Speaking at a private tourism event in Sao Paulo, Pele allegedly accused Robinho and his compatriot, former AC Milan striker Ronaldo Luis Nazario de Lima, of having had a "problem" with drugs in the past. The alleged accusation was then widely reported in the Brazilian newspapers and radio stations.
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Speaking at a press conference last night, a spokesman for the City striker described the suggestion as "absolutely absurd" and demanded a retraction, while his manager, Mark Hughes, though caught unawares by the reports, warned that Pele "needs to be very careful saying something that can't be substantiated".
Things did not improve for the former Real Madrid striker on the pitch. City were awarded a spot-kick during a pivotal five-minute period early in the opening half, which began with the dismissal of Sunderland's George McCartney. But Marton Fulop saved Robinho's tame spot-kick, and it was left to right-back Micah Richards, to spare his colleague's blushes with a second-half header.
Richards's first goal for City in 95 appearances stretching back 2½ years made Hughes' side the division's joint top scorers. However, they made hard work of finishing off Sunderland, who offered stubborn resistance despite being at a numerical disadvantage for 76 minutes.
McCartney, outpaced by Shaun Wright-Phillips as he pursued a through-pass, tugged the winger's shirt sufficiently hard to slow his momentum as Fulop gathered the ball. After a protracted discussion with his assistant, Mo Matadar, referee Steve Tanner sent off the Sunderland defender.
Ricky Sbragia, the Wearsiders' manager, admitted his player "made some sort of contact" but added: "The keeper had the ball in his hands and Wright-Phillips was never going to get it. The decision changed the game completely."
Sunderland, hoping to exploit any tiredness City may have felt after playing extra time in Denmark on Thursday, held out in the face of less than ferocious pressure until 11 minutes after the break when Elano flighted a free kick to the far post where Richards rose to complete City's first double of the season.