Why the wonderkid who was Alexandre Pato failed to become a superstar

The Brazil forward had the world at his feet after arriving at San Siro in 2007 but the Rossoneri are now set to cut their losses on a player who has been ravaged by injuries
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.
















Indeed, Pato arrived in Italy from Internacional amidst a blaze of publicity in the summer of 2007, touted as the most exciting teenage talent in world football. Unable to make his debut until January because of Fifa regulations regarding minors, he belatedly made his Serie A bow against Napoli on January 13.

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.


Billed as the “new Pele” but repeatedly failed to make the grade in Europe after an initial switch to Benfica and is now back in the MLS.

Considered the next big thing in Germany but this exciting winger retired from the game at the age of 27 after losing his battle to injury and depression.

The Brazilian attacking midfielder became famous for his ‘seal dribble’ but a move to Italy did not work out and is now plying his trade in Japan.

Made his Barca debut aged 17 but was unable to nail down a regular berth in the starting XI and is now out of favour at Milan, after a poor year at Roma.

Another who drew comparisons with Pele after a promising start as a 16-year-old with Anderlecht but never recovered after a dire spell at Aston Villa.
Indeed, Pato has failed to register a single strike in Serie A this year, having been restricted to just seven appearances because of a succession of thigh injuries. The devastating thing for both the player and his club is that the root of his persistent problems remain unknown, with Milan’s medical staff admitting last season that they had simply been unable to come up with a diagnosis.

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.