Robinho has had an up and down career—one moment he’s the hottest property around, the next he’s surplus to requirements; it’s a pattern which has repeated more than once in his career. Now, at a time at which both he and AC Milan are in resurgence, we assess how well he is doing and if it’s enough to see him star at Brazil 2014.
When Milan signed Robinho two years ago, it was greeted by a seemingly equal measure of optimism and scepticism. On the one hand, Robinho was an undoubted talent.
At Manchester City he’d sporadically shown the type of form that could win games single-handedly and his signing was an indication that Milan could still land big name players. Equally, however, Robinho was a bit of luxury player. He’d play well one week and then go missing the next.
Having just signed the mercurial Zlatan Ibrahimovic, could Milan afford another such player?
And yet, the first two years of Robinho’s stay in Milan went surprisingly smoothly. He showed a willingness to run, to work off the ball and to play second-fiddle to the dominant force of Ibrahimovic.
When he was occasionally afforded the opportunity to combine with both the Swede and Antonio Cassano, Milan looked deadly.
A Scudetto and a runners-up medal in two years was a decent return on the player for the Rossoneri.
This season has been different though. After losing so many players in the summer—through both transfer and retirement—the transition has been anything but smooth. Injuries have played their part too and Robinho has been one of many Milan players to find themselves watching the struggle from the sidelines.
The bright spot for Milan—the emergence of Stephan El-Shaarawy as one Europe’s finest talents—has also prompted a slight change in shape. El-Shaarawy has replaced Ibra as the first name on the teamsheet but it is not a like-for-like swap.
He is not a powerful centrepiece around which Robinho could work. El-Shaarawy is quicker, smaller, less static.
This has required those around him to adapt too.
But now, finally, Milan seem to be emerging from their rocky start and starting to put some kind of a run together.
They have qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League—a feat reigning Champions Chelsea and EPL winners Manchester City failed to achieve—and emerged victorious against a dominant Juventus side.
There seems to now be a successful formation that coach Massimiliano Allegri has hit upon too. In the victory over the other Turin side, Torino, at the weekend, Milan fielded three strikers: Robinho, El-Shaaraway and Giampaolo Pazzini.
In this shape, Pazzini takes on the role of centre-forward vacated by Ibrahimovic. Pazzini will never have the physical presence of the Swede—few do—but in combination with El-Shaarawy the front pair provides the base around which Robinho can work.
The result was a 4-2 victory, started by a great Robinho finish. The outside of the foot strike showed a deftness of touch that reminds us of the skill the Brazilian possesses.
Whether it will be enough to see him feature prominently for Brazil in two years is another matter. For the Brazilians to recapture South American—let alone world—dominance, they need to look to the future.
Robinho still has the talent and will only be 30 when the World Cup rolls around, but one wonders if he will ever sufficiently live up to his potential. In order to be a standout player on the biggest stage of them all, he will have to do so and then some.