The dream of playing professional soccer overseas has always been on Robinho’s mind. After years bouncing around to several clubs in his native Brazil, the 24-year-old winger finally saw the opportunity he was looking for knock on his door last summer when Columbus Crew SC took notice of his performance and offered him a deal for the upcoming 2019 Major League Soccer season.
Robinho was coming off the best season of his career in 2018, scoring eight goals in 40 matches for Brazilian third division side Santa Cruz, when former Crew head coach and sporting director Gregg Berhalter and former head of player recruitment Ricardo Moreira approached Ceará Sporting Club, the club that owned his rights, and secured his transfer, which was finally announced in January.
“Playing overseas was a dream I had always had, so I’m really happy about this opportunity,” he said this preseason. “I played really well for Santa Cruz last year and that generated the interest of several clubs, including one in Japan. I spoke to my agent and we really liked the offer the club made us through Gregg and Ricardo. Since I got here, I was even more confident it was the right choice.”
But, as is often the case in life, the good news didn’t come unaccompanied by tough decisions. If playing internationally was Robinho’s number one dream, number two came pretty close and was arguably as important – he wanted to reconnect with his father, Francisco Otávio, who he hadn’t seen in a decade.
Francisco had problems with alcohol and divorced Robinho’s mother, Maria Aurilene, when he was just four years old. Since then, their relationship has been scarce. Just about to move to a different country, the winger felt it was time to leave their differences in the past and spent an entire day with his father at the end of December.
“We had our problems in the past, but he’s my father and I love him,” the Brazilian told Massive Report. “My mom was amazing to raise my five siblings and me, but I missed him and a father figure during my childhood. I’m very happy that I had the chance to spend an entire day with him before I moved. I just felt that it was time for us to reconnect, it was something I needed.
“Our relationship is a lot better now, we chat every once in a while and I’m enjoying to have him closer, but at the same time, it’s hard because after so much time we reconnected and now I am overseas and won’t probably see him in a while. But this is a great chance to help my family and it’s for them that I decided to take this opportunity.”
Robinho’s first days in Columbus were unusual, to say the least. Used to the warm temperature of his hometown Fortaleza, where temperatures can easily go over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer, the winger landed in Central Ohio in the midst of the winter and was greeted with multiple inches of snow.
View this post on Instagram
Muito contente com esse novo desafio na minha carreira, e grato ao meu novo clube @columbuscrew pela confiança e aposta no meu trabalho. Que seja uma grande temporada, e que eu venha ser muito feliz aqui! Não faltará entrega da minha parte! Obrigado. ⚽️ Very pleased with this new challenge in my career, and grateful to my new club @columbuscrew for the trust and bet on my work. May it be a great season, and may I be very happy here! There will be no delivery on my part! Thank you. ⚽️ #columbuscrew #madeirasports #futebol
Robinho is not fluent in English yet – this is something he’s working on – and also has to adapt to the American culture on the fly. And all of that at the same time as he tries to impress head coach Caleb Porter and the Crew’s new coaching staff.
“It was so cold when I first got here,” he laughed. “I’m not used to it because the weather in Brazil is really different, but it has been good. It’s a huge challenge for me as not only I’m in a different country, but I also have to deal with a new language. Luckily some people within the club can speak Portuguese and they have been helping me so much.”
Finding a sidekick with the Crew, though, hasn’t been that difficult. Midfielder Artur, a fellow Brazilian who moved to Columbus back in 2017, is taking the newcomer under his wing and facilitating his first steps in the city and the club.
“He’s been helping me a lot,” Robinho remarked. “I’m very grateful to him for taking the time to walk me through things. We went out for lunch and dinner a few times and he’s making my life a lot easier here. We’re friends already and he helps me a lot in my daily routine.”
With things following their normal course outside the fields, Robinho is now focused on competing for playing time under Porter, who recently said the Brazilian provided a different option on the wing and “brings a little bit of spice to the game.”
With veterans Justin Meram and Pedro Santos presumably ahead of him, the Brazilian knows what he needs to do to earn some minutes in his first season with the Black & Gold.
“There’s no other way, I just need to work hard, give my best every day and be ready to take advantage of the opportunity when it comes,” he said. “I know Caleb wants a player with good speed to play on the wing and I’ll work very hard to fit what he needs and to understand what he wants tactically. I’m confident I’ll adapt really well here.”