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Wounded Duck

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With the Brazilian economy booming and clubs able to offer higher salaries, returning to the spiritual home of football has become an increasingly attractive option for players plying their trade overseas, so Alexandre Pato’s move back to Corinthians shouldn’t be greeted with too much surprise. And yet it represents one of the most disappointing developments in recent years for both Brazilian and Italian football.

The 23-year-old could make his debut for the current FIFA World Club Champions later this month in the Sao Paulo State Championship, roughly five years after stunning the footballing world with an incredible performance in his very first match for AC Milan against Napoli. Pato also dazzled in his debut for Internacional against Palmeiras, and scored a memorable goal in his first senior match for Brazil against Sweden.    

It was the Milan display, of course, which sent expectations through the roof in Italy with Pato identified as the heir to the Ukrainian goal machine, Andriy Shevchenko, and his first two years did much to confirm the hype, in particular a stretch in the 2008-09 campaign in which he managed 13 goals in 14 matches. Another highlight was a brace against Real Madrid in a famous Champions League win at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu in October 2009.   

Pato’s progress was stalled, however, by a series of muscular injuries, and just as importantly, by Milan’s inability to determine his ideal position on the field. None of his three managers with the Rossoneri – Carlo Ancelotti, fellow countryman Leonardo and Massimo Allegri – ever seemed comfortable employing him as a center forward, so the Brazilian spent just as much time as a support striker, and even out in the wings.

Two seasons ago, Pato did play a pivotal role in Milan’s first Scudetto since 2004, scoring 14 league goals, including a double in a top-of-the-table clash against Inter, but the impression was already of a player with a lower ceiling than previously thought. And the last year and a half has been an unmitigated disaster with the former starlet managing just one Serie A  goal in 15 appearances.

His sale this January for a reported 15 million euros represents a terrible piece of business, given that Paris Saint-Germain offered 35 million just 12 months ago, but it makes sense from a footballing point of view. With the emergence of Stephan El Shaarawy and acquisition of Giampaolo Pazzini sending Pato tumbling down the pecking order, he has cut an extremely depressing figure of late.  

A change of scenery might help, but Pato’s desire to transform himself into a prototypical number 9 has caused him to bulk up to an unnatural degree. Minus the ability to skip past defenders, Pato is unlikely to make Milan regret his departure, and Brazilians excited to have another one of their stars come home, will soon learn they are receiving a different player back than the one who left for Italy.

The decision to reject PSG’s offer last January was no doubt influenced by his romantic relationship at the time with Silvio Berlusconi’s daughter, Barbara, further evidence that business and pleasure should not mix. But all Milan supporters who remember the excitement Pato generated not too long ago are sad to see him go, becoming the latest example of promise unfulfilled.

Milan made a winning start to life without the Brazilian, notching a 2-1 home win over Siena this past weekend with Bojan Krkic and Pazzini supplying the goals. The Rossoneri gained ground on the three teams directly above them in the table with Inter, Fiorentina and Roma all suffering defeats. The Nerazzurri fell 3-0 away to Udinese with Antonio Di Natale finding the back of the net twice.

The 35-year-old striker is putting together another productive campaign, but will be hard-pressed to catch Edinson Cavani in the race for Capocannoniere after the Napoli hitman soared to the top of the scoring charts by firing a sensational hat-trick in Napoli’s 4-1 win over Roma. Walter Mazzarri’s side has responded well to the recent two-point deduction due to match-fixing.

Some Other Thoughts:

*The shocker of the season took place in Turin, as 10-man Sampdoria notched a 2-1 win over Juventus on Sunday. Sebastian Giovinco gave the home side the lead in the first half, but two goals from Mauro Icardi after the intermission overturned matters, and goalkeeper Sergio Romero took care of the rest.   

It represents a phenomenal result for Delio Rossi who replaced Ciro Ferrara on the Sampdoria bench last month, and the first defeat for the league leaders since Antonio Conte returned from his lengthy touch-line ban. The Blucerchiati are mired in 14th place, but now boast away victories over AC Milan and Juventus, and held Roma to a 1-1 draw at the Olimpico. Up next is a home clash with the Rossoneri.

*Lazio moved to within five points of Juventus thanks to a 2-1 home win over Cagliari on Saturday. The club is making news for all the wrong reasons, however, as its supporters are under investigation by UEFA for their conduct during last November’s Europa League clash with Tottenham. Lazio appears capable of making a deep run in the competition, but any kind of stadium ban would be crippling.   

*Fiorentina suffered a bewildering 2-0 home defeat to Pescara this past weekend, but help is on the way thanks to the acquisition of Giuseppe Rossi from Villarreal. Rossi has been sidelined since October 2011 due to a recurring knee ligament injury, but is expected back in March and could form an exciting partnership with Stevan Jovetic who looks set to remain for the rest of the campaign.