Robinho v Ronaldo: The boy from Brazil has the swagger to take on his United rival

They love their big fights in Manchester. Look no further than Ricky Hatton's Las Vegas invasions for proof.

But there is a heavyweight clash at Eastlands on Sunday: the reigning European champion and undisputed - not least by himself - finest footballer on the planet versus the challenger, seeking his first title and a place in football's pantheon.

In other words: Ronaldo v Robinho.


Clash of the titans: The Manchester derby is being billed as 'Ronaldo v Robinho'

Few would have believed - when the Brazilian arrived at Manchester City for an eye-watering British record £34million amid the Real Madrid disinformation over his attitude and motives - that he would deliver quite so swiftly or so potently. The doubts had been dispelled long before his fabulous goal against Arsenal last weekend - the most delicious chip outside Harry Ramsden's - and Eastlands was already savouring a derby with more relish than usual.

He has the goals, the swagger and joie de vivre about his game that lifts 40,000 off their seats in an instant. And, crucially for Hughes and City's new Abu Dhabi owners, he has the ambition. Even to become Manchester's No 1.

Cristiano Ronaldo, of course, is top dog. At the moment. Robinho gracefully acknowledges his rival: 'For what he did last year, I think he deserves to win the world footballer of the year award.' He sits cracking his knuckles, keen to join the fray.

They clashed on the international stage earlier this month, with Ronaldo allowing his suspect temperament to re-emerge as Portugal stumbled to a 6-2 defeat, but there will be no attempt to exploit any perceived weakness there, says Robinho.

'That's not the main thing we have to look for,' he says. 'Manchester United have Ronaldo, Rooney, some great players. The main thing is to mark their players, do our best, play our football and try to get some goals.'

All week, he has been buttonholed by City fans begging him for another of his exquisite strikes in the game that matters most. 'I understand them and I love their passion. It would be like scoring for Brazil against Argentina.'

At a club desperately seeking heroes, he has become an instant icon and the boy from Sao Paulo revels in the adulation with a smile on his face, on and off the pitch.


Headhunter: City idol Robinho is chasing United rival Ronaldo’s role as No 1

'I didn't expect it to happen so quickly. I appreciate the supporters; they obviously like me and I hope to repay them. Spanish supporters treat the game like going to the theatre. Here, they scream and shout their socks off for their team.

'I think I have adapted quite quickly. Maybe that's because there were other Brazilian players in the club already and they helped me to settle in. My aim is to give a lot of happiness and score a lot of goals for years to come. I feel very, very happy here.'

Robinho's own personal fan club will help raise the roof at a packed Eastlands. As well as his wife Vivian and 11-month-old son Robson Jnr, his mother Marina is safely ensconced in Manchester. If he checks on her constantly, he has good reason.

Four years ago, she was kidnapped from a barbecue in Sao Paulo by gunmen who held her for six weeks before patient negotiation and Robinho's ransom money brought the nightmare to an end.

He admitted: 'I wouldn't wish it on anyone. It made me realise how important my family is and what really matters in life. It has made me care more. These are the people who matter most in your life. When your mother has been kidnapped, then every day is a bad day. It only becomes a good day when you know she is safe. They were arrested but, in Brazil, the law is that there is no law. I don't know if they are in prison.'

He cannot remain serious for too long. Robinho chuckles and shakes his head at stories that the £160,000-a-week player caught the bus to go shopping at the Trafford Centre and is learning English by watching Coronation Street.

There is but the briefest of frowns for Chelsea, still fuming that City hijacked their Robinho deal on deadline day.

He shrugs: 'It was their own fault. Everything would probably have been OK but they put a picture of me on the website and Madrid were very upset about that.'

And, pertinently, he bristles at being offered to United by Real in their summer pursuit of Ronaldo. 'I didn't like that,' he says. 'Once a player finds out that he is seen as the bait in a part-exchange, how else can they feel? It's not the way to treat people.'

Clearly, Robinho has a point or two to make on Sunday. Hughes will hardly disapprove. Seconds out, round one. . .

Tale of the Tape

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