The Curious Case of Robinho: From Bus Rides in Manchester to a 9-Year Prison Sentence

Manchester City's Brazilian forward Robi
Manchester City secured the marquee signing of Robinho in 2008 | PAUL ELLIS/Getty Images

We all love a footballing enigma. Someone who you can’t quite wrap your head around. Is he actually good? Is he overrated? Is everything going against him? Robinho slots into that mould rather fluidly.

However, at the turn of the century, everything was going for him.

Robinho lifts the league title with Santos | MAURICIO LIMA/Getty Images

Robinho was billed not only as one of the greatest prospects of his era, but indeed one of the most exciting ever. That can, admittedly, get quite tiresome. We’re used to the normal chitter chatter of ‘[insert player] being the next [insert top footballer]’, so such comparisons are usually taking with fistful of salt.

In the case of this particular prodigy, being compared to Pele was not just media hype, it was the words of the great man himself. Pele even paved the way for Robinho to ‘surpass’ him on the footballing stage. High praise, if not the highest praise.

81 goals in 180 Santos appearances were a clear indication of his talents, so too was helping fire the club to their first league title since the days of, well, Pele.

As is the normal career path of Brazilian youngsters, La Liga beckoned. Moreover, Real Madrid beckoned.

Robinho was handed the number ten shirt at Real Madrid | Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Seen as the future of Brazilian football at the time, it was an aspiration Los Blancos were in line with, hence why they offered him the legendary number ten shirt made vacant by the recently departed Luis Figo.

The early indicators were that the €24m deal was money very well spent. His debut campaign saw him rack up 51 appearances, scoring 12 goals and notching nine assists, and the positivity surrounding this bright young forward appeared to be justified.

Successive La Liga titles followed in 2007 and 2008, but despite hitting decent figures in both those seasons, inconsistency was Robinho’s major downfall. The weight of expectation was so large, that he was almost destined to never match those lofty ambitions, and a change of scenery followed.

Namely, Chelsea.

Ah, no, that’s wrong. He thought it was Chelsea, but it was actually Manchester City who made him the fifth most expensive player in the world. Easy mistake to make, that.

But seriously, he did actually say that to a journalist upon signing. Woops.

Becoming the marquee signing of the new Abu Dhabi United Group era – he signed on the very same day the takeover took place – his time in England wasn’t exactly fruitful. He did win over the locals even before kicking a ball, though, regularly taking the bus into the city centre to go shopping with his girlfriend.

He may have been well-liked to begin with, but just like at Madrid, he struggled for consistency – even if 14 Premier League goals was a credible return in his debut campaign. A perceived lack of motivation prompted supporters to turn, and he was shipped out on loan to Santos 18 months later.

A permanent move to AC Milan followed that summer, as did a Serie A title. It finally looked as if the true Robinho had returned. His 14 league goals were instrumental in their success, but that form was never sustained. The goals started drying up in the three campaigns to follow, as did all the hype surrounding Pele’s supposed second coming.

Allegations were being made about his off-field attitude and professionalism, with claims of all-night parties in the build up to matches and lavish spending casting a dark cloud over this once bright starlet.

He returned to Brazil, then moved to China, then back to Brazil and then to Turkey, where he’s been since 2017.

Yet at a time where Robinho was fading out of the limelight, he was thrust straight back into in 2017 when he was convicted of taking part in the gang rape of a women in Milan in 2013 and sentenced to nine years in jail.

Since Brazil does not allow the extradition of its citizens – the ruling occurred while he was playing in Brazil – and with appeals over the decision and reports to be filed among other legal mumbo jumbo, Robinho avoided and will continue to avoid prison until roughly 2022.

Robinho was supposed to be Pele’s successor, the new champion in Brazilian football and the best player in the world. Precious little went to plan, and this taint on his career and character proved a sad and indefensible indictment on the world’s new ‘superstar’

After all of that, we’re taken to Turkey. More specifically, Sivasspor and Istanbul Basaksehir.

Turkish Spor Toto Super Lig"Besiktas AS v Medipol Basaksehir FK"Turkish Spor Toto Super Lig"Besiktas AS v Medipol Basaksehir FK"
Robinho has been in Turkey for four years now. | VI-Images/Getty Images

At this point he was 33 years old and moving to the Super Lig looked like being the final roll of the dice. A final few years’ salary in the bank while his reputation and career dwindled away.

In total he’s played 68 matches in Turkish football, scoring 16 goals, with next to nobody – myself included – even knowing he was still playing football at all.

Robinho was given his chances. At 19, he’d earned them, but not taking the hand life had dealt him and using it to its full potential in Spain, England and Italy proved his footballing undoing. Brazilian legends before him such as Ronaldinho and Rivaldo maintained steady careers and played well into the latter years of their profession, but Robinho was not a scratch on his countrymen.

He still remains an enigma in many ways. Did he peak way too soon? Did fortune favour the São Vicente born forward? Or were the clubs and people he worked for fooled by the reputation bestowed upon him? We’ll likely never know.

The Curious Case of Robinho | Power Sport Images/Getty Images

Indeed, the curious case of Robinho.

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