On the eve of his return to the Premier League, Robinson sees big year ahead
August 04, 2022
THE PREMIER LEAGUE SEASON gets underway this weekend and for Fulham, the goal is simple – to survive the season and chart a new course for the club as one that can survive as a regular competitor in England’s top-flight. Antonee Robinson joined the club two years ago and was part of both the relegation in 2021 and the impressive promotion last season.
This week, Robinson will turn 25 years old, and it will be a defining year. The hopes are that Fulham will find a way to survive in the Premier League, unlike its previous two campaigns in the top tier. Then there is the World Cup which will be played mid-season and it offers Robinson an opportunity to not only play in the biggest tournament, but also to possibly take on the country where he was both born and raised.
This Saturday, Fulham has one of the most challenging opening games possible when it will host Liverpool at Craven Cottage. But the team is upbeat for the season and there is a lot of motivation for the group to set a new tone for the London-based club.
“Especially for the lads who stayed from the season when we've been relegated, it was a chance to redeem ourselves and fight back and earn our way back into the Premier League,” Robinson told ASN. “I think just sheerly through that it means a little bit more - the fact that we've brought the team to the Premier League this time. For me, personally, being part of the promotion fight, it makes me want to keep us in the Premier League where I feel like we belong.”
Robinson was a key part of Fulham’s effort in getting promoted last season and it was certainly the most demanding season he has ever played. He made 33 starts over 36 appearances for Fulham last season while playing 3028 minutes. Combined with making 13 World Cup qualifying appearances for a total of 1060 minutes, Robinson played 4088 minutes for both club and country in the 2021/22 season.
But last season was also the first time Robinson has been able to taste winning. His career to date has centered around Bolton, Wigan, and Fulham and every season until 2021/22 has been a relegation fight. Last year Robinson was able to partake in successful promotion and World Cup qualification campaigns - scoring twice for the U.S. team.
“Last season, even being on a winning team, it was still just a really physically intense season,” Robinson explained. “The Championship always has been the same every year I've played in it. Especially ith World Cup qualifying, it made it very difficult but I came out of it on the other side with 50 or so games and playing good football at times, did pretty well with the national team and then being successful Fulham. Overall it was a really good season to boost confidence for myself as well.”
All that does is raise stakes for the coming season when Robinson is in the Premier League and the World Cup as opposed to the Championship and qualifying.
When looking at the lessons he learned from Fulham’s relegation in 2020/21, he is able to recall specific games in great detail. In that season, Fulham lost its first six games, fought back into contention for survival, but squandered late goals for losses or draws towards the end.
“The mood around the team, it feels pretty similar to be honest,” Robinson said. “We have the same goal going into it. It's just a couple different faces and it's lads who have been in this position before who have the outlook of the experience of how it went last time to try and avoid the mistakes we fell into the last time round.”
“A strong start would definitely help,” He continued. “Even if you take out the weak start the last time we were in the Premier League, towards the last third of the season, we had it in our control. A couple results our way would have got us to safety - and we never capitalized. We went through a streak of just like draws and losses. We just could not win a game to save our lives. Like when we go up against Villa and throw the game away. We should have beaten teams like Leeds and Burnley who were around us. We got punished. So going forward we know the importance of having the mentality to see a game out. Things like that will be massive this year.”
During Robinson’s time at Fulham, one of the consistencies has been Tim Ream who, at age 34, was instrumental in the recent promotional effort. Robinson gets along with Ream well and the two Americans made up the left side of Fulham’s backline last year. Ream was named to the league’s Team of the Season by the Professional Footballer's Association.
It remains to be seen if Ream will be a consistent starter for Fulham in the Premier League but Ream will likely see minutes this season and Robinson points out that the St. Louis native has an important role within the team that extends off the field as well.
“Since Tom Cairney was injured a lot last season, Tim was pretty much the captain most of the season,” Robinson said of Ream. “He started every game which - for someone his age to start every game in the Championship and perform as well as he did - it's nothing short of incredible, to be honest. He has a real calmness on the ball and a warrior spirit. He was fighting, throwing his head into tackles, getting cut every week. To have that as one of your baseline players, it really does lift the team.”
“Off the pitch, he was basically taking on the duties of being co-captain almost with Tom,” he added. “When it came to speaking to the management, staff and things like that, trying to organize stuff off the field and making sure that all the lads were happy and all the coaching staff were happy, and that we were working in unison - he was huge for us.”
In November, the Premier League will take a break for the World Cup in a unique timeframe. For Robinson and the U.S. team, the World Cup will be an entirely new experience as DeAndre Yedlin is the only player to be capped recently by the U.S. team who has played in a World Cup.
Robinson senses the excitement from players on the team but realizes that fight for roster spots remains competitive. Even with his heavy involvement in qualifying over the past year, he doesn’t put himself in the category of being a lock for Qatar – but that is a source of motivation for him.
“There're some guys on the team like Weston and Christian who everyone's expecting to go if they are fit,” Robinson said. “Then there's guys fighting for places - from the lads who are in MLS and the others in the European sides like myself, going into the season thinking I've got to be performing at the highest level I've ever performed to make sure I'm on my plane to Qatar.”
But the team remains very close off the field, despite the competition. The team’s players are in regular contact with each other and are bonded by things sometimes beyond soccer. For instance, Robinson is one of four pianists in the player pool along with Weston McKennie, Erik Palmer-Brown, and Konrad de la Fuente. It’s a skill that Robinson proudly points out that he taught himself in his teenage years by watching YouTube videos.
This is brilliant! @FulhamFC's Antonee Robinson displaying his piano skills ????— Soccer AM (@SoccerAM) February 23, 2021
We need to get @Antonee_Jedi into that footballer super group: Cech on drums, Bilic on guitar, Dublin on The Dube ????pic.twitter.com/28zGUQ3bVq
“The group in the last camp showed that we're all still on the same page of our plan,” he added. “I think everyone can see how much of a brotherhood the group is.”
After qualifying for the World Cup, the United States learned its fate that it would be in a group with England, Iran, and later it was determined Wales would be the final team added.
Now as the Premier League season is set to get underway, it only makes the prospect of facing the country where he grew up even more exciting.
“That's definitely a surreal feeling,” Robinson said. “My dream was to be playing in the World Cup one day in general, but I definitely didn't dream I was going to be playing for the US against England. It's just something that I couldn't have written when I was a kid, so hopefully I get to make that dream come true when we go and put on the show we can. Playing against England? Obviously, I've grew up here, lived here for my whole life and all the family and friends that are going to be watching my game for me obviously, but just the excitement of having the ties to both sides, it's amazing, really.”