest in what outsiders think of their country. He told the story of how, early in his broadcasting career, his employers told him to make sure he kept his English accent when speaking Spanish on air because of the exotic kudos it gave him.
Although Robinson never lost his accent, his command of Spanish improved enormously and beneath the charm and down-to-earth style, he understood his worth.
“However much grammar you know, if it’s not accompanied by a certain amount of intellect or feeling, the message you’re giving is pointless,” he once said.
He could also be seen in his incarnation as a Spitting Image-style puppet in a satirical television show, proof, if any was needed, of his status as a national treasure
Robinson’s Monday night show, ‘El día después’ (The day after) was essential viewing for those who wanted not just to catch up on the weekend’s football action, but to enjoy some insight into the game and its culture. Later he presented ‘Informe Robinson’ (The Robinson Report), a weekly magazine programme, which gave him a broader remit to delve into stories related to sport in general.
At his peak, it was difficult to avoid Robinson’s face or voice on the Spanish airwaves, given his seeming omnipresence. As well as his commentary on live games (also during the Rugby World Cup) and weekly shows, he could also be seen in his incarnation as a Spitting Image-style puppet in a satirical television show, proof, if any was needed, of his status as a national treasure.
The respect was mutual. In 2010, he made a documentary about the Spanish football team, which had recently won the World Cup. When his son called him to tell him the record viewing figures and overwhelmingly positive response, he cried with joy and amazement.
In 2015, the journalist and writer Jesús Ruiz Mantilla described Robinson as “this man who has marked an era with his baroque accent and knack for catchphrases, with his trademark smile and tireless ability to understand what is going on out there on the pitch.”
He added: “He’s still there, younger, wiser, more indispensable than ever.”
But now, Robinson is gone. And Spain is mourning its loss.