For the second time this summer, transfer rumors have linked Fulham’s Antonee Robinson to Manchester City. The USMNT left-back has been the target of many in the past 18 months, beginning with AC Milian in January 2020. That move ultimately failed after his medical revealed a now corrected heart problem. Then last summer he signed with current club Fulham. That move came after former club Wigan’s unfortunate relegation to League 1, despite finishing mid-table. However, following Fulham’s relegation, the 23-year-old appears to be on the move again. This time, it seems Manchester City is the club in pursuit.
Manchester City will be looking at Robinson as a cheap, low-risk option with a potentially high reward. At 23, Robinson is still young and developing. He is a player Pep Guardiola can mold into the left-back he wants. Robinson would also be coming from a relegated team, likely resulting in a lower transfer fee. As a largely unproven player, Robinson’s wages would also be far lower than other more experienced, high-profile options. Given the issues Manchester City has had with left-backs, keeping the cost low is good.
Since Robinson would be a relatively cheap player, there is little risk to the club. Should Robinson fit into Guardiola’s plans and tactics, the club has found a left-back solution that has cost very little and solves a major club problem. On the flip side, should Robinson not work out, the club can loan or sell him to a team that is a better fit. All while probably still turning a profit.
On the Pitch
The most attractive quality in Robinson is his love and willingness to get forward. An attack-minded left-back, he is comfortable playing high. His pace provides the ability to drop back or rush forward in the event of a counterattack. Additionally, he can play as a wing-back or wide midfielder. During the 2020-2021 Premier League season, Robinson was regularly one of the higher-ranking left-backs in the league.
However, Robinson did not register a goal or assist for Fulham in Premier League. He has registered two international assists and has one Championship goal and six assists across three seasons, but his attacking output is inadequate for a club of City’s stature. While a concern, the lack of goal contributions should not be taken as an immediate indication Robinson would fail at Manchester City. There are logical reasons for it, including the nature of the teams Robinson has played for, with all fighting to survive rather than for titles, promotion, or even European competition.
A question around Robinson to Manchester City is his technical quality. There is no doubt Robinson is capable of playing in the Premier League. The question is exactly how good he is. On the international stage, he has struggled at times to adapt to playing with possession, showing lapses in technical qualities need to retain possession under pressure. However, given his inexperience on possession-based teams, it is hard to say if Robinson is incapable or simply inexperienced in those situations.
Most likely, Robinson would be signed to be a rotational depth player. He would probably start cup matches and see some substitute minutes in the Premier League. Given the technical and tactical change between playing for Manchester City versus Fulham, there would be an adjustment period. How he manages that period and the development trajectory he takes would likely determine his long-term future at the club.
What will help Robinson in his attempt to break through, is that he is a natural left-footed left-back; unlike many of Manchester City’s “make-shift” left-backs over the past several seasons. While he will compete with the likes of João Cancelo, Nathan Aké, Oleksandr Zinchenko, and Benjamin Mendy-being one of only two natural left-backs gives him some assistance. With the rumors of interest in Mendy, it is possible Robinson would end up as the only natural left-back in the squad.
On the USMNT side, Robinson at a club with the playing philosophy of Manchester City is great. Getting Robinson into an environment where the team plays with possession, deliberate movement, and patient build-up will help prepare him for national team camp. Playing that way at club level will help avoid playing-style shock when it comes time for camp. Additionally, Robinson would be training alongside some of the best possession players and under one of the best possession managers in the world. That experience would only help him in national team camp.
The likelihood Robinson plays a large number of minutes is slim. He would arrive at a club that just won the league and League Cup, as well as played in the Champions League final; all while almost never playing a natural left-back. While Robinson is still young enough to benefit from training, he also needs minutes. Those minutes are especially important with World Cup Qualifying starting in September.
This leads to the second negative: timing. This move is coming at a very inopportune time. Robinson is needed for qualifying. He needs to be ready to go and in-form. Adjusting to a team like Manchester City in the middle of qualifiers is not good. While the end result can be great for the USMNT, getting there can be rough. What the USMNT can not afford, is for Robinson to go through the rough bit during qualifying. Which unfortunately is possible should this transfer go through this summer.
Antonee Robinson to Manchester City
In short, Antonee Robinson to Manchester City is an interesting possibility. It would provide a test for Robinson as a player, and the opportunity to learn from the best. For the club, Robinson provides a cheap option for left-back depth and the potential to solve one of the squad’s biggest problems. However, for the USMNT it risks Robinson being out of form for World Cup Qualifying; though the move could help him be more accustomed to the USMNT’s possession playing-style long-term.