Pato’s Homecoming: A sign of things to come?

Alexandre Pato is the latest in the long line of the ‘next big thing’ in Brazilian football. Having arrived at AC Milan in 2007 an ambitious 17-year old from Internacional in Brazil, Pato did not disappoint, with a very impressive average of around a goal every other game. This month however, Pato has joined Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva in leaving the club, having completed a £12m move back to native Brazil with Corinthians. As well as joining the huge exodus of players from Milan, Pato has joined another perhaps more star-studded list of players who have left their careers at Europe’s top clubs to return home to Brazil. Be it Ronaldo or Elano, Ronaldinho or Adriano, the Brazilian footballing structure appears to be irresistibly alluring to Brazilian players as they draw closer to the end of their prime.
It’s important to note of course that this phenomenon is by no means a new one. Indeed, Brazilian legend Pele only left the Brazilian game after coming out of retirement to sign with the New York Cosmos. Whereas the moves of Ronaldo, Adriano and Ronaldinho were in the twilight of the players’ careers, Pato’s move comes at a crucial stage in his development. With his injury record since leaving Brazil, the coming years will be crucial in determining the extent to which he can fulfil the early promise of his career. With this considered, the issue of why so many Brazilian-born footballers return is one of potential importance to the future of worldwide football.

Is it possible that the motivation to return to Brazil is financial? With Brazil being considered one of the world’s largest growing economies, paired with the level of international interest in the Brazilian domestic scene being as high as ever, it makes sense that the wages on offer will be bigger than ever. This could be questioned however, due to the number of players such as free kick legend Juninho Pernambucano who had a spell in the Middle East to cash in before returning to Brazil. It also has to be doubted that even the top sides in Brazil could compete financially with the Sky-backed English Premier League.

The return perhaps is more likely loyalty to their nationality. These international superstars very often grew up in the poorest areas in the Brazilian favelas and Brazilian domestic football was their road to the glamorous lifestyles they now lead. The feeling of debt to the clubs that saved them from poverty could be a key factor in wanting to do well with them. Especially in the case of the likes of Ronaldinho, the players who have already accomplished everything in Europe may wish to return to Brazil to compete for the Copa Libertadores, a tournament which holds a special place in all Latin American football fans that no European competition could compete with.

Whatever the reason, the influx of talented household names from Europe back to their native Latin American countries can only be good for the rise of sport in South America. Although legitimate questions can be asked of the quality of contribution these players can make – I’m looking at you, Adriano – the arrival of Pato reflects the changing of the waters in football. This is a player who not a few months ago was being linked to a move to the English Premiership, who is just approaching the beginning of his prime, returning to the Brazilian league. If the recall of Ronaldinho to the Brazilian national side means anything, it’s that the future of Brazilian football may very well lie in Brazil, and with promising youngsters like Neymar staying in Brazil to improve their football and boost their hopes of being selected for the national side, this change in world football could see a return to the ‘Joga Bonito’ style of football that drew Brazil so many plaudits in the past. Should the emergence of a new quality of domestic football in Brazil be the cause, then the Brazilian league could finally be offering an alternative to European football for the modern player. However, should the reason instead be the reduced standards, lack of expectation and ability to live a less rigorous lifestyle be the cause, this could have a potentially disastrous effect on the future of football in the nation domestically, which would undoubtedly have a knock-on effect on the samba stars we see in World Cups of the future.

[Alan Compton]

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