Jürgen Klopp considers Jack Robinson to be a lucky charm.
“The manager said we haven’t stopped winning since I came in!” laughs first-team assistant goalkeeping coach Robinson, who joined Liverpool from the Football Association in September 2018.
He’s not wrong, though.
During the intervening year-and-a-half, the Reds have lost just once in the Premier League – opening up a significant lead at the summit this term – and lifted the Champions League, UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup.
“A whirlwind,” Robinson says, through a puff of his cheeks. “It has been brilliant.
“The experiences we’ve had, the games we’ve played and the things we’ve done have been more than I could imagine. I’m really, really pleased to be here and hopefully contributing in some way to helping the goalkeepers and the team do that.”
Jack Robinson during a training session at Melwood
Robinson describes his journey to Merseyside as ‘different’.
After seven years at Leeds United’s academy and a brief spell in Manchester United’s youth ranks, a professional playing career did not materialise.
Instead, the dual pursuits of further education and football coaching filled his late teens, Leeds having invited Robinson to help with the club’s development teams – a role that continued at weekends when he progressed from college to studying for a sports science degree at Loughborough University.
Graduation was followed by a year full-time with the Yorkshire side and then, career-wise, something of a nomadic spell.
In summary: outfield coaching with Crystal Palace’s U15s, rowing coaching for a community charity in London, a goalkeeper course, part-time work for United, a teaching qualification, seven years at Old Trafford, head of goalkeeping for England’s U15s and U17s and a World Cup triumph with the latter.
“And then I got the call to see if I’d like to come and work here,” he remembers of the invitation from first-team goalkeeping coach John Achterberg to join the Reds in a newly-created role.
“Since day one John has been really open and trusted me and allowed me to take lots of the sessions. We work together on them. It has been really good. I’ve taken some finishing sessions with the first-team players and done bits and pieces like that.
“It’s quite fluid. John says he brought me in to have a different point of view to what he has done. I try to provide that. We think along the same lines, we have the same ideas and same philosophies; how we go about some of the coaching we do can be slightly different.
“John will look at what I’ve written down, I’ll look at what he’s written down and we’ll change bits and pieces and say, ‘Why don’t we add this in?’ Or, ‘Change that’. Or, ‘That might not work today’.
“I’ve felt really welcomed by everybody. There’s nobody in the club – right the way through everyone at Melwood and the Academy – that is doing it for themselves. Everyone wants to do it for the club and for the fans here.
“There’s a real spirit within the group where we want to do it together, we want to do it as a group and create memories. The manager has spoken about when we’re old and have grandkids, we want to tell them about the stories we created here.
“I think everybody has that in mind and everybody wants to continue that work and work together to achieve something for the club and the fans.”
John Achterberg and Jack Robinson
A typical working day for Robinson begins with the sight of Achterberg – now in his 11th season as part of the Liverpool backroom team – already at his desk inside Melwood, planning sessions and conducting analysis, including videos of goalkeepers around the world.
The Dutchman has remained a constant of the Reds set-up as the managerial reins moved from Rafael Benitez to Roy Hodgson, Kenny Dalglish to Brendan Rodgers and now Klopp over the past decade.
Known for his tireless work ethic and personable nature at the training ground, Achterberg’s dedication to the pursuit of improvement is a trait Robinson wants to emulate as he develops his own abilities.
“The time he has been here, at such a big club, tells you how good a coach he is and how good a person he is,” says Robinson.
“He really gets to know people. His character, people come to him and they warm to him. He’s a genuinely nice person. He wants to help people. He wants to help the goalkeepers get better. Even down to the penalty things we work on, he wants to help the outfield players with how they deal with their penalties as well.
“He is one of the most hard-working coaches I think I’ve met. His knowledge of the most random league you’ve seen… the Polish third division, he knows every ‘keeper and knows what they’re good at and knows all their attributes. His knowledge is vast and if he doesn’t know he’ll quickly find out.
“For me, that has been a really important part for the next stage in my career. So, OK, I know how to coach and work with the players we have got. But how do you then build a legacy like he’s had with the number of goalkeepers he has brought through here, and the young goalkeepers that have come through the system as well?
“That takes a lot of effort, a lot of knowledge and a lot of contacts. He has been excellent at that. He has been brilliant.”
Robinson and Achterberg are based in a room directly adjacent to Klopp’s office at Melwood, shared with assistant managers Peter Krawietz and Pepijn Lijnders, where the manager and his coaches coordinate training, swap ideas, consider tactics, analyse opponents and problem solve.
‘Forum’ would be a more suitable description than ‘office’ for the modest space in which the path to making Liverpool champions of Europe and the world was plotted.
Watch: Jürgen Klopp and Pepijn Lijnders reflect on the road to Madrid
“You have to be ready, you have to be able to voice opinions and be ready to share what you think is right as well,” explains Robinson of the ethos inside.
“There’s nuggets of information that come out of there that you think about, but to actually go and put that into practice on the pitch and how you get those things out has been really great to see and really interesting to be part of.
“That group, we plan the sessions – and the manager certainly plans the environment – but the people outside that room are so important as well; Andreas [Kornmayer] with his fitness department, Mona [Nemmer] with the nutrition, everybody who works at Melwood, the recruitment and up to [the owners].
“That’s where lots of things happen, but it wouldn’t work without the rest of the people supporting us as well.
“We’re all going for the same goal, we all want the same thing. We all want to make sure the training sessions, the games, everything we do is the best it possibly can be. And we work together really well to do that.
“We challenge each other but also provide support to each other as well. We can all pitch in and help each other. That’s an elite environment, for me – where you have a high challenge but also a high support for everybody in the club.”
Robinson and Achterberg consider three main factors when designing training sessions.
What are the individual needs of the four first-team goalkeepers they manage – Alisson Becker, Adrian, Andy Lonergan and Caoimhin Kelleher – at the current time and how can the next workout improve them?
What specific threats will the Reds’ next opponents pose? “Do they press us from goal-kicks? Do they press high when we’re in possession? How do they want to try to score, is it crosses, is it through balls?”
And how must the goalkeeper adjust to the tactical requirements of the whole team for the next match?
“You try to mix those three things in and then there’s a sliding scale of how much you want to challenge them. How much do you make it easy for them? And you work from there really,” details Robinson.
“We always try to make it fun and to make it competitive. There’s times where you have to say, ‘Enough for today, it’s gone really well and we don’t need to do any more’ or you say, ‘OK, let’s try this again’.
“There’s a lot of talking to the players and a lot of making sure they’re on board with what we do because ultimately it’s those boys that are going to go out on the pitch and play, so we have to make sure the training is right for them.
“The boys push themselves really hard. The four goalkeepers we have here at the moment are excellent, they really do work hard and they really push each other. That’s both on and off the pitch, in the gym with Andreas and Tom [King] and around the place.
“They are competitive and push each other, which is important for Alisson but it’s important for them as well because, as we have seen with Adrian, you might have to step onto the pitch at any point and be ready to play.
“The intensity is really high and we want the intensity both physical but we also want it to be where they have to make decisions under pressure, where they have to make the right decisions on the types of passes they play or the types of save they make. We try to train that, both with the goalkeepers but with the team as well.”
The senior goalkeeping team in training
Robinson’s appointment at Liverpool was confirmed seven weeks after Alisson joined up with the club following his switch from AS Roma that summer.
During those ‘whirlwind’ 18 months since, the Reds and Brazil No.1 has been the calm eye in the storm of victories, trophies and awards.
Premier League Golden Glove winner at the first opportunity, with 21 clean sheets last term, Alisson was impeccable in the Champions League final win in Madrid and then conceded only once in six matches to help Brazil lift the Copa America.
Individual honours were subsequently presented to him at glittering UEFA, FIFA and Ballon d’Or ceremonies and even a two-month injury lay-off at the start of the current campaign only temporarily halted the man from Novo Hamburgo.
Now a world champion, too, at the time of writing Alisson is averaging 244 minutes per Premier League goal conceded this term – the best rate ever achieved by a ‘keeper in the competition.
“He never makes a great save – and that’s the sign of a great ‘keeper. He makes everything looks so easy,” suggested Reds legend Jamie Carragher last month.
Robinson has an explanation – and a name – for that reputation.
“That’s one of his main strengths,” he reasons. “I term that ‘nerve strength’. It’s having that calmness and that ability to almost slow the game down to make things look really easy.
“The way he plays, he adversely affects the opposition; if you’re running towards goal, you’re looking at him thinking, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to score here’. And he does things that help the team and they have real confidence in him.
“For me, the nerve strength with him is the biggest factor in his skills. He’s obviously quick, he’s powerful, he’s good with the ball at his feet and he makes big saves at important times. But that calmness and nerve strength are the things that set him apart from good goalkeepers.
“We’re really proud of the work he has put in and how he has performed. He is a fantastic person, really caring and genuine, wants to get better and wants to improve.
“He has been a massive benefit to the club, but he’s deserved everything he has got for the hard work he has done.”
Having only celebrated his 27th birthday in October, Alisson has already reached the highest levels of his profession with club and country.
But neither he nor the coaches fine-tuning his technique each day at Melwood are interested in resting on those accomplishments. Both parties believe he is capable of much more.
“There is always an ability to improve and he wants to improve,” says Robinson. “He’s never satisfied with just getting through a session, he wants to push himself and wants to get better.
“For him, the challenge now is, he’s had a fantastic first 18 months and he’s got to now create himself to be a legend at the club. He’s got to be able to continue that season in, season out. That’s what goes from being a good goalkeeper to being a legend of the club – can he continue that quality for many years to come?”
It hasn’t all been plain sailing since Robinson joined, however. Last summer, notably, presented a series of challenges for the goalkeeping department.
The pre-season tour to the United States arrived with Alisson unavailable, on an end-of-season break after the Copa America in his home country, Kelleher and Vitezslav Jaros carrying untimely injuries, and Kamil Grabara out on loan.
Free agent Lonergan was therefore recruited at short notice to bolster the ranks and support Simon Mignolet throughout the build-up to 2019-20.
In the week before the Premier League campaign got under way, Mignolet agreed a permanent move to Club Brugge and brought an end to his six-year spell at Liverpool.
On the Monday, experienced Spanish stopper Adrian – previously of West Ham United – signed a contract with the Reds to replace Mignolet. On the Friday, he made his debut as a substitute to replace the injured Alisson at Anfield.
Called on despite mere days as part of the squad, Adrian was then the hero as Klopp’s side defeated Chelsea in the UEFA Super Cup, his save from Tammy Abraham in the final’s penalty shootout the clinching moment.
Inside Istanbul: How Liverpool won the UEFA Super Cup
After a summer without a club, he would be between the posts for the European champions for the next two months. “For anyone, that is a big task,” says Robinson.
“To be thrown in at this club, coming from last year when we were pushing for the title and we won the Champions League there’s a certain expectation on the goalkeeper as well. It’s pressure. But he handled it brilliantly.
“In the first week we didn’t want to do too much with him, leading up to the Super Cup, we wanted him to just get used to the team – understand them, create a bond and a link with them, understand how they play and go and do what you’ve done while you’ve been in the Premier League. That’s why he is here, he is good enough to be in this team.
“He was prepared, he knew how to get himself ready for the game and was able to perform to a really good level to help us win on penalties in the Super Cup and continue our winning streak in the Premier League.
“How he worked through the pre-season, he went off his own back and had a goalkeeper coach, kept himself fit and ready. He used the experience he has gained from all these years in the Premier League and performed really well for the games he was in.
“He has done that every time he has played; he has come out and had to go back in again partway through the Brighton game and after that, and performed really, really well. That’s down to how he is off the pitch here.
“On and off the pitch he’s a great character, a bubbly personality and not much seems to faze him. He has that ability to step onto the pitch and say, ‘OK, I belong here’ and he has performed really well when he has done that.”
There have also been four first-team opportunities for Kelleher, the Republic of Ireland youth international, this term, most recently in the FA Cup win over Shrewsbury Town at Anfield last week.
Caoimhin Kelleher celebrates victory over Shrewsbury Town at Anfield
Signed in 2015, his talents were carefully nurtured at the Academy before he stepped up to Melwood and began to stake his own claim for minutes under Klopp.
A plan was mapped out for the 21-year-old during the summer, with the Carabao Cup identified by the manager, Achterberg and Robinson as one potential avenue for the stopper – provided he earned the chance.
“We want to make sure he is ready, but we also want to give him an opportunity. It’s something we spoke about in the pre-season – to be ready if you do get the opportunity,” says Robinson.
“But there were no guarantees because he’s got to perform and got to train how he has been doing and make sure he stays fit to give himself opportunities if they do come again.
“I have come in this last 18 months and worked with him closely but it’s the work that has gone on before with Mark [Morris], Taff [Neil Edwards] and Bavo [Ian Dunbavin] and the other coaches at the Academy that has got him to the point where the manager is happy enough to say, ‘Yep, go and step onto the pitch, we trust you.’
“When I came in all I wanted to know was what he wanted to do to get better. He was very honest and open, and we tried some different things to what he had done before, I was challenging him to make decisions he hadn’t made before and putting him under pressure. For him, that was the next step he needed to be able to go and perform on the pitch like he did.
“He has definitely got a bright future ahead of him, he’s just got to get the right opportunities and continue to work like he has done.”
And what about the future for the position in general?
The trend towards the goalkeeper as ‘quarter-back’ – not just comfortable in possession but a genuine architect of attacks – will advance, predicts Robinson, speaking shortly before Alisson claimed an assist for Mohamed Salah in the 2-0 win over Manchester United.
“The in-possession side of things really changed over the last few years. The goalkeeper has got to play passes through to midfielders, he has got to play to the full-backs. If you look at Ederson at Man City, he is looking to actually play beyond and play strikers in.”
The specialist nature of the role will see the department supporting the single man standing on the goalline expand, too, he expects.
“To not get away from them being part of the team because that’s an important aspect of it, but to really specialise in making the goalkeeper better, helping him to improve each game. I think that will be the next step where the team around it becomes a bit more goalkeeper-specific.”
For now, long may the whirlwind continue.