By Mark Doyle
Just under a year ago, Paris Saint-Germain were poised to pay AC Milan over €25 million for Alexandre Pato. It is now being reported that Corinthians will only have to part with €15m to bring the forward back to Brazil. That the dramatic decrease in value is unsurprising and entirely explicable is a depressing state of affairs for a player once thought destined for greatness.
|PATO'S SERIE A STATS
Compatriot Ronaldo scored twice but it was the then 18-year-old who started alongside him who lit up San Siro. With his pace and quick feet, he terrorised the Partenopei from start to finish, capping a devastating debut with a superb goal, taking a long punt forward from defender Giuseppe Favalli in his stride before coolly slotting the ball under the advancing Gennaro Iezzo. The pervading feeling among the Rossoneri faithful that night was that Pato had been worth the wait.
He would strike eight more times in Serie A before the season was out, having formed a wonderful attacking triumvirate with Ronaldo and Kaka. The following year, he netted 18 goals in all competitions. Andriy Shevchenko, who had returned to Milan after a horribly unsuccessful spell at Chelsea, managed just two. It was abundantly clear that Pato had not just inherited the Ukrainian’s No.7 jersey, he had inherited his mantle as Milan’s talisman. Pato made 36 league appearances during the 2008-09 season. Regrettably, though, he has never enjoyed such an uninterrupted spell of good health since.
Over the past four seasons, the striker has been beset by injuries. In January, 2010 he became the first Brazilian to be named Serie A Young Player of the Year, but even by then there was concern about how often he was struck down by muscular problems. When fit, Pato continued to sparkle – he netted 14 times in 25 Serie A appearances during the 2010-11 campaign – but he damaged the same hamstring three times in the space of one year.
The striker reminded everyone of his undoubted class with a sublime solo effort against Barcelona at Camp Nou during last season’s Champions League, leaving the Blaugrana back four trailing in his wake with a devastating turn of pace in midfield before calmly rolling the ball through the legs of Victor Valdes. However, by that point the injuries were coming more regularly than the goals.
Even a trip to the United States to visit a world-renowned chiropractic neurologist failed to reap any rewards, with Milan owner Silvio Berlusconi admitting last month, "Pato is a problem. We really hope that he can fully recover from all these injuries. It is a problem because he was the one Milan player with the brightest future ahead of him."
Clearly, with Massimiliano Allegri's side ready to accept a €7m loss on a player around whom they wished to construct a side, Berlusconi has now decided that Pato will never fully recover.
However, there is also a suspicion that even without the injuries, the forward would not have realised his superstar potential. Admittedly, he appeared to be well on his way to doing so following his wonderful double against Real Madrid during the 2009-10 season, but there has long been a feeling that Pato relies too heavily on his explosive pace and that he lacks the footballing intelligence to modify his game in the way that Stoke City's Michael Owen did after he too had been plagued by muscular problems during the early part of his career at Liverpool.
Pato has often struggled against sides who do not offer him space in which to run, while he is also very one-footed and, at best, average in the air. In truth, The forward has not developed all that much from the precociously talented teenager who tormented Napoli all those years ago.
Of course, the injuries have severely stunted his growth as a player and, at 23, he still has time on his side to prove everyone wrong.
As team-mate Stephan El Shaarawy recently stated: “He’s potentially one of the best players in the world.” The fear now, though, is that Pato’s best days may already be behind him.