Alexandre Pato’s return to action just in time for the decisive Champions League clash with Barcelona is perhaps the best news Milan could have possibly had. With Antonio Cassano out indefinitely after his heart surgery, the Rossoneri are missing a forward who can make the difference up front.
Robinho has filled in that role so far, but his style is not exactly what Milan need. The Brazilian is a great runner, but lacks quality in front of the net. Furthermore, he represents a valuable back-up for Kevin-Prince Boateng, leaving a spot available next to Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
With Zlatan playing the assist-man role more and more these days, so constantly shifting away from the box, Milan need a real goal hunter like Pato who can make the most of his teammates’ work. Some may have dubbed him a “spoilt kid,” also being the boyfriend of President Silvio Berlusconi’s daughter, but Pato is no ‘raccomandato’. From a strictly qualitative point of view, he should be untouchable in their starting formation.
Pato started in all of the first five games of the season. He also netted a fantastic goal at the Nou Camp after only 24 seconds. But on September 21 against Udinese at San Siro, he strained a muscle in his right thigh after just 19 minutes.
Il Papero was meant to be sidelined for a month, but due to his fragility - 11 injuries over two seasons - Milan agreed to give him more time to recover. Adriano Galliani also requested extra caution from MilanLab. The Rossoneri Vice-President made it clear that this chain of injuries was unacceptable and held a meeting to “understand why this boy who had no problems between 2008 and 2009 is picking up an incredible number of muscular injuries”. Now Il Diavolo seem confident the matter has been solved once and for all.
“I can’t say that I will never get injured again, as I can’t see into the future, but I am doing all that I can to prevent further problems,” claimed Pato.The 22-year-old striker is at his fifth season in Rossonero since joining them from International for an extraordinary €22m, the highest transfer fee paid for an underage footballer. His Serie A scoring ratio has been impressive yet not fully satisfactory, showing that there is a large margin for improvement.
The Brazilian is yet to score in the campionato this year and has overall netted 50 Serie A goals for Milan over 106 games: one goal every 191 minutes, that is. However, last season Pato improved his record significantly by getting 14 goals in 25 games (one goal every 161 minutes). Quality comes with age, but Pato has a lot of catching up to do in order to reach that level this term.
Allegri hopes things with Pato and Milan will start ticking again. “If he runs as hard as the others with the quality he and his teammates have, then Milan can become an even stronger team”. And if he doesn’t, the January transfer window is just behind the corner giving Milan the chance to buy a quality striker to cope for Cassano’s absence.
In the last 20 minutes against Fiorentina on Saturday night, Pato gave enough reassurance that he is the perfect man for the job. He turned the game around within minutes as he hit the post and constantly threatened the Viola backline. Allegri was relieved, although his comments before the Fiorentina-Milan game were a clear message for the No. 7. The Brazilian must do more and better, because a big club like Milan cannot wait for anyone.
“I expect something more from him,” claimed Allegri. “He’s got to make the most of this opportunity that is given to him and learn from the example set by the veterans of Milan. One must always improve and be up to the test otherwise you’re going nowhere.” Rather than a criticism, the intention was to motivate the player and Allegri might have succeeded.
Now that his Via Crucis of injuries is over, Pato can once again aim for the very top. The boy must have got burnt though, and wants to take it from strength to strength. “Messi is a unique player and I still have to grow a lot to one day reach his levels,” he explained. Indeed, the Barça match will give Pato a chance to see where he is at, try to beat the world’s best player while showing everybody that the Duck is decidedly right back in the game.