Two play-off campaigns, automatic promotion, record breaking FA Cup runs, beating Premier League sides are all things Karl Robinson can boast on his CV for the last five and a half years in charge of MK Dons, but the on-the-pitch exploits aren’t on the top of his list of proudest accomplishments.
On Saturday against Nottingham Forest, Robinson will be in charge of his 300th game for MK Dons.
The third longest serving manager in English football, the 35-year-old is also the fifth youngest in charge of a club. And reaching 300 games with Dons is a landmark he never expected to see.
He said: “Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine the chairman would give the youngest manager in the Football League a chance, and nobody expected him to be there 300 games later.
“I must’ve stood on the touchline for MK Dons over 400 times, and Saturday will be 300 as a manager. Without the chairman this wouldn’t be a possibility. To be standing in the technical area for the 300th game will be quite surreal.
“Myself and the chairman have some tremendous arguments, but it’s because we’re so passionate about this club.”
Their shared passion has seen the club change beyond recognition behind the scenes.
“The whole club is different,” Robinson continued. “Simon Crampton is one of the best physios out there, Damien Doyle (Head of Sports Science) and Rob Weaver (Analysis) are just getting better and better. It’s not just about Karl Robinson. The facilities too are getting better. This is another hemisphere from when I started.”
Speaking on the day Jose Mourinho was sacked from Chelsea for the second time, Robinson believes he was able to transform Dons into a Championship entity because he has been given the time, and to an extent the freedom, to implement changes throughout the club.
“I’ve been able to build a football club properly,” he said. “When I took over, the Sports Science department was working in a 10ft x10ft room, the stadium wasn’t finished, there wasn’t a philosophy and players were only just starting to come through the academy.
“We have been able to unify a football club and watch it grow in the right way. There is no manufactured falseness. And we’ve done it with pride and enthusiasm. We’ve been through some remarkable things in the last five and a half years.
“In all the highs and lows, one thing which has remained is my philosophy, my way of playing. I know it’s right for this club. I study the game immensely. We’re set up to play this way. We’re one of only three teams to play like this, and Derby and Middlesbrough are up there fighting for promotion.
“I have a very strong belief in the game, and I work very hard to coach it. I have a very open door philosophy, but I want them to be free flowing on the pitch. I don’t want to dominate through fear, but I guide the way I’d like to be guided.
“The philosophy is the biggest legacy for me because I know it’s right. It allows Mike Dove, who is an amazing man, to have a constant and makes his life easier.
“One day we’ll be talking about all this in a new training ground. Then the embedded nature of our philosophy will be everywhere. We try it at the stadium to the best of our abilities, but we will go from strength to strength when that’s in place.”
The manager though was keen to point out three key factors in keeping him grounded and encouraged as he reaches the landmark,
“For the 300 games, I’ve had the constants of (daughter) Jasmine and (wife) Ann. If it wasn’t for them, my job becomes an awful lot harder. Away from the game, I’m dad whether I win, lose or draw. I’m not an idiot or a champion then as the fans tell me!
“And it’s vital that the fans know I couldn’t do it without them either.”