Robson sees Baggies going down and Red Devils winning crown
Casting a thoughtful eye up and down the Premier League table with a dozen matches to go, Thailand head coach and former England captain Bryan Robson has high hopes for one of his former clubs - and grave concerns for the other.
Manchester United, he believes, are poised to clinch a record-breaking 19th English league title. But West Bromwich Albion are in real danger of being relegated after just one season back in the top flight.
After going through the West Brom youth system and earning his first England cap while at the Hawthorns, Robson broke the British transfer record when he joined Manchester United for GBP1.5 million in 1981.
Spending 13 mostly lucky seasons at Old Trafford, he was an integral part of Alex Ferguson's revolution that turned under-achievers into world-beaters.
'I'm not sure about running away with the title but I think Man United at this moment in time are the team that everybody's got to beat,' Robson said. 'They are in a good position with only 12 games to go. However, they've got a big month coming up with a tough run of fixtures.'
In 2004-2005, Robson was manager of his former club West Brom when they fell to the bottom of the table on Christmas Day. Yet he was able to pull off an escape act and keep the Baggies in the Premier League after a 2-0 home victory over Portsmouth on the final day of the season. Now, new boss Roy Hodgson has to perform a similar feat for a club with just one victory in their last 11 league games.
'It's going to be a very hard task because they're on that slide and the confidence is down and I think it's going to be difficult to regain it,' Robson said.
'Roy Hodgson is a good coach so they've still got a fighting chance. He's well organised. But I think he's got a difficult job ahead.'
Robson is following the Premiership despite a hectic travel schedule from his Bangkok base promoting the Asian leg of the Masters circuit. Last week he was in Kuala Lumpur ahead of the six-a-side Masters Cup on March 13, which sees his former Manchester United teammates face rivals from Liverpool, an English Premier League All-Stars team and a Malaysian masters side.
Robson and his fellow 54-year-old Viv Anderson will have a non-playing role for a Red Devils veterans' side that will include Andy Cole, Jesper Blomqvist and Ronny Johnsen. Robbie Fowler, Steve McManaman and Vladimir Smicer are among the Liverpool players confirmed.
As head coach of Thailand, Robson has endured a bumpy first 18 months. The War Elephants failed to progress past the group stages of December's Suzuki Cup after drawing with Malaysia and Laos and losing to Indonesia.
Ahead of their 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign, they have won just two of seven full internationals on his watch.
Robson combines the Thailand job with his role of Manchester United ambassador, alongside Bobby Charlton. He took on the role in 2008, 14 years after leaving the club as a player.
He agrees that while Manchester United's recent form has not been impressive, they will take some stopping for the Premier League title.
'Chelsea are out of it now and while Man City are in with a slight shout they are probably too many points behind,' he said. 'United's tough run of away fixtures will decide whether they will actually run away with it or if Arsenal are going to push them all the way.'
Robson was already club captain and a veteran midfielder - just two months short of his 30th birthday - when Alex Ferguson took over as Manchester United boss from Ron Atkinson in November 1986.
It was not until 1990 that the Ferguson/Robson combination clinched its first major silverware when United lifted the FA Cup after beating Crystal Palace to salvage a season in which they finished 13th.
But the highlight was unquestionably winning the top flight twice (1992-93 and 1993-94) to begin the Red Devils' dominant period, which has yielded 11 titles in the 18 years of the Premier League.
Instead of joining speculation about the best person to succeed Ferguson, Robson predicts that the shrewd Scotsman will continue in the job for the foreseeable future.
'I've been asked this question for the past five years because everyone has been saying he's going to retire,' Robson said. 'But I think he can go on for a few more years, as long as his health is good, because he has this drive and ambition to keep winning things.'
He added: 'As soon as you've finished the season, even if you've won the double, he will be talking about preparing for the next season, trying to achieve exactly the same thing.'
Robson knows from personal experience just how tough it is to coach in the English game. His last UK management spell - at Sheffield United in the 2007-2008 season - lasted just six months until the fans turned against him. Enjoying the sunshine in the Land of Smiles must be a lot more appealing than facing hordes of angry Yorkshiremen every weekend.