Ten years on, we look back at Robinho's breathtaking Real Madrid debutRobinho
The date was the 28th of August 2005 when a baby faced skinny kid with a shirt way too large for him first took to the pitch for Real Madrid. Real were playing newly promoted Cádiz and had just conceded an equaliser in the 65th minute when Robinho was summoned from the bench to replace a tiring Thomas Gravesen. The 21 year old had barely been on the pitch for thirty seconds when he chested the ball and flicked it up over his onrushing marker in one fluid movement.
For the people who were in the Ramón de Carranza that evening it seemed as if they were witnessing a player who would go on to become one of the all time greats. Every run Robinho made was penetrating and every touch resulted in the crowd erupting in a frenzy of excitement. The boy from Brazil even proved he could be a target man by chesting down a long ball and laying it off for Ronaldo in a move that would result in Raul’s 84th minute winner.
The next day the footballing world was delirious with Robinho fever.
“He is strong,” said teammate Zinedine Zidane . “He is even phenomenal. When a team has players like him, it is not a problem to be too attacking. With Robinho, we will be better and better, and for our adversaries, it will be worse and worse.”
“A genius has just touched down in our league,” read the front page of Spanish newspaper Marca. AS were just as drunk with excitement with an even more bizarre headline, "And God created Robinho!"
Even the opposition got caught up amongst the hysteria. Cádiz director Michael Robinson showed remarkable sportsmanship in his assessment of the game,
"Robinho is pure poetry. I've enjoyed watching one man unstitch our whole team in just 20 minutes."
What made the performance even more impressive was that Robinho hardly knew any of his new team mates. He had touched down in Madrid barely 24 hours before, following a transfer that took almost two months to complete. Santos did their best to nudge the transfer cost up and up but finally they had to succumb after what was at the time one of the longest transfer deal negotiations in history.
Robinho was an integral part of Real Madrid’s squad for his first two years at the Bernabeu and won the La Liga in 2007. The problem was that even though he was indeed a great player he could never live up to the hype of that night. It was inevitable he would only go one way and that was down.
Robinho’s own judgement seemed to be warped as well and when Real were in the middle of their negotiations to sign Cristiano Ronaldo he went on a bizarre rant.
“This is a lack of respect. I can't be the best in the world here.”
What followed was a move to Manchester City and a style of football which Robinho found hard to adjust to. Stepovers and dribbles were met by crunching tackles and burly defenders who would rather stick a foot in then be humiliated.
It only took a season and a half in England for Robinho to look for a move away and the team who came to his rescue was his first club, Santos. A loan deal was completed in January 2010 and less than five years after his explosive debut in Spain he was back where it all started.
Fast forward to today and Robinho still looks as if he is barely out of school. The only difference is the colour of his kit. Instead of the white of Real Madrid he now wears the red of Guangzhou Evergrande in China.
Robinho has never managed to live up to that night ten years ago but he still possesses the ability to surprise and entertain. Many may feel he has been a failure but there have been seasons in which he has shone such as in 2007 or in his first season at AC Milan in 2011. Without injuries he could well still be playing at a major club but at least he still has the memories. For 24 minutes he was seen across the globe as the saviour of football. There aren’t many people who can say that.