Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Suddenly Robinho looks like the New Pele ... Again

Having been given a final chance to fulfill his potential at Madrid, Robinho has sent scribes scrambling for the same old superlative

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By: Sid Lowe (for the Guardian)
November 12, 2007 4:32 PM

See Original Article From Guardian Website Here
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Someone get that man a colossal caipirinha, a bevy of Brazilian beauties and a bumper box of johnnies! When Robson da Souza arrived at Barajas airport bound for Brazil this morning, he did so as a hero. As he set off on the long, hard trek round the gleaming yet useless terminal four, a familiar face grinned back at him from the newspaper stands. El País, El Mundo, Marca, AS, even El Mundo Deportivo and Catalan comic Sport - everywhere you looked, there was Robinho, thumb in mouth, hands cupped over his ears, or fingers pointing skywards, beaming. "Every day he looks more like Pele", ran the headlines, as others roared: "Robinho gives Madrid wings" or "Robinho is the real star".
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What a difference a month makes. The last time Robinho arrived at Barajas he did so as a villain, chased through the terminal by a furious bunch of fuzzy mic-wielding Benny Hills having missed training after arriving back from international duty a day late. Robinho insisted that he didn't realise when Madrid were playing, which wasn't unreasonable: after all, his first game back had been scheduled for Saturday at 10 - until the Thursday night, when Madrid and evil overlords Audiovisual Sport decided to shift it to Sunday at five. But if it wasn't unreasonable, nor was it true: Robinho had actually missed his flight because he'd been out with the Brazil squad and a busload of babes at the Catwalk Club until five the previous morning, only venturing outside to ask one of the minders to bring him 40 condoms, and as the press pursued him his Real Madrid career seemed to be hanging from a thread.
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Robinho first arrived in Spain back in August 2005, hailed as the "New Pele", the only player ever to get booked for performing too many step-overs, the cheeky kid who had the most ludicrously brilliant debut in living memory. On the opening day of the 2005-06 season, he came on against Cádiz with 21 minutes remaining and single-handedly changed the game with a frightening array of skills and tricks, Canal Plus commentator Michael Robinson declaring him "pure poetry", and El Mundo announcing: "a star is born". AS, meanwhile, was having a religious experience, its headline preaching: "And God created Robinho!"
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Trouble is, God also created Djimi Traoré. And since that sticky evening in Cádiz, Robinho has been more like the new Denílson than the new Pele: the occasional flash of brilliance, countless step-overs - or bicycles, as they're called here - but with precious little end product. As the Spanish joke went, playing on "nothing" and "swim" being the same word, Robinho was like a tri-athlete because corre, bici, y ... nada - he ran, he got on his bike and then ... nothing. In his first two seasons, he wasn't even rated amongst the top 50 players in Spain, while on the match-by-match ratings in Marca he was below the La Liga average. He scored 14 goals in 69 league games and just one in 14 Champions League matches, providing just three assists.
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Despite playing an important part in last season's late charge to the league title, it was impossible to shake off the feeling that Robinho just wasn't going to make it. Suggestions that he could be the best player in the world looked laughable. Even the excuse that he was young, like
Chris Coleman's washing machine, simply didn't hold water: he was already 23. Unhappy under Fabio Capello, Robinho had thought about leaving; more importantly, Madrid had thought about letting him. When sporting director Predrag Mijatovic publicly denounced the fact that some players were turning up for training smelling of booze, it was Robinho he was talking about, but he grudgingly gave the Brazilian one last chance. He didn't take it: Robinho completed just one of the opening eight games of this season, scoring none and providing no assists. Patience was running horribly thin, the Bernabéu began to whistle and that infamous night out, coming just days after Madrid had pompously presented the players with a new code of conduct, was the last straw.
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Or at least it should have been. Instead, when Robinho left the Catwalk Club he was, quite literally, greeted by a new dawn. Just when everyone was talking about fines and bans, about Robinho being ditched and Bernd Schuster doing his nut, the opposite happened. Schuster defended him and put him straight into the side.
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It was a masterstroke. Robinho, suddenly aware that he had to perform, did just that, playing with commitment and pace - and also the freedom denied to him by Capello. Against Olympiakos, he scored twice and "provoked" a penalty,
rolling round with a big grin on his face; against Deportivo he scored again, with a cool finish from Guti's wonderful pass; and another goal followed against Valencia, as well as the assist for Raúl's opener. Against Sevilla, meanwhile, he was the only Madrid player to get a shot on target all match.
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But if that was good, last night was even better. Last night, at last, Robinho was simply too good for the rest - the same ridiculously brilliant footballer who destroyed Cádiz. "I play football like I dance," he declared, diving over a circle of handbags and appealing for a penalty, "football is all about having fun."
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And, boy, was watching Robinho fun last night. He left poor Hector with his knees pointing out the back, skating past him with a lovely touch and putting the ball just over for what would have been one of the goals of the season, starting and finishing a clever move to make it 1-0, scoring the second and providing the third on the way to a 4-3 victory that puts Madrid four points ahead of Barcelona and maintains their one-point lead over Villarreal at the top. It was, declared Marca, "Robinho's magical night", while this morning's AS declared Robinho the new Madrid's "star signing". It might be two years late but maybe, just maybe, Robinho has finally arrived.

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