It’s early September 2020. As Brazil records an average of 850 deaths a day from Covid-19 infections, no outdoor activities are allowed on the beaches of Santos, a coastal city south of Sao Paulo.
In the face of public hostility and media scrutiny, he must find a way to keep practicing.
He asks his old team Santos if he can use their facilities.
You grant him access immediately. But there is one key issue that is shockingly ignored: Robinho’s 2017 conviction for taking part in a gang rape in Italy and a nine-year prison sentence which he has unsuccessfully appealed and subsequently refused to return to Europe to complete.
The man who was once Britain’s most expensive footballer (since 2008 for £32.5million at Manchester City) had become a free agent after leaving Turkish club Istanbul Basaksehir and was able to work almost every day in his Beetle at the Santos training ground be seen.
His presence was welcomed by many of the club’s officials, players and fans, who seemed hopeful of persuading him to sign for them for the fourth time in his career.
Santos would actually finalize a five-month deal a month later, announcing his signing on October 10, the same day Brazil celebrated its “National Day to Combat Violence Against Women.”
The step caused an outcry.
Bancada das Sereias, a feminist collective founded by Santos fans, later told Placar magazine: “We need our voice to be heard. We, the women fans of Santos, don’t want him at the club.”
When a sponsor ended a contract over the signing and several others protested, saying it was disrespectful to women, Santos suspended his contract, stating that the player would “focus on his defence”.
That ended last week when Robinho lost his latest appeal against a conviction for involvement in the 2013 gang rape of a then 23-year-old Albanian woman at a Milan nightclub and his prison sentence was upheld by Italy’s top court.
Despite the public outcry, one of the pitches at Santos’ youth academy is still named after him and his picture can be found in several spots at the Vila Belmiro stadium.
So far, no member of the association’s board has come forward to speak about it.
“I’m not the president anymore so out of respect the current government should deal with this issue,” former chairman Orlando Rollo, who brought Robinho back in 2020, told BBC Sport.
Robinho is now set to be added to Interpol’s wanted criminals list.
The man, crowned 100 times by Brazil and a two World Cup veteran, was nowhere to be seen in public after spending the past few months posting only family pictures and Bible verses on social media.
It is unclear whether he will play again. But the much bigger question remains: will he ever serve out his sentence?
Much to the annoyance of those who wish to see Robinho punished, the answer to this question may well be no.
Italian authorities have indicated they will seek the 38-year-old’s extradition, but he is unlikely to serve his sentence as Brazil does not extradite its own citizens.
If he stays in Brazil, the Italians have announced they will request that his prison sentence be served in his home country’s judicial system. But that’s out of her hands.
However, his likely inclusion on Interpol’s most wanted list means that the moment he invades one of the other 194 countries with an agreement, he could be arrested and extradited.
Robinho has not addressed the court case publicly and has decided not to attend any of the hearings for nearly six years of court cases in Italy.
Instead, he tried to live his life as normally as possible.
On Christmas Eve 2021, weeks before his final appeal was due to be heard in Italy, Robinho was pictured alongside Neymar during a visit to the home of the Paris St-Germain striker’s grandmother.
It came as no surprise that Brazil’s best and most famous current player would be pictured with Robinho given the couple’s close relationship.
Neymar himself was the subject of a rape allegation in 2019 and, according to Robinho, came forward to offer the services of the legal team who helped prove his innocence.
It’s an example of the status Robinho retains in Brazil and he’s still popular with some of his peers.
He has a foot volleyball court at one of his houses and even hosted a tournament there in December, attracting the likes of Malcom, who played briefly at Barcelona and now plays for Zenit St Petersburg.
However, it shocked many in his home country that despite the seriousness of the charges he was convicted of, Robinho was still invited to a charity match last month, being held behind closed doors as part of the annual Natal Sem Fome (Christmas Without Hunger) event . He was allowed to play alongside the likes of Shakhtar Donetsk’s Junior Moraes and Zenit’s Claudinho at Vila Belmiro.
When the main game took place a few days later, this time broadcast across the country and to the fans in the stands, he decided to skip it.
Robinho has not played an official game since July 2020 and it has been five years since he last appeared for the national team.
His caps are certainly over, but it’s far from certain that he’ll never play again.
He trained at amateur club Portuarios for a while and claims he’s not yet retired so it wouldn’t be surprising if he gets another chance on the pitch.
And there is a precedent. With last season’s champion coach Cuca, Brazilian football has a very similar history.
The man who led Atlético Mineiro to their Serie A triumph was also convicted for taking part in a gang rape of a then 13-year-old girl in Switzerland in 1987, along with three Gremio teammates. He stayed in prison for almost a month and was then allowed to return home. Therefore, when the sentence of 15 months in prison was announced, he was already back in Brazil and never served it. It didn’t have a significant impact on his football career as he was even called up to the national team in 1991.
Finally, in 1996, Cuca hung up his football boots and immediately embarked on what has been a successful coaching career so far.
As Santos manager in 2020, it was he who encouraged the club to sign Robinho to a player’s contract, describing him as ‘a wonderful person’.
The 58-year-old is believed to be the most likely successor to Tite, who will step down as Brazil coach after the World Cup in Qatar later this year.
“Robinho has to serve his sentence,” said ex-international Walter Casagrande, one of Brazil’s best-known football experts.
“And we have to claim it every day because we cannot let this violent crime be forgotten in the way that happened at Cuca. In both cases, I share the opinion of those who cannot see regret.
“I don’t know how they can live their lives like this, with a clear conscience and sleep well after such a cowardly act.”
Globo host Ana Paula Araujo, who recently wrote a book titled Abuso, a Cultura do Estupro no Brasil (Abuse, the culture of rape in Brazil), told Placar that Robinho’s reaction to his original conviction was “bizarre.” and that this can be seen “The rapist never feels like a rapist”.
And last week, after Robinho lost his appeal, Sport TV’s main presenter Andre Rizek said: “Robinho is still a free man. He can go where he wants, work and sign for any team.
“I’m just wondering how someone who has been convicted of rape can go to the bakery, how someone can go to the supermarket, go to the restaurant, look their wife and sons in the eye?
“My only doubt is how anyone can live free after a rape conviction.”