Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Robinho fades away

Last week we allowed the most expensive player in British football to leave City for pastures new. Robinho has now joined Brazilian club Santos on a loan deal that at the very least extends until the end of the season. Was this a wise deal to sanction or not? Robinho was clearly many things to many people at the club. I have mixed thoughts about his departure.

Robinho: the embodiment of Arabian power
As I have previously said on this blog, the little Brazilian has cut so much more than just a footballing figure ever since he arrived in Manchester in September 2008. He embodied Sheikh Mansour’s message to football: that of Manchester City being ready to become a major force in the world game.

At the time, the signing of Robinho was a massive statement, plucked right from under the noses of Chelsea. It was certainly effective then, but looking back we can perhaps see how much of a gamble it was for the men from Abu Dhabi – not in terms of finance, but in terms of footballing prestige.

Roughly 14 months later, football has bitten back. The message: whilst money certainly helps, it does not automatically buy success. For the likes of ADUG then, Robinho’s departure represents a failure of sorts. In a sense it proves right the approach of Mark Hughes – that the club must be built up slowly through progressive stages, rather than immediately aiming for the highest point. Now the club risks looking like it can’t hold on to its biggest players. In terms of footballing prestige, we have tried to run before we can walk and have ended up stumbling.

Robinho: the footballing genius
We certainly cannot deny the pure footballing talent of this little Brazilian. He is the most naturally gifted player I have seen pull on a Blue shirt. The sad thing that somehow we have been unable to unlock his massive potential.

This partly could’ve been down to things we’ve had some control over. How well, for example, did Mark Hughes understand Robinho as a player and how well did he accommodate him into our system? Well, going off the record, for the first few months of the 2008-09 season, Hughes did pretty well in this department. Robinho scored the vast majority of his 14 goals in the first half of the season. If he’d have replicated anything like this form in the second half of the campaign he would’ve been a good bet for the Premiership’s top scorer. As it happened he ended up City’s top scorer and 4th top scorer in the League overall. This disproves the argument of those who say that Robinho just wasn’t built for the rigours of the Premier League.

Not one more day in Manchester
But as we all know, this form didn’t continue. Perhaps the signs were already there in the second half of last season when the goals started to dry up. Was this a case of player mis-management? Of Hughes and his coaching staff not having the tools to help Robinho overcome his bad patch? I doubt it. In fact I doubt whether the Brazilian ever really paid that much attention to the instructions of Hughes’ coaching team.

I think it certainly was a case of teams working out how to handle Robinho a bit better, but biggest of all I think it was down to the Brazilian’s mentality. I would’ve thought that the beginning of this season would see Robinho hitting new heights, especially with all the new talent that Mark Hughes had assembled at the club. If anything, it went the other way. Robinho’s performances deteriorated, he became injured, rumours of a move to Barcelona resurfaced and then stories emerged of him not wanting to spend another day in Manchester.

There seems to be a lot of mileage in the fact that he simply did not like England and was not happy playing his football here no matter who it was with. Earlier in 2009, he was arrested on suspicion of rape at a nightclub in Leeds, only to be cleared five months later. He claimed that this contributed to his unhappiness and how he viewed his life in England.

And then of course, there must have been the weather. Having just come out of one of the worst winters for many a year would have certainly done nothing to help the Brazilian’s motivation.

The gap between South America and Europe
These things – managing the player, fitting him in the right system, the player’s mentality on the pitch, the player’s mentality off it – are all variables. They could’ve been changed – by managers, coaches and the player himself - to make football in England a much more worthwhile and enjoyable experience.

But there are some things that we could not have changed, things that perhaps make the player’s departure seem that much more inevitable. One is the cultural change that Robinho has failed to make coming from the South American game to the European game.

The BBC’s Tim Vickery has written an excellent article about this cultural shift. In it he quotes the current Brazil manager Dunga:

"[The Brazilian press like to say that Brazilian players move abroad to develop in a tactical sense. But in truth they go to Europe to learn individual and collective responsibility. In Brazil, any player who is a little better thinks he can get away with more than the others and behaves irresponsibly, including on the field. And the coach lets him. Abroad, if the athlete doesn't play for the team, he loses his place."

At City, and probably to a lesser extent at Real Madrid, Robinho has likely been treated in this fashion – as an equal member of the squad despite his mesmerising talent. But at Santos, Robinho will be placed upon a pedestal whilst air will be blown into his inflatable footballing ego.

Indeed, perhaps this process has already started – take a look at this footage of the Brazilian arriving at the Santos stadium.

Robinho: a child in a man’s game
At any rate, coming to Europe seems to be about growing up. That Robinho has failed to do this perhaps lies at the very root of why he has cut and run from his second challenge at a European club. Aside from his baby like thumb-in-mouth goal celebration, the Brazilian has acted within his 26 years in numerous other ways during his time here.

He was brilliant, but he did not seem to understand the frustration of the crowd when they saw only glimpses of this brilliance.

He was a massive offensive threat to opposing teams, but for one so inventive, he offered surprisingly little in the way of new attacking ideas once his opponents had worked out how to nullify his existing armoury.

He spoke of great commitment, of wanting to join a ‘big club’ like City, of wanting to be part of City’s ‘exciting project’, of wanting to win the Premier League title and of wanting to stay with City for the next five or ten years. But his desire on the pitch, soon on the wane, and his continued inability to settle into Mancunian life, proved that these words were all too empty.

And it is for all these reasons that I believe we will never see Robinho in a City shirt again.


  1. Great read, and every word true.

  2. Anonymous4/2/10 04:42

    Great article, but I wouldn't beat yourself up over Robinho's inconsistency and lack of commitment to City. As far as I know, he had the same problems at Real Madrid - supposedly the biggest club in the world. And I think he's having a laugh if he thinks he would walk into Barca's team. Barca are so great right now precisely because they rely so much on teamwork and understanding. Would Robinho thrive in such an environment? Probably not. In my opinion, the guy's career may well have peaked already and he'll struggle to draw interest from the really big clubs (not least because of his attitude). On the other hand, look at Tevez - someone who was actually underrated, who was underused at Old Trafford and is just starting to find his stride in European football (after being idolised in South America for years).

    City are on the up and up. There will be a few setbacks and mistakes along the way, but ultimately, huge progress is being made.

  3. Anonymous8/2/10 04:57

    Good read old man. I wouldnt recognise this guy, nor mnay other footballers, but twas interesting and imformative all the same.