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The ex-Real Madrid and Manchester City frontman completed a loan move back to Santos on Thursday to draw the curtain on a career of unfulfilment in Europe

By Joe Wright, Enis Koylu & Carlo Garganese

Robinho left AC Milan on Thursday to call time on a nine-year-long European career which never saw him hit the heights expected of him when he left Santos as a youngster.

After failed spells in Spain and England, he moved to Italy following a brief second stint at his boyhood club and didn't shine during his four years. Now 30 - his latest Santos comeback is initially on loan - he is unlikely ever to represent the Rossoneri again and the chances of him playing for one of Europe's giants are just as remote.

However, he is far from the first Brazilian to fail to live up to the hype away from their homeland...

Alexandre Pato is another former AC Milan attacker who came up short. He burst onto the scene in 2008 as an 18-year-old after a big-money move from Internacional, scoring 26 goals in his first 54 games and destroying defences with his explosive pace and dynamism.

However, Brazil's new hope soon began to falter with injuries and made just 15 appearances in his final two seasons at San Siro. He lost his acceleration and declined so badly that he has struggled since returning to Brazil first with Corinthians and then Sao Paulo.


Potential | Pato had a flying start to his AC Milan career

Around the same time, Denilson Pereira Neves attracted every major team in Europe after emerging at Sao Paulo as a 17-year-old when he was also the captain of the Brazil U-17 team. A technical midfielder with great passing ability - he was tipped for big things.

But after securing a dream move to Arsenal, his career took a nose-dive as he never made the leap to senior football. In his seven seasons in London, he played 96 times for Arsenal but never impressed. In 2011 he was loaned back to Sao Paulo and in 2013 he signed a permanent deal with them, rendering his European stint a complete failure.

There may have been something in the name. Denilson de Oliveira was once the most expensive player of all time when he completed a move to Real Betis from Sao Paulo for €31.5 million in 1998. It did not prove to be a particularly shrewd investment.

Within two years, he was back in Brazil on loan at Flamengo, before eventually leaving for Bordeaux on a free transfer in 2005. Again, he flattered to deceive in France and spent the rest of his career as a journeyman, having brief stints in Saudi Arabia, the USA, Brazil, Vietnam and Greece before eventually hanging up his boots.


Top dollar | Denilson was once the most expensive player in history

He wasn't the only wonderkid to come through the Sao Paulo ranks. Paulo Silas was regarded as a future worldbeater after emerging in the mid-1980s, making the World Cup squad for Mexico at the age of 20.

But the elegant and cultured midfielder never cut it at the highest level, struggling to stamp his authority on Italy's Serie A and he returned to South America at the age of 26. Despite winning 34 caps and playing at two World Cups, Silas could have achieved so much more.

An even more precocious World Cup star was Edu. Going back almost 50 years, he got the whole of Brazil so excited that some believed he could emulate Pele. The attacker was so good for his age that he travelled to the 1966 World Cup at the age of just 16. He is still the youngest ever player to be selected in a World Cup squad.

But despite a successful domestic career at Pele's Santos where he won numerous state championships, Edu never took the world by storm. He was picked for three World Cups, but made just two appearances.

Sao Paulo can end up being a home to those who never made the grade as well. Ganso burst onto the scene with Neymar at Santos and formed part of a new-look Selecao team during their failure at the 2011 Copa America.

The duo were expected to help their nation dominate world football for years to come but things went rapidly downhill for the attacking midfielder. Disputes with the club's hierarchy and over his ownership saw him move to his club's fierce rivals, though he is yet to show glimpses of the talent he displayed as a youngster.

Though Ganso still has time to fulfil his potential, Geovanni's chances of being a top talent have long since ebbed away. Coming through the ranks at Cruzeiro, he endured a miserable two-year spell at Barcelona between 2001 and 2003 before doing a tour of clubs both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

His best spell was arguably at Benfica, where he spent three years before a brief return to his first club. He had short stints at Man City and Hull in England and a cameo in MLS. Now 34, he is currently plying his trade in his homeland's second tier. His solitary Selecao cap 13 years ago seems like a very long time ago.


Wasted | Adriano's career fizzled out after he became a star at Inter

Another star to have gone between South America and Europe at regular intervals was Adriano. He joined Inter in a part-exchange deal in 2001 before being loaned to Fiorentina a few months later, and he never once became settled for the remainder of his career. 

Despite enjoying title successes at San Siro between 2005 and 2009, the striker was plagued by alcoholism and off-the-field problems and eventually returned to Brazil. After being released by Flamengo without playing a game, he returned to football a year later with Corinthians but, three months and some missed training sessions later, his contract was terminated.

Others keep their feet on the ground but still fail to make it to the top. Diego established himself as one of European football's brightest prospects with Werder Bremen, but his time with Juventus was fraught with difficulty.

The midfielder failed to adapt his skilful style to the Bianconeri system and lasted just a season before he was offloaded back to the Bundesliga with Wolfsburg in 2010. After two loan spells with Atletico Madrid, he opted to join Fenerbahce in 2014.

And that leads us back to Robinho, who formed a magical teenage partnership with Diego at Santos. He led the side to two local championships and the Libertadores final before finally sealing a big-money move to Real Madrid in 2005. While he played a big part in los Blancos' title-winning campaign that season, an injury and a loss of form under Bernd Schuster the following year saw him fall out of favour at Santiago Bernabeu and he was publicy promised a new contract which never materialised.

Robinho was the first major signing by the Abu Dhabi group at Manchester City for €42.5m after initially seeking a move to Chelsea, but the winger was once more plagued by injury and inconsistency before joining Milan via a loan spell with Santos, where he fared no better despite winning one Scudetto. After a failed move to Santos and a wage reduction in 2013, he finally sealed a return to his homeland this month.
 

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