Sunday, 5 July 2009

The politics of Robinho

After a flurry of rumours in mid-June, all now seems quiet on the Robinho transfer front. But in football, as in so many other things, there is no smoke without fire.

“So far, there have only been speculations,” Robinho supposedly told the Daily Mail a few weeks ago. “There is nothing concrete and I haven’t received any offers. The only thing I can say is that Barcelona are a great team and everybody would love to play for them.”
Days later, another article appeared on the Spanish website, quoting a Robinho adviser as saying that the little Brazilian is looking for another, bigger club.

It is not difficult to see the lure of a club like Barcelona for a player like Robinho. It is also not surprising that these rumours surfaced during the Confederations Cup, whilst Robinho was in the presence of his fellow Brazilian team mates. What goes through his mind when he hears Barcelona right-back Dani Alves speak of his team’s treble winning exploits last season? When the squad breaks up after winning the Confederations Cup, what does he think when he sees Kaka jetting off to Madrid to begin an exciting new galagticos era? I would forgive him for feeling a little envious.

A move is not out of the question. According to some sources, Barcelona believe that Robinho is ‘gettable’ due to a clause in his contract that makes the Brazilian available to offers due to City failing to secure European football next season.

But even if such a clause exists, I find it difficult to envisage Robinho leaving Manchester City in the immediate term because his position at the club is highly political. This was evidenced by the speed and manner in which City’s Chief Executive Garry Cook came out and quashed the stories, stating: “Robinho has always been a highly valued member of our team and that continues to be the case. Reports suggesting he will leave the club, either on loan or on a permanent deal, are absolutely untrue.”

If we cast our minds back to the heady days of September 2008, we can see why Robinho casts such a political figure. ADUG had unexpectedly emerged as the new owners of Manchester City, and big bids for the top players were flying about everywhere you looked. What now seems to be a very meagre £40m bid was slapped into Valencia’s lap for David Villa. Manchester United’s move for Dimitar Berbatov was supposedly on the brink of being hijacked. And then there was that other, more ridiculous rumour in the air: Manchester City were about rob Chelsea of their No.1 summer transfer target, a wonderfully gifted Brazilian named Robinho.

We know now that the speculative probing of Villa and Berbatov drew up blanks, but I remember feeling a growing sense of satisfaction at the time that we were actually tabling bids for these kinds of footballers. It was an amazing few days and the future could only be bright.

And then, at about 11:00pm on transfer deadline night, I watched as the famous black writing with yellow background Sky Sports news alert flashed along the bottom of the screen. City had just tabled a £32m bid for Robinho. Half an hour later I stared in utter disbelief when the very same news alert changed to read that we had actually secured the services of one of the most talented footballers in the world. And not a footballer who was on the downward slope of his career either. At 24 years old, here was someone with their best years ahead.

What I am getting at here is the sheer statement of intent by ADUG through the signing of Robinho. The message was loud and clear: we aim to be serious contenders, and soon.

The owners have been at the helm for just under a year now, but the fact is that Robinho remains the greatest statement of how successful they want City to be. Because of this I believe that Chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak and Cook will do everything they can to stop a Robinho move. How pathetic would ADUG appear if their only marquee signing to date were to leave for more successful shores? It would do serious damage on the image, prestige and credibility fronts, serious damage to City's growing foothold in world football.

As for Robinho’s personal wishes, a good point is made on fellow City blog The Lonesome Death of Roy Carroll. Even if he were to secure a move to the European champions, Robinho would surely wilt under the weight of what Barcelona manager Josep Guardiola demands from his team every week. The Barca frontline of Lionel Messi, Samuel Eto’o and Thierry Henry all worked their socks off last season. For Guardiola’s Barcelona, the first line of defence was attack. Whenever Barca lost the ball, the front players were often in immediate pursuit. It turned about to be an effective tactic, and one that was very admirable to watch. Having seen Robinho play throughout an entire season, he simply wouldn’t fit with this work ethic.

I am willing to be realistic. Robinho was effective for City last season. Despite his price tag and likely very high wages, you have to recognise that scoring 15 goals is not a disaster for a player adapting to the style of the Premier League.

But I have never warmed to the little Brazilian. I look at him and I ask the question – is he committed? Does he play for the Blue shirt? The answer is never yes.

And in terms of credibility, that is dangerous ground for the likes of Al Mubarak and Cook. It is risky enough to stake the new statement of intent on one player. But it is almost foolhardy to place it on the slight shoulders of a player such as Robinho. They must know, as everybody else does, that he is far too inconsistent. He must pose a real problem for the likes of Mark Hughes and his team. Is he a player that can be dropped? The absence of Martin Petrov deflected that question for the majority of last season, but with the Bulgarian now fit, it is a question that will not stay deflected for very long. If Robinho does not perform and if, as we are led to believe, Hughes has complete control over team selection, how long will it be before the manager comes under fire - from within - for damaging the club’s global brand through the benching of Robinho?

These are nothing more than speculative scenarios, but they are also entirely possible. Al Mubarak and Cook must know that the only way to avoid such things, and to continue to strengthen the club's global brand, is to produce another marquee signing. And as we have already seen during this summer break, that is easier said than done.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Interesting post. This is the first full summer transfer window for City under ADUG. The window only opened a week ago and so far we have secured Barry and RSC - an encouraging start. I think others will follow, but I do wish we'd go about our business quietly instead of turning each enquiry into a drama, circa Eto'o, Tevez. I think at this stage of the transfer window, top players are bound to wait and see if an offer from a club offering CL football comes in. I suspect all City fans are going to have to learn to be patient

  3. Anonymous6/7/09 14:24

    I think Robinho has had an excellent first season considering he has played up front with some pretty dire forwards. He has been bullied and doubled up on in every away game with very little protection fom the referees. As for the lack of commitment you perceive, I seen him play for Real Madrid and can honestly say he has played better for City than he ever did for them. He appears fully committed to me but I don't think you can expect a 9 stone man to be capable of physically throwing himself around defenders like Drogba.
    Robinho will perform better with some quality around him. In my humble view he wasn't any less effective than Ireland. He too disappeared away from home but never had two markers to contend with, a lack of pre-season, false rape allegations or, media criticism either.