Back in the rhythm: Robinho wakes up from City nightmare

Milan striker was an expensive flop at Eastlands but seeks to show his true worth on returning to England tonight

Last spotted at Scunthorpe's Glanford Park in January last year, Robinho returns to English football tonight having come part of the way towards repairing his tarnished reputation.

The second leg of Tottenham's Champions League tie with Milan, tantalisingly poised at 1-0 to Harry Redknapp's team, is a far cry from that wintry night in North Lincolnshire.

The £32.5m Brazilian ended his 17-month sojourn with Manchester City with a fittingly frustrating parting gift, a goal registered with a flourish high into the opponents' net to round off a 4-2 victory in the FA Cup fourth round when a more simple strike would have done the job just as well.

He looked almost embarrassed to celebrate the goal, his one and only of the season, walking with his arms spread wide as if mimicking the aeroplane he would shortly be taking back to his native Sao Paulo, to start a loan spell with his former club Santos.

Robinho had every right to look embarrassed as he disappeared out of City on the next available flight to Brazil. He arrived as the most expensive British transfer ever, a landmark signing that heralded the dawn of a new era at Eastlands under the extravagant ownership of Sheikh Mansour, for a fee of £32.5m and unprecedented wages of £160,000 a week. Already those figures have been dwarfed by the £200,000 a week City's benevolent financier is now paying Yaya Touré and the remarkable £50m fee that Chelsea recently paid out for that goal-shy striker Fernando Torres.

A chorus of "What a waste of money" is sure to greet the 27-year-old's every touch of the ball tonight and on purely financial terms there is no quibbling with that assessment of Robinho, for the financial hit City took is simply staggering. In all they paid out £45m in transfer fee and wages, not including the six-month loan at Santos, and received £14.9m when they sold him to Milan last summer. That £30m loss works out at £1.88m for each of the 16 goals he scored for City, or £568,000 every time he pulled on a sky-blue shirt.

Some at the club, however, do not see things quite so black and white. He had started well, with 14 goals in his first season, but then a fractured ankle and the decision to change manager from Mark Hughes to Roberto Mancini heralded a swift turn of fortune for the gifted Brazilian.

A former member of the City coaching staff said Robinho's problems were more to do with the English style of football than anything else, although he did describe the Brazilian as a "clever little beggar". The source told The Independent: "He did have a problem settling in and was homesick, but generally he was not a problem. He would turn up for training with a smile on his face and his ball tricks in the dressing room before a game were something else. He used to play head tennis with one of the kit men.

"The problems for him were the physical nature of the English game, the heavy pitches in the winter and the demands we placed on him to do his share of defensive work. He also didn't like the club's discipline, wearing a suit and tie, that sort of thing. The biggest thing was he wanted to play freely but we wanted him to do some defensive duties as well."

Following the FA Cup victory at Scunthorpe, Robinho joined Santos on a six-month loan, wanting the guarantee of regular football ahead of the World Cup in South Africa. Robinho later said of Mancini: "The manager didn't have trust in me. Then you start to lose your confidence on the pitch."

The striker, who had left Santos to join Real Madrid in 2005, made an instant impact and was more of his old self back in Sao Paulo, scoring 16 times in 21 games, and was one of Brazil's better players in last summer's failed attempt to win the World Cup for a sixth time.

The next step was a return to Europe and just before the transfer window closed he sealed a move to Milan, who were spending heavily in an attempt to recover former glories under new coach Massimiliano Allegri. Robinho was in and out of the team at first, but has become more of a fixture of late and is expected to feature tonight in the trequartista role behind a front pair of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Alexandre Pato.

At Milan, Robinho has rediscovered the style that had prompted Pele to name him as his heir apparent some 12 years ago, with 10 goals in 25 Serie A games. He also seems to have matured, helped by the club's strong Brazilian contingent in the likes of Pato and Thiago Silva. His arrival at Milan hastened the departure of his close friend Ronaldinho back to Flamengo in Rio de Janeiro, which was probably a blessing in disguise.

Insiders in Milan say Ronaldinho's £4m villa outside the city in Varese was the party venue of choice for the Brazilian players of both Milan and Internazionale, and the hierarchy at both clubs has welcomed its closure.

Robinho said this week: "Everything is going really well – the way they treat Brazilian players in Milan is very good and every day I become more settled. The team are playing very well. We are happy we are top of the league. Of course there are still many matches left, but in my first season I feel I'm adapting well. I hope to carry on like this until the end of the season.

"I hope to become a European champion here with Milan. The Champions League is a competition I love playing in, a difficult one, the toughest in European football. We hope to win it this season. And if not, we will try to win it over the coming years. Now I am enjoying this new and exciting time in Milan, with a great team. We're in good shape and ready to be champions."

Robinho is said to be happy and relaxed now in Milan, where he is part of a new-look, adventurous side that have built up a five-point lead in Serie A. Ready, perhaps, also for a return to England and a chance to prove a point.

From Manchester misery to Milan renaissance

Robinho at Manchester City

Cost: £32.5m (signed on 1 Sept 2008)

Appearances: 53

Goals: 16

High: Nine goals in first 14 games for City including a hat-trick against Stoke.

Low: Returns to Brazil without permission from a training camp. Docked two weeks' wages (£320,000) by manager Mark Hughes, a Premier League record fine.

Quote: "Maybe if I had gone to another club it would have been better for me"

Robinho at Milan

Cost: £14.9m (signed on 31 Aug 2010)

Appearances: 31

Goals: 10

High: Scores twice in 4-0 win over Parma

Low: Little impact in the Champions League as Milan lose 1-0 to Spurs.

Quote: "I will stay with Milan for another 10 years... England isn't adapted to my characteristics."

Michael Butler

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