Alexandre Pato – Potential Hero to Near Zero
It is so often that we see stories of footballers who have battled adversities to get to where they are today. Look at Carlos Tevez or Alexis Sanchez. Such stories inspire, motivate and tell us that there is hope even though things may not be in our favour at the moment.
But realistically speaking, there are stories which are the exact opposite too. From having been deemed future superstars to falling to a level where you hit new lows almost every day. Alexandre Pato is one such sad example.
Pato began his football days from the age of 6 when he played for the youth team of Brazilian club, Internacional. After impressing his coaches and the management, he was drafted in to play the Campeonato Brasileiro Sub-20 (Brazilian Championship Under-20) for Internacional in 2006.
He was just 16 years old then, and was playing against players who were up to 4 years elder than him and with more playing experience. Despite this fact, Pato became the top scorer in the competition after his team defeated Gremio 4-0 in the finals.
In the very same year in November, Pato was called promoted to play with the first squad in the Campeonato Brasileiro (Brazilian Championship), the primary football division in Brazil. He surpassed all expectations of him, as he scored his first goal of professional football in the very first minute of his debut against Palmeiras.
Pato was even included in the 2006 Club World Cup and broke Pele’s record of being the youngest player to take the field in the competition.
In August, 2007, Alexandre Pato was signed up by Italian giants, AC Milan thanks to some stellar performances at such an impressionable age. Due to Serie A regulations pertaining to non-EU minors, Pato wasn’t eligible to play official games for AC Milan till his 18th birthday. Pato’s transfer to Milan became official on January 4, 2008 after the registration window reopened.
Pato’s initial breakthrough seasons showed the world why he was such a great signing for the Italian club. He delivered in big matches and had a real penchant for scoring goals when it mattered most. From scoring just 9 goals in the 2007-08 season, Pato evolved and added to his game to score 18 goals in the next season – Milan’s top scorer. He was also awarded the 2009 Best Serie A Young Footballer of the Year.
Everything about Pato’s story seems to be fitting in like a perfect fairy tale up to this point. In a perfect world, he would have gone on to grow into an even better player and would have given top teams a run for their money. But from the end of the 2009-10 season, injuries started catching up. With two back to back hamstring injuries, Pato ended up playing just the 20 games in 2009-10.
The next season started in the same stead. He was on the treatment table after just the first 2 matches and injured his hamstring yet again a few weeks after his return. It was that kind of a season for him. He did well when he was fit, but constantly being marred by injuries took away a lot of it. His goal against FC Barcelona in the Champions League just 24 seconds after kickoff is still one of the highlights.
He snubbed an offer from French outfit, PSG, claiming his commitment to the Rossoneri, but just a few days later, he injured his thigh and was out for the remainder of the season.
Fans and the management were starting to lose their patience over the fitness issues suffered by Pato, and he was eventually sold to Corinthians in January, 2013. The decline was on, and it was gathering momentum.
Return to Brazil
Pato signed for Corinthians for a fee of €15 million on a 4-year deal. He scored off the first touch of the ball on his debut, and it seemed like there was some new-found hope for the Brazilian striker. It was expected that in more familiar conditions and being closer to home would help out Pato in rejuvenating his career.
But despite his great start at the club, Pato instantly fizzled out and never really got going with the Brazilian outfit. Missing goal after goal, both from open play and the spot, Pato came under immense criticism. The fact that a huge transfer fee was paid for him by Brazilian club standards only added to the pressure. Journalist Pablo Nobre even described Pato as the worst signing in Corinthians’ history.
In February, 2014, Pato was involved in a switch deal to Sa Paulo which saw playmaker, Jadson going the other way. Even at Sao Paulo, Pato has made no impact whatsoever. In fact, with the likes of Kaka, Luis Fabiano, Ganso and Alan Kardec in the ranks, Pato has barely even made it to the pitch for some playing time.
A year or so later after his move away from AC Milan, it was revealed that the Brazilian had a growth spurt while at San Siro. He grew 8 cms and put on 9 kgs of weight. In easier terms, Pato put on too much muscle in too little time, and this was why he lost his blistering pace and was victim to so many muscular injuries.
He barely played more than 2-3 consecutive matches at a time at Milan because of this, and missed 15-20 games at a stretch easily.
Pato lashed out at his ex-club, AC Milan for mishandling him in such troublesome times.
“The treatment was different there,” he said. “They do a lot of physical exercise, in the swimming pool, physiotherapy—you end up doing 20 days of work in just one week, and it’s only normal that the body can’t cope.”
However, it is not something that cannot be combated if the right course of action is taken and Pato co-operates with the medics.
Pato’s revelations though, shed light at the training and recovery regime at AC Milan. They have suffered an injury crisis in recent times, and Massimiliano Allegri has often been criticized for pushing players who aren’t a 100% fit.
Stephen El Shaarawy has been suffering a similar fate, and looks to be the ideal replacement of Pato – with both talent and injuries.
For someone who was deemed the future of the Brazilian strike-force, Pato has disappeared rather discreetly from the international scene.
Brazil as a team has suffered too, since their talent pool now seems to be lacking a quality striker. They had to go into the World Cup, 2014 with average strikers like Fred and Jo, and a fit and firing Pato would have probably given a different dimension and more teeth to the attack.
Surprisingly enough, Pato is just 25-years old and still has enough time to get back on track and live up to his unachieved potential. He has been recently linked to surprise moves to the EPL with rumoured links from the likes of Everton, Hull City and QPR.
All is not lost yet. If he manages to get some regular playing time and manages to reach a steady goal-scoring form, then who knows what the future holds? Brazil is anyway revamping its squad after the reappointment of Dunga as head coach, and Pato could catch some attention if his performances start warranting for it.
But at the moment, all of it is just a big, sad ‘if’.