ALEXANDRE Pato’s struggles in Milan have finally come to an end.
On Thursday, AC Milan and Corinthians agreed to a move that would see the 23-year-old hotshot leave the Rossoneri to join the club world champions for a fee of 15 million euros.
For Pato it represents a chance to revive his once-promising career, which has been derailed by several injuries during his five-year stay at the Milan giants, back on track and force himself into the reckoning for the World Cup next year.
Pato quickly established himself as a favourite at Milan after joining as a 17-year old sensation from Brazil’s Internacional in 2007, scoring nine goals in his first half-season and reaching double figures in each of the next three campaigns.
However, he scored only once in Serie A and four times altogether last season and has only seven games under his belt in the current campaign and named insufficient game practice as the main reason for his decision to change the team.
“I’m going to Brazil to Corinthians, so I will be able to play regularly,” Pato said on Milan’s website.
However, times have changed in Brazil. Usually a homecoming hero is promised regular football but the heavy influx of returning Brazilians over recent years has meant competition for places is at an all-time high.
That, Pato will soon find out.
Last month, Corinthians also completed a deal to sign Bayer Leverkusen attacking midfielder Renato Augusto and already have a potent strike duo of Emerson Sheik and Peruvian Paolo Guerrero, scorer of the winner against Chelsea in the Club World Cup final and voted South America’s second best player behind Brazil’s latest sensation Neymar.
Brazilian clubs’ new-found spending power — due to the country’s fast and stable economic growth and the stellar run of its currency, the real against the euro — has seen them pull off deals like the one for Pato over recent years. And it could very well continue.
The World Cup in 2014 and related stadium development along with already strong commercial deals might help Brazilian clubs better compete with their European rivals to retain the best young talent and bring back established stars.
“Brazil’s economy is running stable and becoming more competitive,” former Brazil coach Vanderlei Luxemburgo told China Central Television (CCTV) in December last year. “Football has also benefited from the fast economic growth. Brazil is a traditional football player exporter, because Europe gives better offers to players. Now, Brazil’s clubs have gained more economic power to keep Brazilian players play at home.”
Neymar staying with Santos, and rejecting moves to Europe is just one example of that trend.
Brazilian players returning home is no novelty. However, they used to return when they could no longer play with the best in Europe.
Brazil’s 2002 World Cup-winning stars Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Roberto Carlos and Lucio along with Ze Roberto, Ferreira Emerson and Juninho Perunambucano returned on multi-million dollar deals over the last four years but to little effect.
That, however, has changed.
Ronaldinho refused offers from a number of top European clubs to return to the country in 2011, so did Elano, Luis Fabiano and Vagner Love the same year so much so that Deloitte in its Annual Football Money League Report 2012 called Brazil as ‘No country for old men’.
Brazilian clubs have also managed to rope in Portuguese internationals Deco and Liedson due to their Brazilian connections along with Argentinean playmakers Andres D’Alessandro and Dario Conca — who now plays for Chinese money bags Guangzhou Evergrande.
Over the summer, though, Brazilian clubs Botafogo and Internacional struck the biggest deals, signing Dutchman Clarence Seedorf and Uruguayan Diego Forlan respectively.
And it is proving fruitful.
Fluminense prompted striker Fred, midfielder Thiago Neves and goalkeeper Diego Cavalieri to cross the Atlantic and the trio guided them to the Brazilian Serie A title last season.
Pato, and Corinthians, will be hoping to do the same.