A slickly produced – but heartfelt and passionate – profile of Bobby Robson, the avuncular football manager who in 1990 came this close to getting England to the World Cup final for the first time since 1966. More Than a Manager is a cut above the usual sports biog: by kicking off with a gruesome account of Robson’s operation for a life-threatening nasal melanoma shortly before landing his job at Barcelona, it introduces grace notes of mortality and suffering into the usual mix of archive clips and talking heads.
Robson, all agree, was an absolute gentleman who took his eventual humiliation at Barcelona’s hands with fortitude, as well as managing to swallow his rage over Diego Maradona’s notorious “hand of God” goal in 1986. Happier times were found at Ipswich in the 1970s and early 80s (the same proving ground as Alf Ramsey, the only England manager who can lay claim to a superior achievement), as well as a late spell at his home-town club, Newcastle United – though again he was forced to take football’s remorseless corporate brutality with magnanimity.
A very classy roll-call of interviewees line up to sing Robson’s praises, including Pep Guardiola (one of Robson’s players at Barcelona), Alex Ferguson (who says, with laser-eyed crispness: “He helped me when I was a young coach. I don’t forget that”), and of course José Mourinho, who Robson brought with him to Barcelona and can be seen wearing a selection of horrific 90s baggy-sleeved tracksuit tops alongside him on the bench.
The directors are Gabriel Clarke and Torquil Jones: the former is the ITV pitchside reporter who has also become a mainstay of glossy sports feature docs (When Playboys Ruled the World, Steve McQueen: The Man & Le Mans). They take care to show Robson, with his fatal illness in 2009, leading a team again to raise funding for cancer research. A warm and generous tribute to a much-admired man.