Robinho revels in leadership role
As Brazil head to the Copa America in Argentina seeking a third straight win in the world's oldest continental tournament, Robinho appears to have exorcised the demons of inconsistency which marred his time first at Real Madrid and then with Manchester City. Robinho has since landed a role at AC Milan and scored a goal almost every other game, bolstering his confidence ahead of this year's Copa America.
At 27-years-old, Robinho is entering what could be the peak of a career which has already yielded two league titles apiece first with Santos and then with Real before his Italian exploits. At international level his 84 caps make him ostensibly the perfect candidate to take on a mentor role to emerging talents such as Neymar, who was his club team-mate at Santos last year.
Coach Mano Menezes has confidence in the player who can appear diffident to a fault, but whose talent came close to reaping rewards at last year's FIFA World Cup South Africa™. Robinho's goal at the tournament came against the Netherlands, and looked set to secure Brazil a semi-final place before the Dutch turned the match on its head with a double riposte.
However, since that defeat Robinho has bounced back with Milan and was, along with Dani Alves, the only other survivor of the loss, to play in the first match of Menezes' reign after he had replaced Dunga as coach, in a friendly against USA last August. His stature has grown such that he has been given the captain's armband in several recent international matches as Menezes looks to him to provide leadership in the cycle which will take Brazil up to the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
When Inter Milan defender Lucio is around he is still the first choice skipper, but Robinho has clearly shown he can step into the role when required. With 27 goals to his name for his country, Robinho is the top active scorer in the Brazil squad. "Being the 'artilheiro' of the team gives me extra motivation," he said. "I hope I can turn in some good showings and score the goals we need to get to the top at the Copa."
Earlier in his career, at Santos, a talking point was Robinho's penchant for "pedaladas", or step-overs, feinting this way and that before haring forward, shuttling the ball at speed between his two feet, the kind of trick which brought comparisons with former club idol Pele. However, in recent years he has let the showboating take a backseat and has worked on his finishing and work rate. "Ronaldo always gave me plenty of advice - he was the one who taught me how to score when I lacked the killer touch in front of goal.
"All those good things he passed on to me I now need to pass on to youngsters such as Neymar, Lucas or Ganso," Robinho said ahead of the recent friendly win over Romania which saw Ronaldo make a swansong appearance.