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Robinho’s debut season

Almost from the moment he stepped off a private plane in Manchester, surveyed the notorious Mancunian weather and mistakenly called his new club Chelsea, Robinho’s Manchester City career has caused as much interest off the field as it has on it.

On the eve of his £32.5m move to Eastlands on transfer deadline day, Robinho claimed “I am only thinking of Chelsea and want to play there,” and that “the situation has not changed, I want to leave Real and play for Chelsea.”

Twenty-four hours later, the Abu Dhabi United Group completed their takeover of City and Britain’s most expensive footballer was indeed wearing a blue shirt – albeit not the Chelsea one he had been apparently destined to. The Stamford Bridge heirarchy were in fact so confident of securing Robinho that they began selling shirts bearing his name – only for Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s billions to gazump them, and tempt the striker to Lancashire instead.

In fact, the battle of the billions between Chelsea and Manchester City grew so fierce that even Robinho himself seemed confused who had won the race for his signature.

“At the last minute, Chelsea made me a great offer and I ended up accepting it,” Robinho told a press conference – to be corrected by a journalist, asking “Don’t you mean Manchester City?”

After succeeding £30.8m Andriy Shevchenko as Britain’s most expensive footballer, and reportedly taking home a salary in the region of £160,000 a week, the Samba superstar was under instant pressure to justify his tag as one of the world’s greatest talents. And on his City debut, ironically against his long-term suitors Chelsea, Robinho didn’t disappoint – opening the scoring with a superb free-kick.

Although Chelsea came back to win the game 3-1, Robinho had arrived.

A starring role in the 6-0 demolition of Portsmouth preceded his first Premier League hat-trick against Stoke City, and Robinho’s tally reached nine by Christmas – the same amount of league goals mustered by Shevchenko from 47 appearances. He signed off 2008 in dramatic fashion, scoring late in stoppage time to secure a draw at Blackburn.

But despite his insistence that he was happy in Manchester, rumours surrounding Robinho’s happiness at Eastlands continued to circulate and were compounded when the Brazilian walked out of a City training camp in January.

Despite executive chairman Garry Cook describing the event as a “serious breach of club discipline,” Robinho was not publicly chastised over the incident – with manager Mark Hughes fully aware of his importance to the club, and the seemingly fragile nature of his attachment to City.

Despite fining him two week’s wages – a Premier League record of £320,000 – Hughes elected only to have a “brief chat” with his star man. Officially, Robinho’s walk-out was put down to family problems, and his on-field performances visibly suffered in the new year. The striker went four months without a goal, his forlorn spell encompassing seventeen games, before finally netting against West Bromwich Albion in a 4-2 victory.

Robinho had re-discovered his goalscoring touch and netted again in the next two games against Everton and Blackburn, moving him to fourth in the Premier League top-scorer list with 14 goals.

As City continue to flex their muscles in the transfer market with a series of high-profile raids for Roque Santa-Cruz and Samuel Eto’o, Robinho’s future continues to be discussed at great lengths. A one-year loan deal to Barcelona to replace Eto’o is the latest rumour and if the Brazilian joins names such as Cristiano Ronaldo heading to Spain, the Premier League will undoubtedly be all the poorer for it.

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