Straight from the dark heart of Italy
AC Milan surely couldn’t be losing that loving feeling for the Boys from Brazil, could they?
In the summer, Leonardo gave up having to bow to Silvio Berlusconi and the writing was then on the wall for Ronaldinho, who recently slipped back home leaving the corridors of Milanello no longer echoing to the Samba beat.
Thiago Silva, Robinho and Alexandre Pato are still there of course, but the latter is now feeling something of the cold shoulder from the new coaching regime.
Massimiliano Allegri has brought a more pragmatic approach after Leonardo had previously paid a romantic homage to the Brazil World Cup side of ’82 by occasionally playing four up front.
With Antonio Cassano arriving to reinforce the Italian contingent, Zlatan Ibrahimovic ploughing his own path on and off the pitch and Robinho coming to grips with life in a new league, Pato has been given the distinct feeling that he is becoming the odd man out.
He probably won’t end up like Dinho, disappearing inside a giant snood like an old woman waiting for a bus that’s just never going to come, but since the turn of the year it has been made clear to the 21-year-old that now is the time to start imposing himself on matches.
When Berlusconi met the players to give out his New Year pep talk ahead of the league game at Cagliari, he went round the gathered audience picking out faces and making a comment or two about each and when he got to 'the Duck' his opening line was 'stop getting injured'.
It wasn’t the most ringing endorsement and not the first thing that a player wants his boss to think when he claps eyes on him. Injuries, after all, are part and parcel of the game, and Pato’s set-backs have generally been minor niggles rather than season-wrecking ailments, such as those that have plagued Fabio Quagliarella, Walter Samuel or even Filippo Inzaghi’s five month lay-off.
Rino Gattuso then had a go at him as they walked off at half-time at Lecce on Sunday, lementing what the combative midfielder felt was a lack of effort from his team-mate; at least Pato answered in kind and Clarence Seedorf was forced to break up the verbal sparring.
Cassano eventually replaced the youngster who was clearly out of sorts – and ahead of this evening’s Italian Cup tie against Bari, Allegri had to deflect probing questions on whether the South American was unable to coexist with Ibra who demands passes played to his feet in tight spaces so that he can dance around with the ball for a while.
The Swede had complained earlier in the season that he was seeing less of the ball when Dinho and Pato were on the pitch and preferred to have Inzaghi as his partner upfront, but he has since toned down his comments no doubt due to the fact that he is now the big chief in the side.
Under Leonardo, Gattuso was pushed to the margins but he is just the sort of competitor most Italian coaches like to have in their side, hence he has become more vocal when the bad times threaten to raise their head – such as now with the side drawing the last two while Inter closed the gap to six points last night after their fourth win in 2011.
Pato, for his part, prefers inspiration to perspiration so it is doubtful if he will ever find common ground with a player who will run himself into the ground to patch over a lack of natural ability.
It is hard to say what affect such sniping and public displays of frustration will have on Pato – he still looks as fresh-faced as the teenager who arrived at club back in 2007 but answering back to Gattuso demonstrates there is a hardening steely resolve developing underneath those soft features.
The statistics bear out the fact that apart from the Lecce game he has been no turkey when fit – eight goals in eleven Serie A outings – ten of which he started – is more than an acceptable return.
He netted braces against Leece (on the opening day), Chievo and just recently Udinese to take his overall tally to 49 goals in 106 games for Milan - which for someone barely into their 20s is quite extraordinary.
He has already nipped any speculation that he would follow the man who brought him to Milan - and then acted like a big brother and confidant - to Inter, but there has been speculation that Europe’s heavyweights will be knocking on Milan’s door this summer: Carlo Ancelotti, wherever he may be next season, would definitely be making enquiries.
The club’s hierarchy may need to rein in any growing criticism of their prize asset from within the rank and file or face losing another Samba Boy ... Kaka, Ronaldinho and now Pato, surely not?
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