x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Pato has skills to outshine them all

As Milan arrive in Dubai, David Beckham is not the only player likely to make a big impression.

Pato celebrates after scoring against Udinese in Milan's last game before the winter break.
Pato celebrates after scoring against Udinese in Milan's last game before the winter break.

DUBAI // While David Beckham is creating a stir at the moment after his loan move to AC Milan, it is a year ago this week that the buzz around the club was about a certain Alexandre Rodrigues da Silva. The young Brazilian striker, known simply as Pato, would soon be eligible to wear the Milan shirt and there were great expectations.

When the Rossoneri came to Dubai this time last year as part of their winter camp, Pato, 19, was not with the squad. The highly rated teenager, had been signed as a 17-year-old for ?22million (Dh116m) from the Brazilian club Internacional in Sept 2007. But he had to watch from the sidelines for four months as Italian league rules on non-EU minors meant he could not play until January. However, the Milan players and officials in Dubai could not conceal how highly they rated him.

Umberto Gandini, the Milan organising director, was happy to shout from the rooftops that Pato could even surpass the efforts of Kaka, their top boy from Brazil who rose to become World Player of the Year in 2007. "Out technical staff said Pato was better than Kaka was at the same age," he said. "That shows you why we are very excited about this player and believe he will go on to become one of the very best, if not the best, in the world.

"He is more of a direct striker, fast and not always producing so many tricks as other Brazilians. More importantly, he scores goals and that is what every team wants. "Everyone is looking for the one that can make a difference and we were delighted to get Pato. He will learn and he will get better." Brazil has long been a nursery for developing some of the best footballers in the world to ply their trade in Europe. Pato is the latest on the conveyor belt, following players like Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Robinho, Adriano and Kaka.

It was at Internacional, then managed by the current Al Jazira coach Abel Braga, where Pato made an instant impression after making his debut at 17. The boy nicknamed 'The Duck' blossomed into a swan on the pitch as he led them to the Fifa Club World Cup, beating Barcelona in 2006. It was in this competition that the world, and the record books, came to know of Pato, who took the nickname after the place where he was born, Pato Branca in Parana. A goal against the Egyptian side Al Ahly at the age of 17 years and 102 days broke Pele's record as the youngest scorer in official Fifa competitions.

The plaudits followed swiftly and so did the interest from abroad with Milan winning the race to sign him in the summer of 2007. A debut, and goal with a confident finish, duly came against Napoli last January and Pato has not looked back. Fernandao, his countryman and former teammate at Interna cional, feels there is no limit to what he can achieve. The striker, 30, now playing for Al Gharafa in Qatar, says: "He is one of the most exciting players to come out of Brazil and everyone believes he will be one of the best in the future.

"He was a good player for us, even though he was still young, still learning. He worked hard and you knew he was going to be a success and that the top teams would want him. Alex had the right approach and mentality. He always wanted to get better. Everyone wants to play for a big European club and that was his target. "How good can he be? Well, he won the Club World Cup at 17, Kaka did not, so already he is ahead at the same age. You can never be sure how he will develop, but I believe he will be a top, top player."

This season Pato has held his own at the San Siro amid such illustrious company as Kaka, Ronaldinho and Andriy Shevchenko, the Milan hero whose No 7 shirt and place he has taken. Eight goals have come his way with four in the final three games before the winter pause. Carlo Ancelotti, the Milan coach, has high hopes for Pato and says their camp, which starts today and includes the Dubai Football Challenge encounter with Hamburg on Jan 6, will enable him to work on helping the frontman grow stronger and play a leading role in Milan's bid for honours.

"He has an incredible shot and great speed, in fact he's twice as fast as a normal athlete," he told the Italian media. "I think the future of this team will be built in the winter training camp in Dubai. If we manage to work well and get in shape we could obtain some important satisfactions because this team has great qualities." The day after meeting up with his Milan teammates, Beckham watched in awe as Pato scored twice aginst Udinese on Dec 21.

While the England hero will be the main attraction in Dubai, it could be Pato who steals the thunder. akhan@thenational.ae