Robinho fails to fire at the JJB

September 28, 2008
By Richard Jolly.
(Archive)

And so the 21st century Steve Daley came to Wigan. If there was an inevitability in a man from Sao Paulo finding Lancashire a culture shock, Robinho certainly did. Returning from a midweek trip to Brazil, Manchester City's taste of life with the jet set was an unpleasant one. Wigan's rather earthier virtues of effort and endeavour prevailed, and deservedly so.

GettyImagesThe Brazilian failed to find his feet at the JJB.

Two goals in two games suggested Robinho had acclimatised rapidly to the Premier League. The import to make the greatest impact, however, was not the £32.5million man, but an on-loan Egyptian, Wigan's Amr Zaki, as Athletic emulated Brighton in suggesting money is no guarantee of progress. This was the world's richest club against arguably the Premier League's smallest. Wigan won, and it was a triumph for astute recruitment as well as the underdog.

Robinho cost more than the entire Wigan team. His arrival provided a barometer of the feelings of the City support. The initial chants were for Shaun Wright-Phillips, albeit shortly followed by a chorus of ''We've got Robinho''. City's past and their present, celebrated in that order.

So what do you get for £160,000 a week? Not two games in five days, after his visit to Brazil ruled out a day out in Brighton. And not a great deal at Wigan today either. Robinho had an immediate opportunity to equalise Antonio Valencia's stunning opening goal but his shot, the culmination of a slick move, was drilled just past the post.

Intensive English lessons apparently await, though his language skills seemed sufficient to incur a caution for dissent. This was a lecture in Premier League football - fast, physical and abrasive. Robinho's languid style meant he stood out, but for the wrong reasons. If he wasn't jetlagged, he looked it.

Nominally the left winger, his flicks and tricks were evident, but without harming Wigan. He has the capacity to amuse himself but this was an afternoon when Robinho failed to balance the flair player's twin aims, style and substance. Indeed, he was at his most effective in the final half-hour when his running was more direct and his acceleration more marked.

The suggestion is his self-indulgence may endear him more to supporters than team-mates but City have often been a club with an entertainer. In adversity, such virtuosos as Georgi Kinkladze have contributed to City's complex identity. With the expectancy their new status as favourites provides, City require more than cult heroes now.

Robinho did, at least, earn the praise of his manager. Mark Hughes said: ''He always wanted to get on the ball and that showed he has bravery in and out of possession.'' Yet the City fans who came to see the boy from Brazil witnessed a goal from a bloke from Belgium. Vincent Kompany turned in Elano's free kick and it was telling that he, rather than a costlier Brazilian, was charged with set-pieces.

That was bookended by coruscating and controversial goals from Wigan. Valencia scored the first, an unstoppable rising shot that was timed at 63mph. Zaki savoured the second, a penalty awarded when Javier Garrido challenged Wilson Palacios.

It drew differing opinions from former team-mates Hughes and Steve Bruce. The City manager said: ''The penalty was extremely harsh because the lad's blatantly looked to gain an advantage and dived theatrically.'' Bruce argued: ''There's contact made.''

Zaki was a second subject of disagreement. The Wigan boss said: ''He reminds me of Mark, certainly his physique and the way he approaches the game.'' Hughes claimed: ''I didn't used to fall down quite as easily as that.''

GettyImagesThe Egyptian was in fine form again.

Consensus was achieved on the Egyptian's excellence. Marauding with menace and no little skill, he tormented City throughout. Bruce explained: ''He's a bit different, something you probably haven't seen before. He's already enhanced the Premier League. He is that old-fashioned English centre-forward. He's got awesome power and pace and he wants to score a goal.''

If Zaki was the standout performer, Valencia and Palacios ran him close. The Ecuadorian provided a blend of industry and inspiration on the right flank while the Honduran, in the sort of optical illusion that could bemuse an assistant referee, appeared to be everywhere.

''Physically, we've got some unbelievable specimens,'' Bruce added. ''They're big, strong, athletic and young. We had energy in the middle of the park and they didn't like that. From these not-so-wealthy countries like Honduras and Egypt and Ecuador, they've got an unbelievable appetite for the game.''

And on a day when Robinho provided little inspiration, their perspiration was decisive.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Amr Zaki - It is no fluke that he is the Premier League's top scorer. Wigan's concern must be that his terrific form will have alerted other clubs to his availability. With Zaki only on loan and Emile Heskey's contract expiring next summer. Wigan's hugely effective strike duo could both depart.

WIGAN VERDICT: They were in a false position, just above the relegation zone. Mid-table is a fairer reflection of their abilities. It is a testament to their energy levels that Bruce's men kept up their pressing game for the full 90 minutes, and with a solitary substitution. There can be few fitter teams.

MANCHESTER CITY VERDICT: Hughes is correct to argue that it does take time for a team to gel. Yet the 4-1-4-1 that appeared a freeform attacking ensemble against Portsmouth looked disjointed today, especially as the anchor midfielder - Kompany - is better known as a defender. The addition of either a second striker or another orthodox midfielder, when Michael Johnson is available may bring greater balance.

TIME FOR TEA (TOWEL): The 1970s attitudes to race relations, however well-meaning, persist. This has been a great month to sell tea towels in Manchester, even if the most exotic headgear at the JJB Stadium may have been a lone fez among the home support.

But while City's billionaires take them into uncharted territory, the rare chorus of an owner's name came from the Wigan fans. ''There's only one Dave Whelan,'' they sang, and there are few other benefactors or businessmen on the boards who inspire such affection.