Over the past few days, as the eventual €15 million transfer of striker Alexandre Pato to Corinthians (Daily Mail) drew near, social networks have been awash with talk of a career wasted in return to South America. It is a view, though, that is not only disrespectful to the Brazilian league, but that also shows a lack of awareness of the changing dynamics of world football.
To say that Pato “failed” at AC Milan would be a harsh assessment, but given initial predictions as to his impact, it is fair to say that expectations have not been met. Pato has been hamstrung by injuries over his latter years in Italy and, unfortunately, that situation has shown few signs of improving.
So, with Milan choosing to cut their losses, Pato returns to Brazil with much to prove. Corinthians have made a significant investment in the Seleção star—the biggest in the history of Brazilian football (UOL)—and will be desperate to see a return on their money. Should they get him fit and firing, Pato could well be the catalyst for a sustained period of success for the Timão.
So, what of Pato himself? How can he benefit from a return to Brazil? Well, firstly, could the return to his homeland help him overcome his injury problems for good?
The famed “Milan Lab” has seen its reputation take a battering in recent years, and there is a growing feeling that Brazil's experts can improve his fitness record. Brazilian clubs have proven themselves to be adept at dealing with injury-prone players, and there is no reason to believe that Pato, too, could not reap these benefits.
Another prophecy to emerge from among the doom merchants of the social media realm was that Pato would never be seen again at the top of the game. It's a bold statement to make about any player, but even more so a 23-year-old who is widely accepted to be one of the most talented in his position anywhere in the world.
The reality is that, by returning to Brazil, Pato could actually ensure that he does go on to achieve greatness in his career. It must be remembered that at Milan, without the Rossoneri challenging in either the league or Champions League, his visibility to the Brazil national team management was dropping rapidly.
Currently behind Leandro Damião and, in the eyes of many, Fred in the race to wear the No. 9 shirt for his country in 2014, his chances of selection are at their lowest ebb since his first emergence as an international player. By joining Corinthians, he is doing his chances a lot of good.
According to recent surveys, Corinthians have 25 million supporters in Brazil (Band), making them the second best supported team in the country. Both Flamengo and Corinthians' influence is felt right across Brazil, and both sides carry significant weight in the national media. Pato will soon arrive in São Paulo to become the undisputed star of this Corinthians side—a role that will guarantee him significant exposure for his national team claims.
He will join a team that has a recent history of success—a side that has been strengthened once more this Brazilian summer. A handful of goals in his opening state championship encounters against what are effectively non-league sides and the newspapers will doubtless be proclaiming the return of the messiah. Help Corinthians to a second consecutive Libertadores title and his presence in Brazil's starting lineup at the Confederations Cup is nigh-on guaranteed.
Ultimately, we do not know if this is the end of Pato's journey outside Brazil. However, with the Brazilian championship at its strongest in over 20 years, there is no right or wrong either way. The Rio Branco native will be just 24 at the time of the next World Cup and will still have plenty of time on his side regarding any future deal.
In joining Corinthians, Pato opted against taking a signing-on fee, in order to push through a transfer. Instead, the striker has negotiated that he will receive 40 percent of any future transfer fee. It is in his interests, then, to both make himself a success and to move on from the club further down the line.
If he can get himself fit for a sustained period of time, there is little doubt Pato will succeed with Corinthians and, then, hopefully with Brazil. He has both professional and financial incentives to succeed and is safe in the knowledge that he still has many years ahead of him for a further shot at European football, should he so desire.
His Milan career was ailing badly, for whatever reason. Pato now has the perfect opportunity to start from scratch and prove himself to be the truly world-class centre-forward that he has always threatened to become. Boa sorte, Alexandre.