Numerous reports have one-time wunderkind Robinho fleeing Manchester City for Santos, the legendary Sao Paolo club where his career began. The loan deal could see Santos youngsters Paulo Henrique Ganso or Neymar don sky blue. Manager Roberto Mancini has stated that, while concerned about a lack of depth at forward, he would not stand in Robinho’s way. While it is common for older players, such as Ronaldo the First and Roberto Carlos, to leave Europe’s elite leagues behind to return home at the end of their careers, such a move would be a tad strange for a player in his prime like Robinho.
Despite his chequered tenure at Eastlands, the September 1, 2008 Robinho signing signaled a massive turning point in Manchester City’s history as it showed the seriousness of new owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Many Premier League clubs have witnessed the arrival of supposed deep-pocketed foreign owner saviours, including Man City itself under Thaksin Shinawatra. The Robinho signing signaled Sheikh Mansour’s willingness to spend whatever it takes to bring Man City into the upper echelon.
The fact that Man City might well hardly miss Robinho is a sign of how far the club have come since last season. Robinho leaves with his football progress stunted, his reputation damaged and his spot at the World Cup unsecured.
His departure will again raise questions of the Premier League’s ability to absorb South Americans. The usual reasons mentioned in any discussion of this topic include the weather, the food, the language barrier, the culture shock, the more physical football style, the weather and the weather. The Guardian points out that every Brazilian who has won Fifa’s World Player of the Year has received the award while at only one of four clubs, Real, Barca, Inter and Milan. Still, assimilation is not a problem for the Premier League alone. Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski, in Soccernomics (Why England Lose in the U.K.), spend a chapter discussing the general incompetency that most clubs display in absorbing foreign players. While the Premier League does not have an illustrious history of South American success stories (Asprilla anyone?), it remains a thoroughly international league, with more than 300 foreign players from more than 60 countries. Old notions die hard; Robinho’s exit says more about his own ability and maturity than it does about South Americans in the Premier League. One need look no further than Robinho’s soon-to-be-ex-teammate Carlos Tevez for proof positive that a world-class South American can thrive in England.
American fans take note, MLS club Red Bull New York is scheduled to play a Santos side that could well include Robinho in a March 20th exhibition match that will open their new ground in New Jersey.