Robinho the entertainer centre stage in City revival
The Brazilian wunderkind has wasted no time in convincing the doubters by living up to his £32.5m price tag. By Ian Herbert
You wouldn't have thought as much, when he raised his white wristbands to the heavens and took the applause late on Sunday afternoon, but Robinho arrived at his new club with some serious doubts about the career choice he had made.
The player displayed "signs of being apprehensive about the situation he found himself in" his manager Mark Hughes admitted yesterday, and it has apparently been the presence of his compatriots, Jo, Elano and Glauber which has done most to help him settle. "That early apprehension went very quickly," Hughes insisted.
Of course, there's nothing quite like a performance of Sunday afternoon's proportions to banish demons about the leaving of the Bernabeu, either. Robinho's contribution to City's biggest win since Huddersfield were destroyed 10-1 at Maine Road in 1987 had echoes of his debut for Real Madrid in Cadiz, in August 2005, which led the newspaper Marca to proclaim "And God created Robinho".
God also deserted Robinho in Madrid but worries about whether he will last in the Premier League are for another day. For now, City can reflect on the fact that Jo and Robinho's partnership has left Dimitar Berbatov and Wayne Rooney looking dysfunctional across the city and helped them to 11 goals more than the old enemy already. City fans like to say that the first part of Abu Dhabi stands for "Anything But United" and they're just cursing that the Eastlands derby is over two months' off.
Robinho – and the effect he has on all around him – is the reason for that. Hughes also told a story yesterday about the scene in the Manchester City dressing room before the Chelsea match which captured the excitement and self belief he has engendered. "He was doing tricks with the ball in the dressing-room and all the guys were applauding him. So, straightaway, he won them over," Hughes said. "Good Premier League players look at top players coming in to their club and view it as a challenge. Players are quickly looking to see if another player is as good as people say he is. 'Will he help us to win games?' The answer is he will do. And players are responding."
Shaun Wright-Phillips is among them – the embrace he gave the Brazilian in the centre circle before they kicked off the Chelsea game revealed his excitement – and so, too, Jo. There is something faintly touching about the way that Robinho's striking partner, three years his junior, wears the same white wristbands as well as the same boots. But the Robinho effect has been most pronounced in Stephen Ireland, as Hughes was quick to observe. "He [Ireland] has been exceptional since I came here," he said. "He has been arguably our best performer."
City's new chairman, Khaldoon Al Mubarak, back in Abu Dhabi yesterday ahead of the Arabs' £210m take-over of City today, seems to appreciate that Ireland and his like are as valuable in their own way as Robinho and those of his ilk. Even those unsettled by the arbitrary way that foreign wealth has suddenly elevated and changed City – a club founded by a vicar's daughter to give working class men some meaning in their lives – cannot overlook the emphasis placed by Al Mubarak's boss, Sheikh Mansour Al Nayan, on the need to build organically.
Two episodes from Al Mubarak's three-day weekend stay in Manchester suggest he has a feel for the rhythms of City, too. His request, before Sunday's game, to be introduced to Mike Summerbee, Colin Todd and Peter Barnes, better to appreciate the club, came in marked contrast to Thaksin's shabby treatment of Dennis Tueart. His easy manner with a group of fans who wandered into the corporate box he was using was also impressive. Educated at New York University, Al Mubarak's immaculate English gives him a tool that Thaksin, a baffling and alien figure to so many in east Manchester, never had.
Sheikh Mansour told fans on Sunday that "we understand it takes time to build a team" and there will be more evidence tomorrow that City, in some respects at least, can afford to take things in their stride. While the club's run to the quarter-finals of the Carling Cup last season – and the prospect it offered of silverware after 22 years – took on nerve-shredding significance, Hughes is going to enjoy the luxury of rotation at Brighton. Will Robinho and his box of tricks be on show at the Withdean Stadium, the City manager was asked. "No," he replied.