AC Milan: 5 Reasons Why Robinho's Best Years Are Behind Him
Anointed by Pele himself as the next true great of the game when he was just 15, Robson de Souza's career has been something of a letdown.
There have been trophies, of course. And each season has seen the occasional stroke of genius. But the teenager who played so spectacularly for Santos FC and was so instrumental in the Brazilian club winning their first championship since Pele's time, never really became what he promised to be.
Real Madrid was so-so. Manchester City was much the same. His first season saw almost a goal every two games, but for a talent such as his, it seemed insufficient. A return home to Santos brought little, either, before an €18 million move to AC Milan revived his career and offered some chance of greatness.
No doubt, he was instrumental in the 2010-11 Scudetto success at Milan. But since then, his star has faded, and now nearing 30, there's little to suggest the best is yet to come from Robinho.
Truly Great Players Flourish on the Biggest Stage
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This will undoubtedly annoy some, but football's biggest stars always shine brightest when at the biggest clubs. And there are none bigger than Real Madrid, who bought Robinho at the tender age of 19 for the princely sum of €24 million.
The boy who would be king never quite lived up to the hype, however. He scored consistently, but then so did Raul and Ruud van Nistelrooy. Guti—a homegrown player who cost the club nothing—made more assists, and so, despite having his best season in terms of goals in 2007-08, he was sold to the newly rich Manchester City at the end of that summer.
It's extremely rare for top clubs to let go of a talent like Robinho, unless they think it unsalvageable. It was clear that the man who inherited Luis Figo's jersey was never going to live up to it, so he was let go to a second chance in the EPL. His chance on the biggest stage passed, and aged just 24, the decline began.
The Numbers Don't Lie
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Statistics aren't everything, but for €42.5 million, Manchester City got a poor return on Robinho. He was bought as a marque signing on the same day as the Abu Dhabi United Group took control of the club—a show of intent and of spending power for the new English powerhouse.
Despite insisting that he was happy afterward, there's no doubt that the Brazilian had been pushing for a move to Chelsea rather than Manchester, and while his first season for the Citizens was promising, his time in the north of England was ultimately a disaster.
His second year at City was marred with injury and poor form—he only scored against lower-tier Scunthorpe United—and he eventually moved back to Santos.
Robinho's career figures only point in a downward direction. Fourteen league goals his first season at City were followed by none the following season. At Milan, he netted 14 in the league in 2010-11, only six the season after, and thus far in 2012-13, he's bagged just two. The moments of genius are still there, but they're farther and fewer between.
Even in His Prime, Robinho Was Never Truly Dedicated
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The point of this article is not to slight Robinho; rather, it's to highlight the fact that the Brazilian never became the player he might have been.
At Milan and in Serie A, Robinho is surrounded by truly great players, who might have served as examples on how to fulfill one's talent. Players such as Paolo Maldini, Gianluigi "Gigi" Buffon, Francesco Totti and Javier Zanetti have had glittering careers not just because of their innate talent. They all worked hard.
Unlike the very best, Robinho worked for himself rather than for his teammates. At one time or another, he's been vocally unhappy at every European club he's played for, which surely points toward a selfishness that the likes of Milan legend Maldini would never have dreamed of.
"If Robinho is unhappy and doesn't believe he has the confidence of the coach," Fabio Capello, his manager at Real Madrid, once told Spanish newspaper AS, "then he is only 50 percent the player he should be."
At almost 30, it seems unlikely that he'll now look inward for faults, having spent his career blaming external forces.
We Speak of Robinho in Terms of What Might Have Been
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His fans will point to the league titles he's won in Brazil, Spain and Italy and to the fact that he's the only Brazilian to make the EPL's top-five scoring list. They will point to his solid CV in Serie A or his two Confederations Cup titles and one Copa America with Brazil.
But to speak of Robinho is to speak of the rarest of talents, and in the context of a player judged by Pele to be his rightful heir, his achievements can only seem a little underwhelming.
Robinho has talent to spare, but many have done much more with less. And after more than a decade in the public eye, he's done little to suggest there'll be a change of approach in these years—those that should be his prime.
The Next Generation Is Here—and the Old Generation Is Calling
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Ask yourself: In which category does Robinho fit? Is it with the likes of current Milan teammates Stephan El Shaarawy and M'Baye Niang or former Brazil companions Adriano and Ronaldo?
Luis Nazário de Lima, aka Ronaldo, was one of the most potent and exciting strikers the game has ever known, and even he was past his best, come the age of 30. Adriano's just 31, and he's been finished for years.
The latter's a good friend of Robinho's, and the two share a weakness for socialising. The Brazilian predilection for partying coming at the end of a career does not bode well for the aging Robinho.
A move back to Brazil had seemed likely, but now, it seems money stands in the way. If he's to continue at the top level, the 29-year-old will likely have to stay at Milan and battle the likes of Kevin-Prince Boateng and the precociously talented Niang for a place in Massimiliano Allegri's starting XI.
And though he's no Winston Bogarde, Robinho's career has always been more impressive for the contract figures than for his commitment to training or his contributions on the field.
Sadly, though the former Santos wonder kid is more talented than almost anyone he's ever played with, he lacks the professionalism or the drive that sets so many of his teammates—in Madrid, Manchester and Milan, not to mention with Brazil—apart. And time is no longer on his side.
It's not a nice thing to predict, but it seems that the best will never come for Robinho. And more's the pity.