Karl Robinson: How do MK Dons move forward after manager's departure?

Karl Robinson & Pete Winkelman
Karl Robinson (left) was the youngest manager in the Football League when appointed by MK Dons chairman Pete Winkelman

From builders and bakers to door handle makers, the replacement for any longstanding member of staff will sometimes sneeringly be told "that's not how they used to do it".

So for the one tasked with replacing Karl Robinson as MK Dons manager, changing the mark of a man who had been in charge for more than half of the club's entire existence will be quite a renovation.

Robinson, once the third-longest serving boss in England's top four divisions, oversaw the development of England international Dele Alli and led Dons to the Championship for the first time.

So, having been engrained in the fundamental DNA of a club only founded in 2004, which prides itself on the football it plays and the development of youngsters, can this carry on under someone else?

"What we are talking about is playing modern football," chairman Pete Winkelman said.

"We're a young football club and we want to play football like the big boys play, we might not play it at the same speed or accuracy but I want our supporters to recognise that football.

Dele Alli
Dele Alli (right) celebrates MK Dons promotion to the Championship in 2015, having rejoined his boyhood club on loan from Tottenham Hotspur

"The way that we play can be interpreted in many different ways. Karl's interpreted one way, and there's a massive spectrum for other people to interpret it differently.

"You look at the difference between how Chelsea and Tottenham are playing, Bournemouth and Liverpool. They're all playing a similar kind of football but all doing it completely differently."

Robinson was aged just 29 in May 2010 when Winkelman promoted him from Paul Ince's assistant to full-time boss after former England midfielder Ince left Stadium:MK.

Failures in successive League One play-off campaigns in his first two seasons in charge showed signs of things to come, and Robinson finally delivered promotion to the Championship in 2015 thanks in no small part to the goals of on-loan Will Grigg and Benik Afobe.

But after a dismal Championship season in which they got relegated with only four wins from January onwards, Robinson left on Sunday with the Dons 19th in League One.

"Ironically it's that promotion that changes the whole nature of club and we came back to League One with this burden of expectation that we need to be a Championship club," said Winkelman.

"To be honest, this club needs to be a Premier League club one day. I've built a Premier League stadium, Milton Keynes is going to be a top-10 city in the country and we need to have a top-10 ambition.

"It's one thing thinking it, it's another thing delivering it. But where we cannot be is 19th in League One. It's the lowest position we've been in since this stadium. We're going backwards, not forwards."

Will Grigg
Will Grigg, celebrating here against Manchester United, scored 22 goals on loan at MK Dons in 2014-15

Remembering the good times

It was during that promotion-winning campaign that one of the club's greatest nights to date came - when they defeated Louis van Gaal's Manchester United 4-0 in the League Cup.

And Robinson, despite the club finding itself in one of its worst positions since he took over, said his overriding feeling after leaving the club is pride. Why?

"The people of Milton Keynes, the identity, the growth of youth in Milton Keynes and the net profit in transfer fees in six years, the development of young players," he told BBC Three Counties Radio.

"The dream was to fill the stadium - (I was the) first person to do that, the first person to beat AFC Wimbledon.

"50% of the squad is home-grown, which is phenomenal in modern-day football I think."

David Cameron
A lot has changed since Milton Keynes Dons appointed Karl Robinson on 10 May, 2010

Instead of dissecting Saturday's 3-0 defeat by Southend United, a solitary Robinson pitched up at a golf course on Monday, trying to take a step back from what had happened.

"I still believed they'd finish in the play-offs. I said that to the chairman on Sunday," he continued. "But I have no arguments with the decisions that were made. I have no problems with anybody."

'We've made mistakes'

Also left working out what has gone wrong are Dons fans, some of whom are unhappy with the recruitment strategy, overseen by the chairman's son Bobby.

The club use a recruitment database first set up by Paul Mitchell, who went on to work with Mauricio Pochettino at Southampton and Tottenham, to help make a list of potential signings.

But fan questions have arisen after players such as Matthew Upson, Dale Jennings and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas failed to make an impact in the club's Championship season.

"We've made mistakes when we haven't signed to the (recruitment) list: 85% of the players last year weren't on our recruitment list," said Pete Winkelman.

"It's something we've put more right this year, but again, not all of them were on the list.

Mk Dons
MK Dons have failed to win a home game since March

"There are successes and failures in that recruitment list, but the successes hugely outweigh the failures.

"I want to get rid of this thing that we make decisions. I've never picked the team, other than the amount of money people can spend on somebody. I've never had any other influence in the football, and nor has Bob.

"People trying to get at me will get at Bob. It's an easy hit but what I can rely on is one of the strongest databases in football."

'I'd love to return'

Winkelman now has to sift through "around 200" names and is even considering creating a technical director role to work alongside the new manager.

Meanwhile, Robinson wants to get back into management as soon as possible and has already been asked whether he would ever want to return to MK Dons.

"It was a very strange question to be asked 24 hours after leaving. But, do you know what, my answer to that was '100%'," he said.

"I would love to manage the club again someday. That's the emotional ties we have with the football club."

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