Tuesday, January 31, 2023

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Robinho- The Boy Who Would Be O Rei

Pele with Robinho

As Pelé was laid to rest after a spell in state at his old stomping ground, Santos' Vila Belmiro, following the loss of his battle with cancer, inevitably there has been a flood of tributes emphasising his natural talent and eulogising him as one of, if not the best ever to kick a ball.

 



And among his extensive honours list is an unprecedented five year run of Brasileiro league titles, won between 1961-65 in the famous white shirt of the Peixe (Fish). While they've not quite hit those giddy heights since, they did eventually discover a youngster so precociously talented that the man himself was compelled to anoint him his heir apparent at just fifteen- before he had even signed a first professional contract to follow in the footsteps of the giant!



Within just four years, though, Robinho had done just that and went on to make thirty league appearances, scoring ten goals in a season which saw Santos win another Brasileiro title as vultures from around Europe began circling.



His club held them off, ensuring he'd continue a footballing education which had begun with childhood games of futsal, which he credited with helping him to develop both speed and a decent dribbling technique. Nine goals from thirty-two games the next season a slight dip in form, but perhaps understandable in consideration of his mother's kidnapping in November 2004 and eventual release six weeks later following payment of a ransom.



Whether this was a contributing factor in his eventual move to Real Madrid the following summer goes unrecorded, but after forty-seven goals in one hundred and eight games he was off to the Bernabeu for a fee of 24M and handed Luís Figo's old number ten shirt into the bargain! 



Perhaps mindful of the burden of replacing yet another of the game's greats, he went on to net eight goals from thirty-seven games in his first season in La Liga before being dropped to the bench by Fabio Capello for much of the following campaign. When the Italian got the boot and in came Bernd Schuster, he added eleven goals in 2007/08 to bolster his stock and maybe even get his old unofficial mentor talking...



But that was as good as it got, a promised new contract not materialising as then- club president Ramón Calderón went back on his word and instead attempted to use the player as part of a planned swap deal with Manchester United for Cristiano Ronaldo, Robinho understandably more than a little miffed at the turn of events.



Ironically, having decided to pack his bags he would then end up as the first big signing of the Sheikh Mansour era down the road at City, originally believing he would be signing for Chelsea, then managed by former Brazil gaffer Luis Felipe Scolari...



"It was on the very last minute but with me it has always been like that.

 

It was really important, a team that opened doors for me. It was a big transfer. At that time City didn't have many big players in their team but it is a club that have a lot of love and respect."



He then opened his City account with a goal on his début against Chelsea after completing his move on the last day of the summer transfer window for the 2008 season. Quite a turnaround after an infamous gaffe at his unveiling as the first statement signing following the Abu Dhabi United Group's takeover.



"On the last day, Chelsea made a great proposal and I accepted."

 

Upon being corrected by a reporter, he would make a sheepish amendment- "Yeah, Manchester, sorry!"

 

And among his team-mates was Elano, who had left Santos for Shakhtar Donetsk at the end of Robinho's first full season in the first team at Vila Belmiro. After having played his part in a team built around a core of former Porto midfielder Diego and ex Chelsea man Alex, further league titles in 2002 and '04 added to the trophy cabinet before all departed.



While that in itself is not too shabby a haul, the nearest parallel is most likely a more celebrated group of local boys done good- chief among them that man Pelé!



Os Santasticos- the Santastics- is the not very original nickname bestowed upon a group of players he led to two Copa Libertadores trophies and a mind boggling twenty-three additions to the domestic silverware between 1959 & '74. His team-mates rather unfairly simply dubbed ‘Pelé's friends’ though the likes of Mauro and Gilmar also more than played their part....



Over 3,000 goals were picked out of the net by hapless keepers around Brazil and indeed the rest of South America during this hot streak. One of Pelé's own efforts against Fluminense in March of 1961, at the Maracana no less, would go on to be dubbed the ‘gol de placa’- literally, goal worthy of a plaque, which it would go on to get with a suitably lofty dedication to the most beautiful goal in the history of the Maracanã.



He wasn't finished there, though, thirty-seven more beauties helped the club to what is still its most successful season the following year. With a domestic league and cup double topped off by the first of their two Libertadores triumphs- this one the first ever by a Brazilian club- and the Intercontinental Cup, Benfica swept aside 5-2 and Pelé helping himself to a hat- trick.



But while his shadow may loom large, the pressure of taking up his mantle was too much for the man personally appointed a successor of sorts. There is of course another to complete a (kind of) holy trinity of forwards to pull on the shirt- this one eventually moving into a house next door to Vila Belmiro before eventually following a well-worn path & signing a first professional deal at seventeen- Neymar



Like Robinho he developed his skills through futsal and wasted little time in netting his own first goal for the Alvinegro (black and white) against Mogi Mirim, just a week after his first appearance off the bench for the last half hour of a match against Oeste, fourteen goals from forty-eight games his return in his first full season.



Five in one cup match against Guarani would go quite some way to adding another Campeonato Paulista the following season, his performances beginning to draw comparisons to- you can probably guess- Robinho and Pelé!



Offers from both Chelsea and West Ham were swatted aside in the aftermath, though the player's public declarations that his focus was only on Santos were somewhat undermined by his agent, Wagner Ribero's, own statement that



 "He wants to become the best player in the world. The chances of him doing that while playing in Brazil are zero."



Within three years he was off to Barcelona, having already played for Brazil at senior level in the first steps of a journey which has seen him, and not the man earmarked for the job, arguably come closest to inheriting Pelé's mantle. Neymar has become his country's de facto on-field leader and indeed net-bulger, seventy-seven goals in one hundred and twenty-four games to date for the Selecao putting him level with the man born Edson Arantes do Nascimento, who managed the feat in ninety-two appearances in the famous yellow shirt.


Rest in peace, O Rei (The King)...

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