There is no question that Alexandre Pato has the unbridled ability to be a world class footballer – perhaps even one of the Rossoneri’s all-time greats. He has lightning pace, guile and a sharp eye for goal. Nevertheless, ‘the duck’ is still, arguably at least, some way from achieving the levels his blistering talent continues to promise.
Of late, Pato has suffered a string of niggling injuries that have curtailed his progress, and in the bigger picture faced the inevitable disruption of playing under three different managers in the last three seasons.
That said, he has made a great impression and boasts a fine goals-to-games ratio. As a raw teenager under Carlo Ancelloti he hit a more than respectable 24 goals in 54 league games. Playing in Leonardo’s more ambitious formations he netted 12 times in 23 Serie A appearances. Massimiliano Allegri has also reaped the benefit of Pato’s enthusiasm, seeing the 21-year-old find the net four times in his opening five games. And in the Champions League the youngster has a sparkling record of nine in 24.
It says much that Pato should be so highly valued and effective despite still being some way short of his fulfilling his potential and providing the consistent end product his natural flair offers. His development as a rounded player has arguably also been hampered by his deployment on the right of an attacking three. The Brazilian is wasted there and shouldn’t be confined to fizzing crosses across the box.
Imagine the terror he could cause rampaging through the middle like Kaka and playing off the deft touches of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Instead he is forced to the margins, receiving the ball less often than he should and therefore occasionally trying too hard when he does get the chance to make a telling impact.
Without doubt Pato’s most deadly and effective period for il diavolo coincided with Ronaldinho’s season-long purple patch under Leonardo. Coming in off the right and playing more as a traditional striker, ‘Ronnie’ had the sublime vision and execution to make proper use of Pato’s speedy runs into the box. Unfortunately the buck-toothed Brazilian has shown nothing like that form this season.
Allegri has tried to crowbar at least three of his drifting enigmas into the same team instead of pairing Pato and Ibrahimovic in a front two. Playing in a 4-3-3 system has meant Pato being a victim of the modern game’s obsession with fitting square pegs into round holes to accommodate individuals.
However, if Milan are hell-bent on positioning Pato on the right, the least they could do is provide him with adequate cover at right-back. At the moment he must contend with the frustrating, laboured performances of a declining Gianluca Zambrotta, an over-anxious Ignazio Abate, and a leggy Daniele Bonera. None of them provides the defensive or attacking prowess needed to free Pato on the flank. Were he to have a player like Davide Santon, Cafu, or Danni Alves making distracting and useful runs beyond him, he’d be free to focus on hitting the opposition where it hurts.
Nevertheless, Pato has four goals already this campaign, including great strikes against Chievo and Lecce, and should Milan build on a reasonable start, he could defy the mismatching formation he’s playing in, make up for the deficiencies of many of his ageing teammates and pull together a fine season. And what better occasion to make an impact than in Wednesday’s mouthwatering Champions League clash with Real Madrid?