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Legendary British soccer commentator Michael Robinson dies of cancer aged 61

The broadcaster and former player, who revolutionized sports commentary in Spain in the 1990s, passed away on Monday in his home in Marbella

Soccer commentator Michael Robinson in Madrid in 2019.
Soccer commentator Michael Robinson in Madrid in 2019.Samuel Sanchez

Michael Robinson has died of cancer at his home in Marbella at the age of 61. The British former soccer player and broadcaster, who had lived in Spain for decades, revolutionized the analysis of his sport in the country in the 1990s thanks to his show El Día Después (or The Day After) and his live commentary of matches.

In the fall of 2018, Robinson was diagnosed with a myeloma, and from that moment he wanted to apply his own therapy to the disease: a sense of humor. For a year and half, he managed to ward off bad omens. But when we spoke for the last time, in the midst of the coronavirus lockdown, and his joking had disappeared, I feared the worst. “I’m sorry to be the bringer of bad news,” he said a few days before passing away on Monday. “They have not given me any hope.”

Even when preparing us for the worst, he sought to be stylish. His English character still shone through despite so many years of living in Spain. Dozens of years had passed since he traded in a breakfast of eggs and bacon at home for café con churros in a bar. He had begun the process of applying for a Spanish passport after Brexit. But his last game was at Anfield. And he lost…

When Atlético de Madrid beat his team, Liverpool, at home on March 12, knocking them out of the Champions League, he suffered an alarming sign of a metastasis in his brain the next day. But even then he continued to joke around. “Christ! [Atlétic coach Diego] Simeone wants to finish me off!” he said down the telephone. “I was afraid of this. We drew the most masochistic team in Europe, the one that knows how to enjoy suffering the most.”

He took medical leave and then confinement arrived for everyone. It was as if the whole world of soccer had decided to respect his retirement from the microphone. Without Robinson, sport in Spain will be if not mute, at least somewhat hoarse. And rightly so, because there has been no one else who commentates like he did, alongside the great Carlos Martínez, and there is unlikely to be anyone like him in the future.

Paradoxically, he was the sports commentator who spoke the best Spanish. He knew how to ration his judgments and he avoided useless verbiage. He gave out wise advice to more than one colleague in this respect. “They don’t give us the microphone so that we talk, but so that we can talk.”

He was the sports commentator who spoke the best Spanish. He knew how to ration his judgments and he avoided useless verbiage

His story can be summed up with two names – two chapters, a pair of identities: Robbo and Robin. The former was the nickname by which he was known in English soccer, where he played at Liverpool and even won a European Cup in 1984. The second arrived in Spain. He hung up his boots after playing at Osasuna, between 1987 and 1989. They were two seasons that led to a bitter farewell, and left him with a knee that had been torn apart.

When he arrived in Osasuna in 1987 he had an inkling that he was going to begin a happy time of his life. That intuition stayed with him for the rest of his life. He started out living in Pamplona and in a few months he learned Spanish thanks to his teammates. Lesson number one: “Michael, go to the bar and order us five hijos de puta con leche.”

That was when his life began with another name: Robin. AKA el guiri, or el inglés, as sports journalist Alfredo Relaño used to call him. It was Relaño who helped to redirect Robinson’s career toward broadcasting. He began on Eurosport and then on Spanish state broadcaster TVE, where he was hired to commentate on the Italy 90 World Cup. When Relaño was appointed head of sports at Canal+, he signed Robinson up.

This saw Robinson begin to commentate alongside Martínez, something he continued to do from 1992 until the end, inventing a new way of commentating the sport. Also on his CV was Informe Robinson, a TV show that combined the epic with the human dimension of sport on all levels. He also explored this side on Acento Robinson, on radio network Cadena SER. He prepared some of this content with his son Liam. Robinson leaves behind another child, Aimee, and his wife Christine.

It will be difficult to turn up the volume of the TV when the soccer is on from now on. At least until artificial intelligence manages to create a clone that resembles Robinson. The broadcaster was blessed with the virtues that so many aspire to but that are only available to a few chosen ones: true charisma and genuine authenticity.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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