BY ADITYA BAJAJ | Follow @adityabajaj
“Robinho can surpass my own achievements and we have to thank God that another Pele has landed on Santos”, remarked Pele in the early 2000s completely in awe of the young wonder kid who had started to take Brazilian football by storm.
Fast, immensely skilful and gifted with lightning quick feet Robinho was rightfully the next big thing. In 2003, his suitors included the likes of Barcelona, AC Milan and even Bayern Munich – the biggest of names in European football – and it was only a matter of time before someone snatched him away from South America.
It was Real Madrid in 2005, who eventually succeeded in luring the then 21-year to Spain for a staggering €30 million handing him over the number ten shirt previously worn by Portuguese and Los Blancos legend, Luis Figo.
But that was it. Sadly, that could be marked as the biggest high in an extremely disappointing club career that never really took off. Instead, it has had as many false starts as it had downfalls.
Despite picking up from a rather disappointing start in Madrid and helping them win two La Liga crowns in his three seasons with the Spanish giants he was never really consistent throughout. That he had age on his side, always played to his advantage. No wonder then, when Real Madrid finally decided to sell him in 2008, Chelsea – having just signed Luis Felipe Scolari – were very eager to sign a player who they (like many others) felt could realise his potential with a fresh start away from the Spanish capital.
But the shocking deadline day transfer to the newly rich Manchester City that summer, effectively and truly marked his downfall.
Pele – the same man who had proudly declared him as his successor – in response scathingly criticised the move by calling Chelsea lucky to have not a player who could use some counselling as he was badly advised. The power that be at Santos didn’t shy away from joining the bandwagon stating that “they were ashamed to have produced such a player."
Robinho was a record signing in the Premier League back then, and the transfer was labelled as one that was not done for “footballing reasons”.
He obviously disappointed in England and never really settled down, even spending half a season on loan in 2010 at his former club Santos which earned him a place in the Brazilian national team for the World Cup in South Africa.
There was the slightest of hope that perhaps he was back, and when cash strapped Milan snatched him for €18 million along with Zlatan Ibrahimovic in another deadline day coup in the summer of 2010, the ray of hope multiplied.
He did enjoy a fruitful first season at the San Siro, in fact his most productive since his move to the European mainland as he scored 14 goals – the same number as Ibrahimovic and Alexandro Pato – to help the Rossoneri win their first league title in six years.
But it turned out to be another false dawn.
Primarily responsible for Milan’s ouster from the Champions League for two consecutive seasons as he missed sitters against Tottenham in February 2011 and then Barcelona in March next year – two strikes that could have turned those crucial knock out ties in their favour – he rapidly lost the trust of Massimiliano Allegri.
When Milan sold Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva to Paris Saint Germain in 2012, he had a chance to make the forward position his own as the only experienced campaigner in the frontline, but inconsistency coupled with regular injury problems meant he was soon surplus to requirements even in Italy. That an 18-year old M’baye Niang overtook him on the wings alongside Mario Balotelli and Stephan El Sharaawy was further proof that his career in Europe was soon coming to an end.
Having tried and failed to desperately offload him for over a year and a half, Milan finally managed to cut him off their wage bill last week as Robinho makes a return to the club where it all started for him as young prodigy.
His one year loan move to Santos could help him revitalize his career to some extent but it pretty much marks the end of his European career. Twice before the club has given him a new life, but the third time seems a bit too late.
He did manage to make a mark with the national team, having represented Brazil 92 times since his debut in 2003 but his long association with the Selecao despite his problems with the numerous clubs he’s been a part of throughout his career highlights the scarcity of attacking talent in his country since the decline of the likes of Ronaldinho and Kaka post 2008.
With Brazil looking to start afresh after the recent World Cup debacle and with a flurry of young talents in Neymar and Oscar set to lead the line for years to come, a comeback in the national side seems next to impossible.
What’s sad is the fact that he is still only 30.
Robinho’s career is the perfect example of how a repertoire full of skills and flair can only take you so far if not accompanied by the right amount of character and dedication to give your all on the field.
Once nicknamed as ‘Pelezinho’ and hailed as the next Pele by the king himself, Robinho a decade ago was what Neymar is today in the footballing circuit.
The only difference is that when the current Barcelona forward broke into the limelight at the very same club as his compatriot back in 2009, fans and critics no longer dared to see the next Pele in him.
All they wished for was that he doesn’t turn out to be the next ‘Robinho’.
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