The enigma of Robinho

So, it would appear that Róbson De Souza’s Manchester City career may well be over, a little under eighteen months after it began. A lot of City fans are delighted that he seems to be on his way, but I won’t be celebrating when (as seems increasingly likely) he hops on the plane back to his old club Santos in Brazil.

The problem with Robinho is that neither of the City bosses who’ve managed him during his time at the club – Mark Hughes and Roberto Mancini – really wanted him. He was purchased by the club as a symbol, a statement of intent. A £32.5 million message that we meant business. Hughes always claimed he’d okayed the transfer, but in reality, he had nothing to do with the decision to bring him to Manchester.

At the time, Robinho was a player in turmoil, having had a major falling out with the Real Madrid president, Ramon Calderon, who’d not only refused to renew the player’s contract, but was using him as bait to try and lure Cristiano Ronaldo to the Bernabeu. Given Robinho was the third top scorer during his time at Madrid (behind two strikers, Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Raul) and the player with the second-highest assist tally, it’s little wonder he was upset at this turn of events. After Chelsea failed to meet the asking price, City’s new owners stepped in and he was soon pulling on the sky blue shirt, scoring from a deflected free-kick on his debut – ironically against the club that wouldn’t stump up the readies.

His scoring form continued, seeing him reach double figures by the turn of the year, albeit rarely away from home. The highlight was a 6-0 home thumping of Portsmouth, who couldn’t have argued with double that score, with a rampant Robinho delivering a man-of-the-match performance with a goal, an assist, and a hand in several other chances. He also notched up a hat-trick against Stoke.

Around January, things changed. Robinho suffered an alarming dip in form, with most commentators delighting in pointing out his faltering performances away from home. But he wasn’t nearly as influential at Eastlands, either. Remarkably few people have noted that this coincided with the striker being falsely accused of rape at the year’s outset, the allegation only disappearing in April. Robinho promptly scored in his next game – a 2-1 away win at Everton – and the one after. He finished the season with fourteen league goals, a total only beaten by three players – not bad for a left winger, but perhaps comparisons with the twinkle-toed Ronaldo didn’t help, the latter’s phenomenal form putting his expensive rival in the shade (though Ronaldo did eventually cost Madrid more than twice what City paid for Robinho).

Even given his improved displays towards the season’s end, it was clear the player still wasn’t entirely happy. Part of this was down to Hughes’ determination to break up the Brazilian clique he felt had formed in the dressing-room; Robinho’s friend and national team-mate, Elano living up to his reputation as a troublemaker and apparently leading a player revolt against the manager.

In the close season, Elano – along with defender Glauber Berti, who managed just one substitute appearance for the first team – was shipped out. With the new season barely weeks old, Robinho suffered a stress fracture of his ankle playing for Brazil, limiting him to just four league and two cup appearances this term. His handful of recent performances have seen the player treated with derision by the press and disappointment by the fans, though it’s evident he is clearly lacking in match fitness and confidence.

His position as British football’s most expensive import is an obvious burden, but while it’s understandable to be a little underwhelmed by Robinho, it’s a little unfair to use that pricetag as a stick to beat an unhappy, unfit player with. Robinho simply doesn’t have the opportunity to play himself into a side with Champions League aspirations – as his job depends on his finishing fourth in the Premier League, Mancini can ill-afford not to pick his strongest side.

And so it’s come to this: a wonderful talent, blunted by injury, circumstance and admittedly a less-than-perfect attitude is heading back from whence he came, in an attempt to recapture past glories. But his time at City shouldn’t be considered a disaster, nor should it bring about hysterical suggestions that he might be The Worst Premier League Signing Ever. Robinho’s not been City’s greatest player, nor has he been anywhere near the worst. Hopefully, he’ll be back to his best in Brazil, and will light up next year’s World Cup with his undeniable skill. I wish him well.

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