Why 'new Pele' Robinho failed to become a superstar as he returns to Europe at 34

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The Brazil forward has joined Sivasspor in Turkey in a surprise move at the twilight of a career that has not quite lived up to its early expectations

It was always going to be difficult to live up to. When Robinho emerged at Santos in the early 2000s, he was compared to the Brazilian club's most famous figure, the latest in a long list of prodigies to be described as 'the new Pele'.

Such tags are rarely helpful, but Robinho's talent impressed even the great man himself. Perhaps sentimental that the forward was shining at his own boyhood club, Pele said: "Robinho can surpass my own achievements. We have to thank God that another Pele has landed at Santos."

After 81 goals in 180 appearances between 2002 and 2005, Robinho moved to Real Madrid for a fee of €24 million. However, he struggled initially to make the starting line-up and despite some impressive performances, the Brazilian often flattered to deceive. Sometimes brilliant, often frustrating, he did hit the heights. Just not enough.

During his time in Spain, Robinho was the club's third-hightest scorer (behind Raul and Ruud van Nistelrooy), while he also played his part in back-to-back league titles under Fabio Capello and Bernd Schuster. He was a good player, just not quite a Galactico. And certainly not the next Pele.

Robinho was also likened to another exciting young South American, Barcelona's Lionel Messi, and that comparison also did the Brazilian few favours. "Each one of us had our own style and our own way of playing," he said later. "It was really good to see how Messi grew as a footballer."

But while Messi grew and went on to become a player described by many as the greatest in the history of football, there have been no such accolades for Robinho.

The Brazilian ultimately forced his way out of Real Madrid as he pushed for a transfer to Chelsea, signing in the end for Manchester City for €42m. "Chelsea made a great proposal and I accepted," he mistakenly said after the move. A reporter replied, "You mean Manchester, right?", to which Robinho responded: "Yeah, Manchester, sorry!"

He later admitted he had not known which team he had signed for initially and also claimed he regrets the nature of his Madrid exit. "On my part, it was really controversial," he said. "I was young and explosive. I didn't behave well." 

Robinho graphic

Robinho's first season at City was promising, yet the Brazilian also gained a notorious reputation for his off-field activities during his time in the Premier League and was arrested in 2009 over claims that a young woman had been raped in a nightclub in Leeds.

After a disappointing second season at City which was interrupted by injury, he sought a move and following a brief return to Santos, he was transferred to AC Milan in the summer of 2010 for €18m.

The Brazilian was an important player during his time in Italy, helping the Rossoneri to the Serie A title in his first campaign and a runners-up spot in his second season. In total, he netted 32 times in 144 appearances. That was a decent return and he will be remembered as a good player, though not an Milan legend.

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Another spell at Santos followed, before stints at Guangzhou Evergrande in China and Atletico Mineiro in Brazil. And in the meantime, the forward has racked up 100 caps for his country (eight more than Pele, but with 49 fewer goals). O Rei also won three World Cups; Robinho just two Confederations Cups and a Copa America.

Now, after a another rape scandal in Italy and a subsequent nine-year conviction earlier on this year, the Brazilian is back in Europe just before his 34th birthday (on Thursday).

And however he gets on at Sivasspor in Turkey, it is fair to say he has fallen well short of the sublime standards set by Pele both on and off the pitch. 

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