How Carl Robinson helped guide the 'golden generation' of Welsh soccer

Carl Robinson sideline - clapping

VANCOUVER, BC – Call it a passing of the torch.

On April 1, 2009, Carl Robinson represented the Welsh national team for the final time. Robinson sat on the bench and watched his native Wales fall 2-0 to Germany at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, all but ending their hopes and dreams of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup.  

Fittingly, that was also Aaron Ramsey’s first full competitive game as a Welsh international – and he was thrown in the deep end against Germany skipper Michael Ballack.

Ramsey, just 18 at the time, held his own.

It was a proud moment for Robinson, who helped bring the youngster along during his final few years with the national team. Robinson, a central midfielder like Ramsey, announced his international retirement following the match with a total of 52 caps to his name.

It was partly a lifestyle choice – he was playing for Toronto FC with an eye towards beginning his coaching career – and he knew he’d be 36 by Wales’ next World Cup qualifying campaign.

But Robinson also knew he was leaving the national team in good hands.

“I could have gone on,” Robinson told “John Toshack, the manager at the time, said he wanted me involved in the squad because of my experience, professionalism and leadership. I said I’d do that for 18 months until it came a time where I was just picking up caps for the sake of it.”

“I didn’t want to do that,” he continued. “I said once these young players are ready to play, the Aaron Ramseys, the Joe Ledleys, and Joe Allens, then I’ll step away. And it was the right time.”

Seven years later – with Ramsey and striker Gareth Bale at the helm – Wales are in the midst of their first-ever European Championship and first major tournament since the 1958 World Cup.

And they've taken the world by storm.

After finishing atop their group, Wales defeated Northern Ireland in the Round of 16 and top-ranked Belgium in the quarter-finals to reach the semifinals for the first time. 

“In Wales, the talk has always been, get to a major tournament, get to a major tournament,” said Whitecaps FC Pre-Residency coach and retired striker Robert Earnshaw, also a former Welsh international. “The last time we were in one, we were playing against Pele. It’s been such a long time. We’re very, very proud of the team and the work that’s gone in.”

Robinson and Earnshaw would know all about it.

The Welsh duo represented their national team a combined 111 times during their playing days. They have many fond memories – stories they could tell for days.

Robinson points to his first cap, his 50th cap, and matches against Brazil and England as his best memories. He faced England twice during his international career. On October 9, 2004, Wales fell 2-0 to England at Old Trafford after goals from Frank Lampard and David Beckham. 

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And on September 3, 2005, Joe Cole scored for England in a 1-0 win at Millennium Stadium.

“Although they beat us 1-0, being able to play against the likes of Gerrard, Lampard, and Beckham with England and people like Kaka and Robinho with Brazil, it was a great experience,” Robinson said. “Stuff you dreamed of as a kid.”

Although they’re no longer directly involved with the national team, Earnshaw and Robinson both feel massive pride watching Wales on the world stage. They were a part of the journey – a journey that brought them to within one game of qualifying for Euro 2004.

Instead, Wales suffered a heartbreaking defeat to Russia in a two-leg playoff.

“That’s why it brings a tear to my eye now,” Robinson said. “We should have done it ... but we didn’t. We missed out, we accepted it, and we learned from it. And when you learn from it, you become a better team.”

That’s exactly what happened.

After failing to qualify for Euro 2004, Robinson said Wales technical director/assistant manager Osian Roberts and the Welsh FA developed a long-term plan and curriculum – from the grass roots level to the senior team – to give Wales the best possible chance to qualify for a major tournament with the “golden generation” entering their prime.

The plan was focused on integrating groups of young players at the same time.

“It started 12 years ago, got into full effect eight years ago, and the last four years we’ve seen the fruition of it,” Robinson said. “It’s as simple as breaking it down. Keeping the core of talented young players together and trying to get them into the national team at the same time so you can have a club feel at the national team level.”

With the youth movement in full force, many veteran Welsh players, including Andy Melville, Robert Page, and Robbie Savage, decided to call it quits in the coming years.

After a conversation with Toshack, the ex-Real Madrid manager who took charge of Wales in 2004, Robinson decided to stay on.

“I was proud to play for Wales, but I was playing in Toronto so I asked him, ‘Is there any point in me coming over four or five or six times a year and only playing 10 or 15 minutes?’ Robinson said. “But because so many senior players had dropped out of the squad, he needed a little bit of a help. He said he would help me with my coaching. I wasn’t going to turn that down. So I took that and gained a lot of experience from him.”

How Carl Robinson helped guide the 'golden generation' of Welsh soccer -

And the up-and-coming Welsh players gained a lot from Robinson.

From 2005-2008, the likes of Ramsey (pictured with Robinson), Bale, Ledley, Allen, and current captain Ashley Williams all broke into the senior national team. Robinson tried his best to lead by example – especially with players like Ramsey, Ledley and Allen also playing in central midfield – and pass on any knowledge he could.

He remains close with many of them today.

“Because of his age and experience, he already was a leader on the pitch,” said Earnshaw, who was also quick to credit the late Gary Speed for his role in Wales’ transformation.

“Everyone else was so much younger and inexperienced. When Carl was involved, because he has a clever football IQ and he also played the right way – sharp, hardworking, enjoyed the ball, very unselfish – he could just help everyone else. The likes of Ramsey, Bale, Joe Allen … he was always ready to help the youngsters with their game on and off the pitch.”

Sound familiar?

It’s no secret that Robinson fancies working with young players – he recently threw a 15-year-old into an elimination Cup match and the ‘Caps have one of the youngest teams in MLS. He said those final years with the Welsh national team helped shape him as a manager.

Now, both Wales and Whitecaps FC are reaping the rewards.


The Welsh national team has three Crystal Palace players on their roster, which is noteworthy because the 'Caps are set to host the English Premier League side in a July 19 international friendly at BC Place. The three players are goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey, midfielder Joe Ledley, and forward Jonathan Williams.

"Joe I’m very close to," Robinson said. "He’s a prankster. He’s probably the team clown of the squad. He and Wayne are good friends. Good, honest hard-working guys who have personality about them. Jonny was a young boy when I was there. He’s got great ability. There are a lot of talented Welsh players coming through."

How Carl Robinson helped guide the 'golden generation' of Welsh soccer -

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