Remember when Robinho was the wonder kid from Santos, the Pele-anointed successor to the legend. Remember when the boy wonder left Brazil to join Real Madrid in 2005 and it seemed a long era of his individual brilliance was due to light pitches across the world. After a season of injury struggles with AC Milan, his third with the Rossoneri, it all must seem a long time ago for the now 28-year-old striker.
Injuries have limited Robinho's 2012-13 season to merely nine games, only four of which he started for Massimiliano Allegri. Even before this injury plagued fall, Robinho's contributions to the club have seemingly always been overshadowed by bigger satellites within the San Siro orbit. First, Zlatan Ibrahimović and now Stephen El-Shaarawy.
Now, the winter transfer period approaches in Europe with news that Robinho may return to Brazil once and for all, back to his home club of Santos.
Such talk may be premature, particularly in light of Robinho's and Milan's recent run of form. Since returning from thigh injury on Nov. 6 (coming on for 10 minutes in Milan's 1-1 draw with Málaga in the Champions League), Robinho has scored twice and assisted three times. Since a humbling 3-1 home loss to Fiorentina a month ago, Milan hasn't lost, climbing from 13th to seventh in the Serie A table.
While the club's present and future success largely hinges on the continued maturation of El-Shaarawy, Robinho's return is a welcome option to Allegri and good news for the faithful after such a gloomy summer and start to the new season.
Robinho's threat remains his speed on the flanks. With the Brazilian on the right and El-Shaarawy on the left, Milan's counter attack sharpens. Robinho may also drift into the center-forward role, a switch that works well with Kevin-Prince Boateng dropping into the hole behind the strikers or out wide.
Versatility or at least flexibility in the line up have been elusive desires for Allegri with a roster already stripped of talent in the offseason and racked by injury. Even last weekend's 4-2 victory over Torino was marred by the loss of Nigel de Jong for the season with a ruptured Achilles tendon.
Any true rating of Robinho's performance up to this point in the season would seem incomplete. Perhaps a better assessment can be made after Milan's next two league games, intriguing contests for different reasons. A match this Sunday against bottom-three dwelling Pescara followed by a trip to the capital against red-hot Roma to close the first half of the season.