Robinho made a name for himself in Brazil when he rose through the youth ranks at Santos to sign his first professional contract with the club as an 18-year-old. That very same year (2002), before the launch of YouTube or anything else that allowed videos to be shared virally on a global level, there was hearsay of the next Pele having drawn a penalty in the Brazilian championship final with a ‘pedalada’ so mesmerizing that it beggared description.
An unfavored Santos would win the championship, but all the talk was centered around the heir apparent to Pele. He treated the highest stage in Brazilian football like it was his boyhood futsal court, and, after over two years of meteoric improvement and inclusion in the Brazilian national team, Real Madrid purchased World Soccer’s Young Player of the Year for €24 million.
He was given the number 10 shirt, previously worn by Luis Figo, and, 24 hours after landing in Madrid, the 21-year-old made his debut as a 65th minute substitute against Cadiz CF with the score level at 1-1.
“It was a dream come true…I couldn’t believe it when I got inside the dressing room for the first time. I was very young and I couldn’t even find my locker,” Robinho told FourFourTwo. “I was anxious to get a chance to play alongside such fantastic players as Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane and Raul. I couldn’t wait. I can even remember planning the game in my head while I was on the airplane. It was almost perfect.”
Robinho was a revelation.
“He is strong,” said Zidane after the match. “He is even phenomenal. When a team has players like him, it is not a problem to be too attacking. With Robinho, we will be better and better, and for our adversaries, it will be worse and worse.”
Even Cadiz’s director Michael Robinson wasn’t disappointed with the incredible impact Robinho made upon entering the field of play: “Robinho is pure poetry. I’ve enjoyed watching one man unstitch our whole team in just 20 minutes.”
Robinho, now 33, just completed an extremely successful 2016 with Atletico Mineiro in Brazil, scoring 25 goals in 55 matches. He also reached the milestone of 100 caps for Brazil in their friendly victory over Colombia in January, joining Cafu, Roberto Carlos, Lucio and Claudio Taffarel as the only Brazilian players to have achieved that feat.
While he didn't live up to the tag of being the next Pele, he's still a joy to watch.