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Robinho matures into manhood at Milan

RESULTS Sat 27 Nov Sampdoria 1-1 Milan, Juventus 1-1 Fiorentina Sun 28 Nov Internazionale 5-2 Parma, Bari 1-1 Cesena, Bologna P-P Chievo, Brescia 0-0 Genoa, Cagliari 3-2 Lecce, Lazio 1-1 Catania, Udinese 3-1 Napoli, Palermo 3-1 Roma

If a Brazilian can't settle at AC Milan, he's not really a Brazilian â more like an Argentinian.

The club has always been a home from home for Samba Boys, from Altafini and Amarildo to Cafu and Kaka, so there were expressions of puzzlement amongst the Rossoneri hierarchy back in August when it was suggested that Robinho was a risky signing.

True, there had been tantrums and walkouts at Real Madrid and Manchester City, but there has never been any suggestion that the fleet-footed South American would be storming out of Milanello.

He slipped in quietly, compared to the headlines surrounding the arrival of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Many believed he would either play second string to Ronaldinho, who had been buzzing in pre-season training, or as a luxury substitute whenever Alexandre PatoâÂÂs fragile frame gave in. Many outside the club expected party tricks with Dinho to focus on the dance floor, but the only time Robinho was photographed away from the pitch was coming out of a Brazilian food store with a bag of rice.

Massimiliano AllegriâÂÂs initial 4-3-3 formation ensured Robinho was indeed the odd man out, but the coach's switch to a more balanced 4-3-1-2 â not to mention PatoâÂÂs injury problems and RonaldinhoâÂÂs nocturnal wanderings â has seen Robinho take a more pivotal role.

A model professional, then? Allegri certainly thinks so, putting his trust in the new Brazil captain, who has taken the pressure off his coach when the question "Are Milan too reliant on Ibra?" SaturdayâÂÂs goal at Sampdoria was his fourth in the league, just three behind the big Swede who has also scored two from the penalty spot.

But for losing his bearings in front of goal at Bari the other week, he'd probably be level with the Swede in the scoring charts. Either way, it certainly looks as if he is finally fulfilling the potential he has only shown in flashes since arriving in Europe five years ago at the age of 21.

There had been question-marks over whether he was too much of an individual for the constraints of the Italian game and although his party-piece is still the pedalada â the exaggerated step-over â it is employed to turn defenders to distraction rather than infuriate his team-mates. 

His licence to roam from left to right has definitely given Milan a new impetus and when Zlat is off-colour, as was the case this weekend, the nimble support striker has been on hand to energise the team.

Having taken the lead in Genoa, the league leaders might have lost their way after the opposition equalised, but it was Binho who offered the greatest threat â and it was no wonder that the other Ho was left on the bench until the last minute, seeing as a certain Scandinavian is now the untouchable one. After all, Allegri had maintained that it would be very difficult to see all three ball players on the pitch at the same time â and it was certainly a blink and miss it moment.

Just for the record, Ronaldinho has not started since the 3-1 win over Chievo on October 16 and another late night before the Fiorentina game has not helped his cause; the former World Player of the Year is now the luxury benchwarmer.

Lazio, Napoli and Juventus couldn't take advantage of the leaders dropping two points, but Inter shook off weeks of self-pity to stick five past Parma.

Sub-zero temperatures and a noon kick-off seemed just the ingredients for another sub-standard display, especially with Samuel EtoâÂÂo sitting out the first of his three-game suspension.

However, those hardy souls willing to drag themselves to the San Siro under slate-grey Milanese skies were rewarded by a vibrant display from the ailing champions â but only after it seemed that Javier Zanetti demanded that Rafa Benitez push Wesley Sneijder forward to support Goran Pandev and Jonathan Biabiany in attack.

As with the Champions League win over FC Twente in midweek, Inter enjoyed a fair share of good fortune â the lack of which the ever-more isolated Benitez had been bleating on about for the last seven days â in the shape of two deflected goals from Dejan Stankovic.

The Serbian bagged a rare hat-trick and described the win, Inter's first at home in the league in just over two months, as being like a dose of penicillin. It remains to be seen whether it's a panacea or a placebo.