Alexandre Pato


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Tim Vickery column

There's no doubt about the highlight of working as a football journalist in South America - the opportunity to spot the next generation of global stars. It's like having a private screening of a film that you know is going to be a blockbuster. Pato celebrates scoring on his much-anticipated AC Milan debut It was like that three years ago in Colombia, at the continent's Under-20 Championships. Argentina had called up Lionel Messi, but even they didn't know a great deal about him. He had been at Barcelona since he was 13, and he'd only played one friendly for them. There had been whispers of his promise, but as he took the field for the first game he looked more like the pigeon-toed runt of the litter than a potentially world-class footballer - until he received the ball. Then, it was instantly obvious that we were dealing with something very special, and that those of us in Colombia were very privileged to be in at the start of the story. Brazil's Alexandre Pato is a similar case. From his first kick in senior football it was clear that here was another youngster who had been touched by the hand of genius. He made his debut for Internacional away to Palmeiras in November 2006, just two months past his 17th birthday. He scored in the first minute and set up two more in the opening half hour. Palmeiras didn't know what hit them, and it was no wonder. Internacional were well aware they had unearthed a diamond, and they had been terrified of losing it. Before his debut Pato was showing his extraordinary ability in training. But the club asked their players not to talk about him to the press, as other clubs might hear about him and be tempted. So there would be no fanfares or first team matches until he had signed a contract - and when he did, Palmeiras were the unfortunate victims. It is quite a contrast to his competitive debut for Milan last Sunday. He moved to Italy during the close season transfer window in August, but because of his age Milan were only allowed to register him this year. For months the expectation has been building - especially with the team's dismal form at home. Word seeped out of the training camp of Pato's astonishing potential. The 18-year-old was being cast in the role of saviour. And then he went out against Napoli and showed that he could take all the fuss in his exuberantly youthful stride. The fluency of movement, the courage to take defenders on, the cool, precise finishing - the virtues he showed in his brief time in Brazil were on display against Napoli. And if he didn't get the chance to give a demonstration of the threat he carries in the air, he crowned his performance with a solo goal which will have defenders all over Serie A sitting up and fretting about how to deal with him. It goes without saying that he is nowhere near being the finished article. Pato has a nice problem, but at this stage in his career a problem nonetheless. He can do so many things that picking his options is not easy; he would be well advised to keep things simpler outside the penalty area and leave the flash stuff for when it can really make a difference. But now the secret is well and truly out. All of Europe is aware that Alexandre Pato is the genuine article. The days of the private screening for us in South America are over. From now on his TV appearances will be in front of a global audience of millions. http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/internationals/7186671.stm



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