Jonathan Woodgate was heading back to the Newcastle United dressing-room after a successful marking job on Didier Drogba when manager Sir Bobby Robson made a beeline for him in the corridor.
‘I’ve never seen a performance like that, son. You were amazing. I can’t believe what we’ve got,’ says Woodgate, impersonating the famous delivery to a tee.
‘I just thought, “Wow”. A manager who really believes in me. That’s why, as players, you would do anything for him.’
Jonathan Woodgate (right) will do his best to replicate Sir Bobby Robson’s man management
Those familiar with the Bobby Robson story at Ipswich, England, PSV, Sporting Lisbon, Porto, Barcelona and Newcastle, will be aware of his unique motivational powers and special bond with the public.
But nobody could have predicted the incredible legacy he has left on and off the pitch 10 years after his death aged 76 from cancer. The foundation he set up to fund cancer research and equipment has now raised more than £13million.
In Portugal, a street was recently named Rua Sir Bobby Robson to honour his work supporting orphans. In Ipswich, a special needs school is being built which will bear his name.
A football man to his core, he will have been elated to see how many of his former players and coaches developed into top-class managers.
The impressive list is headed by Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho and has also included international managers Julen Lopetegui, Luis Enrique, Glenn Hoddle, Peter Reid, George Burley and the late Gary Speed.
Woodgate is the latest in a long line of players inspired into management by Robson
And the graduates keep on coming. Last season Lee Bowyer led Charlton to promotion in his first full season and, this Friday, his former Newcastle player Jonathan Woodgate begins his managerial career when Middlesbrough open the Championship season at Luton.
‘I’ll take many things into the job Sir Bobby taught me,’ says 39-year-old Woodgate unashamedly.
‘When I signed, the gaffer said he’d never lie to me. If I played good, he’d tell me. If I played bad, he’d tell me. But if you were bad, he would still boost you in training afterwards.’
Woodgate spent 18 months at Newcastle in 2003 and 2004 and also played for Leeds, Real Madrid, hometown club Middlesbrough, Tottenham, Stoke and England.
He hopes to treat his players the same way Sir Bobby dealt with him.
‘The first thing that struck me was his enthusiasm,’ reflects Woodgate. ‘He knew everything about me, right down to my sister’s name. When I got the tour of St James’ Park, I was in awe of him. So was my dad.
‘He was 70 but did the drills on the training pitch. Man-management was his greatest strength. He’d make you feel a million dollars.’
Sir Bobby’s reputation as an attacking coach may also been reflected in Woodgate’s approach after a dour season at the Riverside under Tony Pulis. Woodgate says he will also aim to replicate Sir Bobby’s ability to create a family atmosphere at a club.
‘It isn’t just about 11 players, but all those people behind the scenes. Sir Bobby knew everyone’s names, how long they’d worked there.
‘He didn’t put injured players at the back of the cupboard and forget about them. People don’t realise the depression injuries can cause. I’ll always spend time with the injured players, like the gaffer did. Let them know I care. Good managers appreciate people are wired differently. Sir Bobby could get players in the office or tell them in front of the group to do better. But at the end of it, he was behind them 100 per cent.’
Sir Bobby reluctantly let Woodgate join Real Madrid in August 2004 with the prophetic words: “How will I replace you?” Ten days later, he was sacked by Newcastle. Now it’s Woodgate’s turn for the hot seat.
Woodgate wants to treat his players with the same unwavering honesty as Robson did
‘Being a manager was the last thing I thought about at 23,’ he admits. ‘I think you have to be a bit obsessive to be successful and I just love watching football. I’m not saying I’ll be as knowledgeable as Sir Bobby but I’ll try.’
The Sir Bobby Robson cancer foundation has helped employ 45 people in the cancer trials unit at Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital where Sir Bobby was a patient.
An £850,000 stereotactic radiotherapy system has been bought to provide detailed scans and accurate radiation. Nearly £1m has been given for research and treatment to reverse low survival rates of bowel cancer in the north-east and Cumbria.
Sir Bobby’s name is scarcely less popular in Portugal, where he once managed Luis Figo and inspired Jose Mourinho and Andre Villas-Boas. Every year, a golf event takes place in his name in the Algarve to raise money for the Refugio Aboim Ascensão which provides shelter for abandoned babies and children aged under six.
It is supported by dozens of football personalities and has raised £1m.
Sir Bobby’s incredible career saw him cross paths with most of football’s major figures from the last 60 years. He was part of the 1958 World Cup with Pele and Sir Bobby Charlton, eventually lost his England place to Bobby Moore, faced Diego Maradona and Franz Beckenbauer as manager, worked with Ronaldo, Romario and Paul Gascoigne and tried to sign Wayne Rooney.
Sir Bobby Robson, pictured here during his time at Barcelona, is still adored across Europe
His closest friend throughout was Charlie Woods who worked for Sir Bobby as coach, scout, chauffeur and confidante.
Woods well remembers their last conversation a couple of weeks before his death.
‘I stayed with Bobby and Elsie at their lovely home in Urpeth. Bobby was poorly so I told him when I left at six o’clock the following morning, I wouldn’t disturb him,’ recalls Charlie.
‘So at six o’clock, I left the house as quietly as I could. I’d even parked outside the main gates so the car wouldn’t make a noise on the gravel.
‘I got in the car and set off. I’m not five minutes into the journey and my phone rings. It’s the boss. “I heard you leave son, drive safely” was the message.
‘That was him — thinking of others right until the end.
‘He will be so proud to see more of his players like Jonathan becoming managers and to see his family continuing the fight against cancer and homeless children.’