IT took ITV reporter Gabriel Clarke three attempts to get Roberto Mancini to answer the question: “Will Robinho stay at Manchester City?” Mancini responded with a yes, just as Mark Hughes always used to. And yet most observers are still waiting for the Brazilian to move on.
A small diversion here: Mancini, I should point out, wasn’t being evasive in the face of Clarke’s questioning. It was more of a language issue. Mancini’s English is far better than my Italian, but probably not much better than my rusty A-level French. As a result, it is sometimes necessary to ask him a question two or three times, in order to get him to clarify his answer.
A case in point was Mancini’s press conference on Friday, ahead of City’s FA Cup trip to Scunthorpe. The City manager was asked about the likelihood of Mathieu Flamini arriving on loan from AC Milan. His first answer contained the phrase “I think it is possible in the next days”, suggesting that a deal may be on. However, when he was pressed on the subject again, he declared that he felt it would be “impossible” to sign either Flamini or Juventus centre-back Giorgio Chiellini, at least for the time being.
So Clarke had a journalistic duty to keep pressing Mancini on the Robinho issue in the tunnel at Glanford Park yesterday tea-time, particularly as the City manager didn’t appear to understand the question initially. If you watch the interview again, you can see Mancini glance to his left just after Clarke asks the question for a third time, and hear an interpreter translate it into Italian.
Robinho has not been a star performer at City for some time, but he has continued to be the centre of attention. Hughes spent much of the first half of this season repeatedly insisting that City’s record signing would stay, often adopting a weary expression as he did so to indicate that he was tired of the question. Robinho himself gave an interview to BBC Football Focus host Dan Walker less than two months ago, declaring that he hoped to stay at City for another 10 years.
But when you give an interview to a Brazilian radio station which appears to contradict all that, you can’t be too surprised if the ‘Robinho out’ stories gather momentum again. Any prospect of a move to Barcelona disappeared in the build-up to Christmas. Instead, Robinho’s interview with Radio Bandeirantes (reception must fizzle out just north of Sandbach, because I can’t pick it up at all) indicated that a return to Brazil with former club Santos would be his next destination.
Last season, Robinho acquired a reputation for being brilliant in home games and anonymous away. This season has been a greater disappointment, not helped by the fractured ankle that kept him out of action between early September and late November. Abysmal displays at Tottenham and Everton did nothing to help rebuild his reputation.
Yesterday’s smartly-taken goal in the 4-2 win at Glanford Park was his first of the season for City. The next few days will go a long way to telling us whether it will be his last. His comment this morning to TV Globo (not available on Freeview) that a move of Santos is “90 per cent certain” suggests it may well have been.
It seems a lot longer than 17 months ago since Alan Myers of Sky Sports News was being mobbed by excitable City fans outside Eastlands at midnight while trying to shout into a camera that the club had broken the British transfer record to sign Robinho from Real Madrid.
There hasn’t been a piece of transfer window drama to match it since, at least partly because the deadline was subsequently shifted to the more sensible time of 5pm. Robinho has been keeping sports journalists on the Manchester beat busy one way or another ever since. I sense he hasn’t quite finished providing the papers with a story or two, even if his City days now look numbered.