At precisely just a few minutes before midnight on Sunday 31 August 2008, Manchester City sent a message to the entire footballing world. £32.5m later and they had acquired one of the biggest talents in world football in Robinho, and, this being Manchester City, of course it wasn’t going to be anywhere near as simple a signing as everyone at the club would have hoped. It never is, is it?
Roll forward 22 months and Robinho puts in an excellent performance for Brazil in their opening game of the World Cup Finals in South Africa, after a turbulent time with City. He’d spent most of 2010 back home in Brazil on loan with Santos, the club where he started his career, after just 10 appearances in the first half of the season for his parent club.
The player that left for Santos in January was but a shadow of the player that City fans saw from September to December 2008, during which time he scored 12 goals in all competitions. From then on in, though, nothing looked like it would work for him: he seemingly lost his finishing ability, scoring just four more goals in the next calendar year, he struggled to beat players, he looked disinterested and then, to top it all off, he picked up an injury that would keep him out for three months.
It started well, but soon all went downhill and now he is the enigma that divides many of us Citizens. As, undoubtedly, one of the best players in the world, it’s understandable that a lot of City fans want him to be a part of the squad for the coming season. But many others disagree, citing a poor work rate and overall poor form for the best part of a year.
He has been criticised for his lack of defensive hard work, with the counter-argument being that defending isn’t his job. I can buy the second argument, providing he’s being played as a centre-forward (or just behind). When playing wide-left, however, you have to give the left full-back some help. I would never have expected him to chase back and put in a superbly executed tackle, but I would expect that he put up some resistance when the opposition are coming towards him with the ball.
That, though, is a minor part of what could be perceived as a big problem. With only five or six exceptions, since January 2009, Robinho looked like he just didn’t care what was happening on the pitch both defensively and offensively. No matter how badly things are going, there’s no excuse for coming off the pitch without having given it everything and a lot of fans often thought Robinho guilty of having done just that.
What the fans think, though, isn’t really that important. Quite a strange statement for someone writing something that is all opinion from no qualified position other than being a fan, I admit, but it’s true. My opinion doesn’t matter.
The only opinions that do matter here are those of Roberto Mancini and Robinho. Will the manager want to take the player back and try and integrate him into his squad – after all, Mancini got no more than a matter of weeks with him before he left on loan? Will Robinho decide that he wants to fight for his place?
In March 2009 while at Santos, Robinho himself said: “Where I have to be happiest is within the four lines of the pitch, and this is happening. I intend to continue for long. I hope that the board is already addressing this issue. You just have to look at my face to see my desire to stay at the club.”
Those aren’t really the words of a man who wants to come back to Manchester. A cynic would say that the situation isn’t too dissimilar to the one that he was in at Real Madrid.
But let’s flip this whole situation on its head for a moment. Stephen Ireland hasn’t looked the same player he was since Robinho’s absence from the City team and, given that the two players worked very well together, that’s not really a huge surprise. If City were to decide that there is no room for Robinho in the team, does it also mean that we will be hard pushed to see a return to form for Ireland?
There’s just as much chance, however, that a spell back home in Brazil and a good World Cup will benefit City… And not in the sense that it will bump up his price for a sale, but rather that he’ll have gotten his head screwed back on the right way and will be prepared to work hard and strut his stuff at Eastlands. Admittedly, that does feel like it could be something of a long shot.
City achieved their highest ever Premier League points tally and their joint-highest ever Premier League finish last season without the influence of Robinho for most of it. The decision that Roberto Mancini now has to make is really quite simple: is Robinho one of the additions to the team that will turn that fifth place finish into a finish in the top four?
In my totally unimportant, completely irrelevant, yet still written opinion, Robinho’s time with City has been something like a love affair. It was good while it lasted, but it looks like it’s time to call it and move on. Robinho’s attitude has been questionable for quite a while and, unless he can change it, give everything for the team and do what the manager asks of him (whether he agrees or not), then I don’t think he’s right for City.
Someone once said that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. But, for that to be true, all of the parts need to be working together and in harmony with each other. In the case of a football team, that’s various players doing their jobs and doing them to the best of their ability. If Robinho’s attitude is such that he isn’t interested in the game being played, for whatever reason, then it means accommodating him into the team just in case he turns on the magic and that starts to become a problem when the magic doesn’t happen.
My heart wants him to stay and prove me wrong. My heart wants him to return to City and be the missing link, recapture his late 2008 form and help City to their best ever Premier League finish.
But my head says it’s not the most likely outcome this summer.
Written By David Mooney