The Robinho conundrum: So, why CAN'T he play away?
19 March 2009 01:25
Manchester City face Aalborg in Denmark on Thursday night needing a resourceful, disciplined defensive performance to preserve a 2-0 lead gained in the first leg at Eastlands a week ago. Not, then, a night suited to the Brazilian Robinho.
Then again, which away trips are suited to a supremely talented 23-year-old proving himself to be largely invisible whenever Mark Hughes takes his enigmatic City team on the road?
As Hughes endeavours to lead City to the UEFA Cup final and engineer a Barclays Premier League finish good enough to prevent him getting an end-of-season thumbsdown from his masters in the Middle East, Robinho - and how to get the best out of him - has become his biggest problem.
At home, when City have the ball and an appreciative crowd at their backs, the South American is able to impose his unique gifts on his team's performances. He has scored 12 goals this season, some of them memorable.
Only two, however, have come away.
If he is considered fit enough tonight - he has suffered with an ankle problem recently - Robinho, a £34million signing, will play. That, however, is largely because Hughes has precious few options in a squad remaining too thin for success at the top level.
Bulgarian Martin Petrov was a dangerous presence on the left last season but is still two weeks from full fitness. When he is back, Robinho may find himself on the substitutes' bench for some of the tough away fixtures between now and the end of the season.
At the top level, teams cannot carry passengers. Sadly, Robinho has become one at times.
His performance at Chelsea as City lost 1-0 at the weekend has been heavily criticised. Even by his own low standards, it was unacceptable and must have disappointed Hughes.
But the City boss refused to be drawn on Robinho's poor away form last night, saying only: 'I would think that applies to a number of our players, in fairness.
'Our performances away in the Premier League haven't been as good as at home, although in Europe we've saved our best performances for away. We've been able to get positive results which we've found more difficult in the Premier League.'
Robinho does not like Hughes. Of that there is no doubt. But thatshould not preclude the South American from performing for his team.Hughes, after all, has done his bit.
When he replaced Robinhoin the last round of this competition at Copenhagen last month, Hughesturned to the travelling supporters and urged them to applaud the£160,000-a-week player from the field.
When he was injured at West Ham recently, Hughes gave Robinho permission to travel home to Brazil for five days to receive treatment at the hands of a medic he has apparently trusted throughout his short career. Sadly, Hughes has not always had the payback he would have wished for.
The former Wales and Blackburn manager does not want Robinho to like him. He was twice a centre forward for Manchester United, he is used to being unpopular. But he wants and needs the Brazilian to play for him.
By all accounts, Robinho does see his time at City as a long-term project, especially since a move to Chelsea seemed to disappear with the sacking of compatriot Luiz Felipe Scolari in February. Maybe he is waiting for Hughes to be sacked.
None of that should matter. Robinho is the Premier League's top-paid player. He earns double what many of his team-mates earn, three times in some cases. This should be reflected in his play.
Many City fans rail at criticism of Robinho and suggest he is unfairly singled out by the media. They say other players should do better, too.
Maybe they have a point. However, they should understand that Hughes' teams will always accommodate flair players but must have organisation, application and tactical intelligence at their base if they are to succeed.
Hughes has said all season that his team will perform better in the second half of the campaign when the fitness work of the winter kicks in.
There have been some signs of that, but no team - not just one managed by Hughes - can expect to win away games with 10 men.
PROBABLE TEAM MANCHESTER CITY (4-4-2): Given; Richards, Onuoha, Dunne, Bridge; Kompany, Zabaleta, Ireland, Wright-Phillips; Caicedo, Robinho. TV: Live on Five, 7.30pm. Kick-off 8pm.