View Full Version : Player to Watch: Robinho following in Pele's footsteps

06-07-05, 10:08 AM
Known to followers of the beautiful game as Robinho, Robson de Souza is rapidly earning himself yet another moniker ? namely, "the greatest magician with the ball" since the days of Pele and Garrincha. That, in any case, is the verdict of football fanatics the length and breadth of Brazil, where an entire nation is following the 21-year old's astonishing progress with baited breath.
"He has everything it takes to become even better than me," exclaims Pele himself. 'O Rei' has seen dozens of young pretenders to his crown come and go in the past, but something about the latest star attraction at Santos - the club so close to his heart ? tells him it may be different this time.

Like so many of his idols, Robinho's first introduction to the game came in the back alleys of the Sao Vicente favelas in Sao Paulo State, a virtual breeding ground for outstanding footballers. His family were poor, but his father made enormous sacrifices to buy him his very first pair of football boots, and they turned out to be his passport to joining a 'futsal' gym.

The young Robinho was soon turning out for Portuario, a local club, but before long caught the eye of scouts from Santos and was taken under the wing of the club's president, Marcelo Teixeira. So far, so typical perhaps - a classic tale told a hundred times in a country where football is without doubt the quickest route out of poverty.

Diminutive but dripping with potential
Robinho wasted no time in seducing the knowledgeable crowds packed into the Vila Belmiro, the stadium previously treated to the trickery of Pele and countless other luminaries.

With his spectacular touches, slide-rule passes to his friend Diego (now with FC Porto) and a string of decisive strikes, Robinho powered Santos back to their former glory. They collected two state championships in 2002 and 2004, while Robinho himself was awarded the Golden Ball as Player of the Year in 2004.
Rather than cash in on his newfound fame, though, Robinho has for the time being resisted the lure of the heavyweight European clubs. He undoubtedly wants to repay the team that gave him his first break, but it is true also that, at five feet seven inches tall and weighing a slight 135 pounds, he needs to toughen himself up and hone his tactical discipline before his pace and technique can flourish on the Old Continent. Indeed, the Brazilian admits that he "can get a whole lot better".

And given his boundless enthusiasm for practice, there is every chance that he will. Leave Robinho alone with a ball and he will juggle it, launch himself into mazy dribbles for an invisible crowd, perfect his shooting for hours on end, in order to satisfy his passion for the game between matchdays.

"I still get the same joy out of playing and I still have that same desire. Whether I'm training or living my everyday life, football is nothing but pure pleasure," he explains, with the trademark smile that never leaves his face.

'A rare jewel'
It is a pleasure regularly shared by the Vila Belmiro faithful, and one both he and they must have felt in abundance in mid-February when he scored twice to help secure a memorable 3-0 derby victory over wealthy neighbours Corinthians in the Sao Paulo state championship. The youngster had only just come through the trauma caused by the shameful kidnapping of his mother Marina. Held for 41 hours, she was eventually released in the rundown Sao Paulo district of Perus on 18 December, after the payment of a ransom.

In the international arena, Robinho scored his second goal for the Seleção in Sunday's 4-1 defeat of Paraguay and his national boss Carlos Perreira has no qualms about labelling him " a rare jewel, even in Brazilian football".

He has helped set Brazil fans dreaming of success at Germany 2006 and, with this in mind, Pele has officially asked him to "continue his career with Santos and ignore all the offers of millions coming from Europe". His goal in the 4-1 demolition of Paraguay on Sunday suggests he is not doing too badly where he is at the moment.

For Pele, a three-time FIFA World Cup? winner himself, it is an important issue. "I can understand Robinho is thinking about his own future and that of his family, but I'd like it if he could find all the financial incentive he needs to remain in Brazil with my old club and set a precedent for so many other young players," he said.
"We're trying to make Robinho understand that staying at Santos is the best way to prepare himself for the World Cup," adds club president Teixeira. His price tag has nonetheless been set at 50 million USD, a figure the European giants are sure to regard as a worthy investment for the extraordinary talents of the 'authentic' next Pele.