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Last Updated: Monday, 20 December, 2004, 09:47 GMT
Robinho career at crossroads
By Tim Vickery

Robinho celebrates Santos' Brazilian championship victory
Robinho kisses the Brazilian championship trophy on Sunday
A week ago the gossip doing the rounds in Brazilian football was that Robinho's mother had already been killed.

Thankfully it turned out to be wrong. Her kidnap ordeal came to an end on Friday and she is safely back at home.

On Sunday Robinho made an emotional return to action, helping Santos clinch the league title.

All he needs now to complete his Christmas is a move to Europe, not only to further his career but to put some distance between his family and the social problems of his country.

This next step will be the most fascinating challenge of his young career.

Robinho is a wonderfully artistic player, with magnificent dribbling skills.

Robinho is unlikely to be as good or have the same global prestige as Ronaldinho Gaucho or Kaka

But his build is so frail that it looks like he has been put together from pipe cleaners.

Can he continue to tip the balance or he will find himself squeezed out by the extra pace and power of European football?

So far plenty of European scouts have not been convinced.

Robinho has been labelled as the "next big thing to come out of Brazil".

But the title is something of a double-edged sword. Robinho carries it because - some two-and-a-half years after he first made his breakthrough - he is still playing his football at home.

In the meantime, his old friend and team-mate Diego has moved to Porto, Vagner Love was snapped by CSKA Moscow and Nilmar joined Lyon.

All three are younger than Robinho, all have played more for Brazil than he has and all of them have already been showing their stuff in the Champions League.

Robinho has had a difficult 2004
While they moved across the Atlantic, Robinho was left behind.

Not only that but on the two occasions when Robinho has stepped up a level he has looked very lightweight.

He was poor in both legs of the final of last year's Copa Libertadores when Boca Juniors, a side who mark with a European intensity, had few problems in neutralising the Santos number seven.

And at the start of this year Robinho flopped in the South American Under-23 Championships, a tournament taken extremely seriously because it qualifies two teams for the Olympic Games.

Brazil amazingly missed out and Robinho made little impression.

Dealing with failure, though, is part of the life of any footballer and Robinho's reaction has been excellent.

He has continued to take risks on the field and has worked hard at his game.

Despite his slight build he has become proficient in winning possession, using speed and intelligence to swoop at the perfect moment to poke the ball away from his opponent and set the counter attack in motion.

Glorious sight

Nevertheless doubts remain.

One of his many admirers is Tostao, Brazil's great centre forward from the 1970 team who is now the country's most distinguished analyst of the game.

Recently Tostao wrote that "Robinho is an exceptional striker, but he's unlikely to be as good or have the same global prestige as Ronaldinho Gaucho or Kaka.

"Robinho lacks the physical structure of these two great players."

For what it's worth, that is also this writer's opinion. But it would be wonderful to be proved wrong.

Robinho in full flow is a glorious sight and if he can produce his best on a weekly basis for the likes of Real Madrid then football will be the winner.

I'm hoping my prediction proves to be as wide of the mark as the gossip about the fate of Robinho's mother.

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