The Robinho story... part one

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Is it just me or do you all think that Robinho isn’t getting enough media coverage lately?

I’ll take the opportunity to fill this unbelievable blank by throwing some personal opinions on the career of the new Manchester City star – something I have been intending to do even before the regrettable Real Madrid vs Chelsea joust for his pedaladas.

Robinho was still a teenager when I first met him, back in 2003. FourFourTwo was running a special called “The wonder kids” – magazine editor Hugh Sleight had just interviewed Wayne Rooney, back in his Everton days, and the forward was the hottest prospect in Brazil that time.

An obvious choice. So I went to Santos to talk to him.

Santos' next big thing, 2004

Months before, the 18-year-old had led the Vila Belmiro squad to their first-ever National Championship, bedazzling the country with his zest and skills.

The foreseeable comparisons with a young Pelé had already popped up – after all, there was a kid with a similar body, playing for the same team, with as much success as the future King had amassed early in his career.

In fact, Pelé had singled out the skinny Robinho in a Santos youth squad practice, which attracted the media attention back then – watch footage of the 15-year old Robson de Souza here. “He’s got the skills, the intelligence,” said Pelé. “Let’s hope he achieves as much as I did.”

Back to our first meeting, in the Santos headquarters. Practice had just finished when Robinho entered the room. A shy boy, avoiding eye contact, keeping his answers short. I needed a while to start squeezing the answers out of him – how the Santos staff had stripped him of the number 10 shirt when he turned pro (to soften the “New Pelé” pressure), his dream of playing in Barcelona, how he managed to master the pedalada. His unmistakable grin finally appeared.

When we had done talking, the ace literally dashed to the door. He told me his mother, who always picked him up after the practices, was already waiting in the parking lot.

From day one, it was Robinho’s joy that caught my attention. He played with the same amusement and spontaneity that I did in my school days, with the difference that he was facing real pros, ready to crush him in the touchline. Me? Just four-eyed buddies.

It seemed he didn’t feel any pressure, from the fans, the coach or the opponents, when it came to football. It was all natural to him. Even when Robinho met a legend like Michael Schumacher on the pitch – watch here on 1:30min as he nutmegs the German ace in a 2003 charity match in Santos...

I remember thinking, “this is the future of Brazilian football.”

"So... when do I get to meet Terry, Lampard and Deco?" 

I thought the sky was the limit for him. Robinho was the guy to lead Brazil to a World Cup, to be – as he so much wants to be – the world’s best player. Hands down. If I’m not mistaken, that’s what I wrote in that FourFourTwo piece. And I still believe he’s got what it takes to be the best.

So... how come he ended up, with all due respect, at Manchester City?

Part two next week...