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AC Milan

What happened to Alexandre Pato? Arm amputation fear, Birmingham link and Chelsea cameo

For the nomadic footballer it must be seen as the Holy Trinity.

Scoring goals in Serie A, the Premier League and La Liga is a feat achieved by the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Philippe Coutinho and Alexis Sanchez, but to some it comes a little easier than it does to others.

Take Alexandre Pato. ‘The Duck’. The Brazilian boy with the football world at his feet.

Remember him?

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If you do then the first image that comes to mind will probably be of him wheeling away in an AC Milan shirt, celebrating the latest in a long array of stylish goals that, for a time, threatened to mark the forward out as the next great Brazilian superstar, and his country’s No.9 for a generation.

Having arrived in Milan as a teenager in 2007, Pato would score 57 goals for the Serie A giants before turning 22.

But then just six after.

Pato seemed to have the football world at his feet
Pato seemed to have the football world at his feet

And it was on April 2, 2016 that the forward made what would turn out to be a limited impact on Premier League football, scoring his one and only English top-flight goal, a penalty, for Chelsea in a 4-0 win over Aston Villa at Villa Park.

He’d come on as a 23rd minute substitute for Loic Remy that day, and then a week later he started and played 64 minutes in a 1-0 defeat at Swansea.

Then that was it. He didn’t play for the club again.

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But to understand the strangeness of Pato’s career you need to go right back to the very start, and a genuine fear that he might never be able to play top-flight football at all.

Born in Pato Branco – yes, White Duck – in south-west Brazil, the place that he would later adopt as the name the world would know him by, it was only thanks to an accident as a child that Alexandre Rodrigues da Silva discovered that he was carrying a potentially harmful tumour.

Pato celebrates what would be his only goal for Chelsea
Pato celebrates what would be his only goal for Chelsea

Aged 11, Pato broke his arm in two places, and when doctors examined his X-rays they noted something they weren’t expecting.

“The investigations however had identified a tumour in the arm, and immediately it was feared that I would need to have my arm amputated,” Pato told Brazilian television in 2009.

“Thankfully I managed to have surgery to have it removed, and it was a success.”

Saved from that ordeal, and determined to enjoy everything about the life that lay ahead of him, the young Pato went on to climb through the youth ranks at Internacional, eventually making an immediate impact on his senior debut when he scored after just a minute.

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Indeed, impressive introductions would go on to be a theme for Pato’s career.

He broke Pele’s record to become the youngest ever goalscorer at a FIFA tournament when he netted for Internacional in the 2006 Club World Cup against Cairo’s Al Ahly – with Pele having scored against Wales as a 17-year-old at the 1958 World Cup.

Pato was a leading light in a star-studded Milan team
Pato was a leading light in a star-studded Milan team

The just over a year later, still just 18, he broke another of Pele’s records when he became the quickest Brazilian to score on their senior international debut, netting just seconds after coming on in a friendly against Sweden at the Emirates Stadium.

By now he was at Milan, with the San Siro giants having snapped him up the previous August but being unable to play him until the new year due to registration issues.

Naturally, he scored on his Serie A debut in a 5-2 win over Napoli, following that up with eight more goals in the second half of the season.

He then scored 18, 14 and 16 times in his next three campaigns, but niggling injuries had begun to take their toll.

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Pato missed out on the 2010 World Cup, overlooked by an unconvinced Dunga, and as he sought to try and get back to his best form his injuries kept holding him back.

His hamstring, in particular, was a major issue, flaring up towards the end of the 2009/10 season and then forcing him to break down again at the beginning of the next campaign.

The likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic would eventually overshadow Pato
The likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic would eventually overshadow Pato

Repeated issues had seen plenty at Milan lose faith in the forward, and they were open to selling him to Paris Saint-Germain as his struggles continued. It was a thigh injury that was most troubling him by early 2012, and eventually cut his season short halfway through.

It was what Pato did during these injury absences that concerned the club, with his off-field antics questioned.

When he broke up with Brazilian actress Sthefany Brito in 2010, less than a year after they were married, she cited his partying as a key contributory factor. He would later move on to Barbara Berlusconi, daughter of Silvio, and they dated for four years.

On the pitch, with the 2011/12 and 2012/13 seasons proving extremely unproductive, Pato headed back for Brazil with Corinthians in 2013.

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Naturally he scored on his debut, but it was clear that he was nowhere near the player who had left South America for Europe as a teenager, and he dropped out of the international squad a year before Brazil were due to host the World Cup.

The forward wasn't able to hold down a place in the Brazil squad
The forward wasn’t able to hold down a place in the Brazil squad

A loan to Sao Paulo did get him firing again though, and it was from there that Chelsea decided to take a punt on him to take him on loan from Corinthians in January 2016, shortly after the sacking of Jose Mourinho for a second time.

With Radamel Falcao’s loan from Monaco having proved disastrous, interim boss Guus Hiddink was in bullish mood about Pato being a success.

“It’s not a gamble,” said the Dutchman. “Coming on loan makes it possible to view if he can adapt to the league.”

Then he didn’t play for two months.

This was a strange old time at Stamford Bridge, when Pato did eventually get his appearance, and his goal, against Villa there were hopes that he could kick on and help the Blues navigate the end of what had been a disastrous season, but there was just that Swansea appearance and that was it.

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He was soon off to Villarreal in La Liga, where he at least got six goals to at least tick that Holy Trinity box, before a predictable spell in China, Sao Paulo again a shock transfer link with Birmingham City in the Italian press last October and now, as of February this year, Orlando City in MLS.

Pato has now joined Orlando City in MLS
Pato has now joined Orlando City in MLS

“I received many opportunities to go to Europe again, to Asia and [the United Arab] Emirates. I said for my family, ‘No, I want to be more happy,’” he said at his Orlando unveiling last month.

“I don’t know, maybe [other places] have very good football and nice people, but I said, ‘No, I want a new challenge’ but I need to find someplace nice for a family.

“I expected for the new step, for the new club [to] get my happiness back for myself. I want to just be happy.”

So can he still cut it?

“I’m 31 years old,” he continues.

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“I’m so young. I’m still so young.”

That’s true, and two goals in Orlando’s March pre-season games suggest there’s life in the not-that-old dog yet.

Orlando City play Atlanta United in their first MLS game of the season on April 17, so what price another debut goal for a player who loves bursting onto a scene.

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