x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Fleet of foot, fleet of form for Robinho

The Brazilian and AC Milan forward has failed to settle in Europe and not lived up to his own billing, writes Ian Hawkey.

AC Milan forward Robinho has indicated he would like to return to Brazil and Santos. Paolo Bona / Reuters
AC Milan forward Robinho has indicated he would like to return to Brazil and Santos. Paolo Bona / Reuters

A transfer window approaches. Robinho develops itchy feet. This is a story football has heard before, a recurring motif of the professional calendar since the teenaged wonder boy of Brazil first became the object of desire of some of the world's best clubs nearly a decade ago.

"It seems to me he wants to go back to Brazil," shrugged Max Allegri, AC Milan's head coach, after Robinho had played a lively part in his team's 4-1 win over Pescara. Allegri added he would rather Robinho stayed and completed a third season as a Milan player and pointed out that no individual had accumulated more appearances for Milan under the current head coach's tenure there.

Several other Milan players have made a greater and more consistent impression, of course.

Robinho's Milan career resembles the rest of his seven-year stint in Europe: He has never quite taken command of any of the prestigious teams in the three glamorous leagues – Spain, England, Italy – where he pursued his declared dream of becoming "the number one player in the world".

That aspiration has seemed a long way off for several years now, but part of it still burns in him. His rationale for seeking a move home, ideally to the club who nurtured him, Santos, is to secure a place in Brazil's plans for the 2014 World Cup, which they will host.

Robinho will be 30 then. If fit, he should still be capable of the unique turns and feints that can delight and genuinely impact on major games. The frustration with Robinho, which affects the player himself, a sometimes over-sensitive and prickly individual, is that that impact is seen too seldom. He is easily caricatured as a footballer of cameos.

He had some superb cameos at Real Madrid, not least his debut against Cadiz in 2005, when he looked worth the long transfer saga, the €25 million (Dh121m) fee, that had brought him to Europe, feted as the next in line in the superstar Real Madrid recruitment chain that ran from Luis Figo to Zinedine Zidane to Brazil's Ronaldo to David Beckham.

He had his moments – though too few – at Manchester City. He has turned some major matches in Milan's favour, but never gained the wholehearted affection of fans who appreciate gumption as well as guile.

The latest uncertainty over Robinho's future will drag on. Santos, or other suitors, will be asked for a substantial fee by Brazilian club standards.

But it will not be a megastar-sized fee, because Robinho, for all his gifts, has never become that.

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