Ex-Manchester City, Real Madrid and Milan star Robinho has faced some of the best defenders in the world over the course of his long career and has now lifted the lid on exactly which opponent it was that he found the toughest to play against.
It was during Robinho’s time in the Premier League with Manchester City, and it was Rio Ferdinand in Manchester derby clashes.
“Rio Ferdinand is the hardest opponent I have faced – strong and quick,” Robinho, now 33 years of age and back home in Brazil with Atletico Mineiro, told the Daily Mail.
Robinho certainly wasn’t scared of the physicality in English football. In his own words, he ‘didn’t have it easy growing up’ in Brazil as people were just as likely to ‘kick you’. But why Ferdinand stood out is that he didn’t need to resort to such measures.
“He didn’t kick you. He was so classy. I could do all my step-overs but he would watch the ball and tackle so immaculately. He only got the ball,” the one-time Santos prodigy explained.
Yet despite his admiration for Ferdinand as an opponent, Robinho believes Serie A, where he won a Serie A title with Milan in 2010/11, was the most difficult to find the net.
“Italy was the hardest league to score goals in. Those guys just love defending,” he said.
Robinho was billed as the ‘new Pele’ when he first emerged at Santos. That led him to join Real Madrid at the height of the Galacticos era, but the player is arguably mostly remembered for his shock 2008 move to Manchester City as the maiden signing of the Sheikh Mansour reign.
It could easily have been Chelsea that signed him earlier in the summer, but Madrid said no.
“I remember that last day of the window. Tick-tock…my agent called me and said, ‘You have this chance to go to City. There are other Brazilians there, Elano and Jo.’ So off I went,” he recalled.
“Two months earlier, I had spoken to Chelsea boss Phil Scolari. But the Madrid board blocked it as they didn’t want me to go to a team in the Champions League that could be a direct rival.”
Robinho spent 18 months in Manchester and was a success, even if his was stay was ultimately only a brief one. He scored 14 goals in 31 Premier League appearances in his debut season, but a change of manager thereafter and increasing ambitions led to his loan back to Santos.
In his own words, Robinho ‘believed in the project’, even if he thought the new owners were being too ambitious in targeting players like Kaka and Lionel Messi straight away. But the issue that brought about his exit in January 2010 was game time, or lack of it.
“Roberto Mancini did not make the most of me. I needed to go to the World Cup. I had to play and that’s why I went back to Brazil,” he explained.
“Mancini gave me too many defensive responsibilities and restricted me. I like to feel free. The truth is I wanted to be there for a long time and leave a real legacy. I knew the club was going places.”