Matt Oldfield

It is hard not to feel slightly sorry for Robinho; rarely has a star been so outshone. Just over a year after his British transfer record £32M move to Manchester City, the Brazilian’s future again looks uncertain. That Robinho wants to leave City comes as no surprise to most; but that the club probably would not even miss him, must leave a sour taste in his mouth. The forward was expected to spearhead the Arab revolution but instead, due to injuries and inconsistent form, Robinho is something of a forgotten man at Eastlands.

The Brazilian is nearing a return from injury, but with a January move to Barcelona looking good for all concerned, what went wrong and can the boy from Sao Paulo really become the best player in the world?

Looking at the stats from Robinho’s first season in English football, his downfall might come as something of a shock. The Brazilian’s 14 league goals made him City’s top scorer and the fourth top scorer in the Premier League. However, Manchester City finished the season in mid-table obscurity and as the big money signing, the forward naturally took much of the blame.

Robinho started the season brightly and had 12 goals by January, but faded towards the end, only adding three more in all competitions between February and May. His work-rate and commitment were severely questioned; his home form had always been spectacular but a series of anonymous performances on the road led to angry suggestions that the Brazilian’s wages of around £160,000 a week were not being earned.

The 25-year-old also angered his manager by leaving the club’s January training camp in the Canary Islands without consent, a move which hinted that he thought himself above the law at Eastlands. Rumours suggesting he was unhappy at the collapse of the £100M deal for Brazilian team-mate Kaka were denied but few were happy with Robinho’s sudden behaviour. The signs were there that he was not the dedicated talisman that Manchester City required.

And then the proper Arab revolution started and Robinho was no longer the main man. Now there were other world-class players such as Gareth Barry, Emmanuel Adebayor, Kolo Toure, Carlos Tevez and Roque Santa Cruz. Robinho was initially excited about City ‘thinking big’ and talking up the club’s title chances, but now the tables have turned on the Brazilian. After starting the first two league games of the season, a stress fracture to his ankle picked up at the end of August has kept him out of the team. In his absence, Craig Bellamy and Martin Petrov have both been in spectacular form in Robinho’s favoured left-wing position, providing both goals and assists, both home and away.

Attacking options is not something that Mark Hughes is short of and the Brazilian will have to wait his turn, like fellow forward Santa Cruz. ‘He is no different from any other player in the squad in that he will be fighting for a place when he regains his fitness’, Hughes told the media. And fight he will have to do. City are performing well in the league and the manager will not want to mess too much with a winning formula.

With his place in the City starting XI in doubt, it is perhaps not surprising that a world-class player like Robinho has been looking around for other options. And who wouldn’t be flattered by interest from European giants Barcelona? At 25, Robinho is reaching his peak and with a World Cup in 2010, first-team football is essential.

However, the Brazilian has not made life easy for himself with his outspoken comments on the subject. There is nothing like saying you want to play for another club, to make your manager, players and fans alike think you don’t really want to be at the club. Even while telling Manchester City to chase Carlos Tevez in June, Robinho was also telling the media that any player would love to play for Barcelona. His assurances of commitment to the Eastlands club naturally sounded somewhat insincere after this and talk of wanting to return to home club Santos, and the mixed messages suggested Robinho was hedging his bets.

Perhaps it is worth the Brazilian wondering whether a move to the Camp Nou would benefit him. His claims of it being easier to be the best player in the world at Barcelona hinge on him actually making coach Josep Guardiola’s first team. With Thierry Henry, Lionel Messi, Bojan Krkic and Zlatan Ibrahimovic already there, Robinho could well struggle to stake his claim. The Brazilian didn’t exactly wow the judges during his last stint in La Liga with a Real Madrid side desperate for a star man. Would he do any better at Barcelona, who have incredible talent and know all about temperamental Brazilians?

The jury is out on any potential move to Spain, especially with reports suggesting City’s Arab owners are not keen on letting him slip away. Either way, Robinho will have to wait until January to decide his future. After a bright start to the season, the North West club have found the going a little tougher of late. Perhaps the little Brazilian’s return will get the club back to winning ways. He is surely capable of still playing a huge part in the rest of the Premier League season.

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