By Chia Han Keong
A FASCINATING battle of wills is unfolding in rich Manchester City. And whatever happens, one thing will be for sure: Robinho will become the Barclays Premier League's most expensive flop.
The Brazilian forward, bought last season from Real Madrid for an English record £34.2 million (S$79.5 million) as a show of financial might by the Abu Dhabi owners of the club, is apparently desperate to return to Spain - preferably to champions Barcelona.
His predicament was broadcast by his agent to The National, a newspaper in Abu Dhabi, where the club are having their mid-season training camp amid a two-week international break.
Man City's chief executive, Garry Cook, has moved quickly to quell the rumours, telling The Times of London: "There are no plans to meet Barcelona here this week to talk about Robinho. I think some people are trying to make mischief when they talk about him leaving.
"Recent reports that he may leave on loan or be sold in January are categorically untrue."
However, The Guardian reported that City have reluctantly accepted that the player whose signing was supposed to symbolise the club's ambitions "does not want another day in Manchester".
Manager Mark Hughes, whom Robinho has not warmed up to, has apparently started the search for a possible replacement.
Benfica's Angel di Maria has been identified and has a £27 million buyout clause in his contract.
The question seems to be when, rather than if, Robinho leaves.
If that is so, then he will be regarded as nothing but an extravagant signing - all hot air but no substance as he failed to lift his club in any manner.
Last season, he began his City career quite brilliantly before fading off with injury. This season, he has yet to play a game as he recuperates from those ailments.
With his playboy antics and lifestyle (he asked for official leave to return to Brazil to celebrate his birthday), the Brazilian is hardly a reliable linchpin to build a team around, even if he is eventually forced to stay with City.
As the battle of wills continues, he is becoming a huge distraction to the squad's ambitions to break into the BPL's Big Four clubs.
It would make sense for City to sever ties as soon as possible, no matter how embarrassing this signing is turning out to be.
Remember, they snatched Robinho from under Chelsea's nose right at the end of last season's August transfer window.
They thought they had just pulled off the BPL's biggest transfer coup. Instead, they are now having trouble accepting what would shape up to be the most expensive flop in the league's history.
For more my paper stories click here.