Breaking a record the king of football Pele has set is always a big deal, especially in Brazil. At the 2006 FIFA Club World Cup a slender, curly-haired Brazilian boy became the youngest player to score in a FIFA-organized international competition. That boy was Alexandre Pato, just 17 years and 102 days at that time, some 137 days younger than Pele was when he scored at the 1958 World Cup. His goal for his boyhood club Internacional against Al-Ahli immediately propelled him to international fame and the world was expecting the next big Brazilian football superstar.
It was all going according to plan when Pato sealed a star move to Europe with then UEFA Champions League holders AC Milan. Just 18 years old, he made his debut in January of 2008 and scored a spectacular individual goal in a 5-2 win against Napoli. In the next home game he bagged two goals and netted a total of nine times before the end of season. It seemed that the hype was real and AC Milan were sitting on the next Brazilian football diamond.
Nearly five years later, however, things seem quite different. Pato did not live up to the great expectations. He has demonstrated his super individual skills on many occasions, but has failed to perform consistently and have a continuous streak of good performances. His image is one of a very talented player who just did not have that extra ingredient to make him great.
The reasons for that are mostly two-fold. Pato did suffer some untimely injuries and seems to have recurrent muscle problems in his upper legs. Those have consistently interrupted his playing time and have largely deprived him of the opportunity to string a long stretch of games together. The 2011-2012 season was especially difficult for Pato, and he played in only 18 games.
The even bigger problem for the young striker, however, seems to be that fame came too fast, too early for him. He has had numerous off-field distractions which seem to take away his attention from the game. He had a much publicized relationship with Brazilian soap opera super star Sthefany Brito. After a lot of tabloid on-and-off activity, the couple married in a glamorous wedding in Brazil in 2009, followed by a much less glamorous divorce less than a year later. It is hard to believe that Pato could be fully determined to develop his game, as any young player should, during this time.
A testament to his frail mentality came in 2010 when he was omitted from the Brazillian national team squad of the World Cup. Coach Dunga cited the lack of focus as his primary reason for not calling him to play.
So what does the future have in store for Pato? It is, of course, way too early to cast him as a football failure. He is still only 23 years old and has plenty of time to turn things around. To do so, he will need to accomplish two things – stay healthy and put his mind in the right place.
It seems he will try to do both these things by moving back to Brazil Corinthians. Brazil is a leading nation in terms of football physiology and sport science is arguably at a higher level than in Europe at this time. This can be very beneficial for his recurring injury problems. Furthermore, going back home can calm his restless young soul.
If Pato can show some maturity and focus in his game, he still has the chance to be one of the game’s great legends. The 2014 World Cup will be dearly expected in Brazil and surely be a place where legends can be born if Selecao can go all the way. It will be a perfect opportunity for Pato.