Robinho needs a place to settle

The Brazilian forward has yet to fulfil his potential and to predict his stay at Milan will be a fruitful and enduring one would be to bet against his history.

Robinho will make his first return to Madrid’s Bernabeu tonight, with his new club AC Milan.
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Robinho's first goal for AC Milan, converted in injury time during Saturday's Serie A victory over Chievo, led to some interesting celebrations.

Once he had converted Ronaldinho's excellent pass with a neat, well-weighted and tightly-angled finish, he set off to serenade the Milanisti in the curva behind the goal. He clutched the breast of his red-and-black jersey and kissed the Milan badge.

Then he stood still, raised his forearms and held his palms flat to face the supporters. "Look at Me!," said the gesture. He completed the routine with a thumbs-up, with both hands, to the crowd.

Robinho had come on to the field at San Siro some 20 minutes earlier as a substitute, which has mostly been his role since signing for Milan from Manchester City at the tail-end of the summer transfer window.

As a substitute, he has had occasional impact, and although the goal he scored at the weekend was insignificant to the outcome - Milan were already 2-1 ahead - he will hope that getting off the mark means some sort of watershed, a signpost to a successful stint with his new employers.

But to predict Robinho's stay at Milan will be a fruitful and enduring one would be to bet against his history. When he kissed the badge of his shirt so enthusiastically, it invited scepticism: Milan are the fourth different club whose jersey Robinho has worn in the last 26 months. He is a perennially unsettled footballer.

Real Madrid, to whose stadium he returns tonight in the Champions League, learned about his itchy feet six years ago, when Robinho was 20. At first, they did little to discourage his want-away tendencies, because it was to them he was keen to move.

Robinho was then the grown-up former child prodigy from Santos, Brazil's latest "new Pele". Video footage of his skills - featuring his special repeated step over, "the pedal" - apparently enchanted Florentino Perez, the Real president, when he first watched them in his office.

Perez identified Robinho as a stellar recruit to follow the series of signings he had made annually up until then - Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane, Brazil's Ronaldo, David Beckham, Michael Owen - and Robinho's agents got to work loosening the bond with Santos, who wanted to hold on to him for another year.

The compromise would be a fee of €24m (Dh121.9m), which made him a Real player in the summer of 2005.

His debut in Madrid was a sensation. On as a substitute against Cadiz, he transformed a lacklustre Real display, provided daring, chutzpah and plenty of nimble footwork, his calling card. But within a month as a Real player, his dummies and "pedals" were too often leading Robinho up dead-ends.

The arrival of Fabio Capello as head coach the following summer would mean Robinho, who complained about being stuck on the wing rather than playing off a central striker, beginning barely half Real's matches, though he would be influential in a stirring rally of form at the end of that campaign, when the club improbably won the Spanish league title.

The next Real coach, the German Bernd Schuster, seemed more inclined to indulge the Brazilian … at least for a while.

Schuster left the player unpunished for incidents of poor time-keeping - Robinho once returned from an international assignment a day late blithely saying he was unsure when Real's next fixture was - and he responded with 11 goals towards another Primera Liga title.

That summer he declared his intention to leave. Loudly. His advisers let it be known he was depressed, tearful, and that besides, Chelsea were ready to offer a handsome fee for his signature.

He seemed set to go to London, until at the 11th hour, a larger bid, and a more substantial salary was proposed by City, who had just come under the ownership Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed.

To City Robinho went, for around €43m. He had his moments, and just as in Madrid, made a vibrant start. But the relationship lasted just over a year. City loaned him back to Santos last January. The Manchester club then accepted a 50 per cent loss of their investment in selling to Milan two months ago.

In short, this is not a tale describing a footballer whose stated aim was to "become the best in the world".

His reception from Madridistas, when his name gets read out at the Bernabeu tonight, will be mixed. He delighted them at times; they will remember some dazzling runs, some important goals, and the strange "cockroach" goal celebration he shared with his compatriots Roberto Carlos and Ronaldo.

But Real fans, like many in Europe, will wonder why an individual so prized by his national team, deemed mature enough to captain Brazil, has never quite lived up to his billing, either in Spain, or England. And they will feel sceptical about whether he can in Italy.

10.45pm, Aljazeera Sport +2