Over the years, Chelsea, like any other club, have missed out on quite a few signings, especially at forward, which have made us wonder about things that could've been: Sergio Aguero, Edinson Cavani, or Romelu Lukaku more recently come to mind. And there is of course Luka Modrić, then at Spurs, now at the top of the game.
Another such player, and perhaps the most famous example, is Robinho, who moved from Real Madrid to Manchester City on Deadline Day 2008. It was widely believed and reported that entire summer that Chelsea would be acquire his services. Jumping the gun a bit, but the official club shop even started selling his shirt.
At the time it felt like a huge miss. Robinho was hailed as the next Pelé, coming up through Santos and wearing the famous No.10 shirt, and leading the club to their first Brazilian title since the days of Pele in 2002, and then another one in 2004. Before moving to Real Madrid for €24 million in 2005, then a rather significant amount, Robinho scored 81 goals in 180 appearances.
At Real Madrid, Robinho was often known as the player with tons of potential but also one who was largely inconsistent. He would be brilliant one day, terrible the next but such was his impact that he still managed to end up in the top ten of the Ballon d’Or and FIFA World Player of the Year nominations for 2007–08 and help Real Madrid to two La Liga titles in his time there.
However, Real Madrid’s relentless pursuit of Cristiano Ronaldo made Robinho feel unappreciated and thus, he decided to leave. For most of the summer, it was Chelsea who was linked with the Brazilian. In fact, Chelsea CEO Peter Kenyon was publicly willing to declare that we were “confident” that Robinho would sign.
“We are ever confident that it (the transfer) will get done but I think we have always said it will go to the wire. We will keep moving it along and we would hope that he will be coming to join us at Chelsea.
”There were two players that he (Scolari) really identified. One was Deco and one was Robinho. I think we’ve already seen the impact that Deco has made on the Premier League and we’ve certainly seen the impact he has made with us.
”If we get Robinho, I think the squad is strong and capable of competing in all competitions without him but with him it’s just that added dimension.”
-Peter Kenyon; August 27, 2008
Four days later, Robinho signed for Manchester City for a then British record £32.5m. (City had been sold to new owners from Abu Dhabi just hours prior to that confirmation.) In an extraordinary flub, even Robinho confused his new club with Chelsea in his introductory press conference.
“On the last day, Chelsea made a great proposal and I accepted.” To this a reporter replied: “You mean Manchester, right?”. “Yeah, Manchester, sorry!”
-source: BBC, September 4, 2008
To say that the move caused shockwaves around the world would be an understatement. Robinho was accused, among other more vicious things, of choosing money over football and winning (ironic as that may sound, Chelsea, twice champions in the four seasons prior, had finished second the season that had just ended and were fresh off of a Champions League final appearance; City were a lowly ninth in the Premier League).
Robinho’s old boss at Real Madrid, Bernd Schuster, doubled down on the irony by accusing the 24-year-old of not moving for “footballing reasons”. Such decisions are much more accepted these days than even ten years ago.
Robinho’s idol, Pelé, who would acquire his own money-grabbing reputation soon after, was not a fan.
“Chelsea are lucky. This boy needs some serious counselling. In my view he has been badly advised.”
-Pelé; September 3rd, 2008
Santos president Marcelo Teixeira joined the chorus of boos, then out-shouted them all with his criticisms.
“This is one of the most disgraceful episodes in Brazilian football. He is a player who is an idol to children, an example. But he has not acted like one.”
-Marcelo Teixeira; September 3rd, 2008
After all that drama, Robinho’s time at City barely lasted more than a season, despite scoring 14 league goals. By January 2010, he was back in Brazil, on loan. Six months later he was out, leaving on a permanent transfer to AC Milan, the £15m price less than half of what City had paid just two years prior. A few years later he turned up in the Chinese Super League; he’s currently plying his trade in Turkey.
Now 34, Robinho is in the final days of his storied, if not always for the right reasons, career. With 100 caps for Brazil and playing for some of the most famous clubs in the world, it’s far from a complete failure, but his reputation was sealed in that summer ten years ago.
In a recent interview with FourFourTwo, he reflected on those events (and many more), claiming that it was in fact Real Madrid who blocked his move to Chelsea in the end, with those infamous shirt sales playing a key role.
“My main goal was to move to Chelsea – Big Phil [Scolari] had said I could make the difference for him as his squad, according to him, was not creative enough. But Real Madrid had fallen out with Chelsea – they didn’t like them selling shirts with my name on before the deal had been done. I am pretty sure that this error was one of the main reasons why the transfer failed, as it was a matter of pride for Real Madrid.
“And they were also reluctant to let me move to a club that was playing in the Champions League the same season – Chelsea were, but City weren’t. I moved to a great club and they welcomed me in the best way. I had one-and-a-half years of joy in Manchester, despite the city being a lot colder than Madrid!”
-Robinho; source: FourFourTwo
Painting Real Madrid as the most petty of all institutions isn’t a hard sell, but it does sound just a bit too far-fetched. Chances are, it was still the money (whether from the player’s perspective or from Real Madrid’s) that was the decisive factor.
Robinho’s story would be far more believable if those closest to him, like his own mother, were also not confused as to why he didn’t end up playing for Big Phil at Chelsea.
Even the player’s own mother, Marina, admitted she had no idea why he chose to go to City and missed out on playing at Stamford Bridge under Brazilian favourite Luiz Felipe Scolari.
-source: Express, September 3, 2008
Robinho’s decision to go to Manchester City affected the course of history at both clubs, and probably his own personal story as well. Maybe if he would’ve joined Chelsea, he would’ve reached his full potential; he may have indeed become the next Pelé.