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Can Pato and Chelsea work?

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After an 18 month campaign trail of auctioning Alexandre Pato to European clubs, it looks as though Corinthians are edging closer to shedding the 26 year old forward from their wage bill. Having been hawked to the likes of West Ham, Sunderland, Liverpool, Spurs and Arsenal without avail, it looks, astonishingly, as though Chelsea will be the club to bite on Timão’s bait. But can this transfer work?

The first thing to say is that Chelsea are probably better positioned to take the risk than their aforementioned counterparts, who have all turned down the chance to sign the ex Milan man. For a start, they are incredibly cash rich and, as we have seen numerous times before, the occasional dud signing has little effect on their cumulative wealth. And at under £10 million, Pato represents a minute fiscal risk for the troubled champions.

Their need for a forward is expedited by injury to Diego Costa, the imminent transfer of Loic Remy and the fact that Falcao seems ready for the knacker yard. Factor in the poor form of Eden Hazard and it’s easy to see why Chelsea are interested in a forward of Pato’s ability. Also, Chelsea’s league season is now a write-off, the conditions are as ripe as they are ever likely to be for the club to take a chance on a player down on his luck.

Yet Pato hasn’t really been playing as a striker for some time now. Under the tutelage of Juan Carlos Osorio at São Paulo, Pato confided in the Colombia coach that he did not enjoy the rough and tumble of the centre forward role half way through last year. At the time, Pato was playing as a second striker alongside either Luis Fabiano or Allan Kardec, with the mercurial Ganso roaming in behind. But Pato often struggled physically in duels with centre halves.

In light of this, Osorio switched Pato to a roaming left sided role, which appeared to suit him much better. Osorio absolved him of defensive responsibility and gave him license to wander. Whilst his talent has never been in doubt, Pato’s work ethic leaves him open to scepticism. He endured a nightmare spell as a striker for Corinthians under Tite, a manager that demands discipline and work ethic from his strikers.

The Pato Branco born forward (hence his moniker ‘Pato’) jarred with his coach’s demands, he lacked the work rate required to flourish in Tite’s system. He reportedly frustrated Tite with a lax attitude in training. Famously, after Corinthians lost a local derby against São Paulo, Pato skipped the team dressing down to go and watch a Beyonce concert in Rio.

Tite’s last nerve was exercised beyond repair when Pato unsuccessfully attempted to ‘Panenka’ his old Milan teammate Dida with the crucial spotkick in a Copa do Brasil quarter final shootout against Grêmio. The manager branded him “an irresponsible kid” and banished him to the sub’s bench. This happened more than 2 years ago; Corinthians have been trying to sell ever since.

They had to be satisfied with loaning him to São Paulo for 2 years, but with his contract due to expire next January, the reigning Brazilian champions simply have to sell now (and at a loss) in order to recoup any of their outlay. Over the last eight months, Timão have lost key forwards Guerrero and Vagner Love, yet still Pato is not remotely considered an option for them.

At São Paulo, Pato fared much better, but only in that he was inconsistent, as opposed to consistently bad. Under the more doting stewardship of Osorio, Pato captured some of his best form since his Milan days. However, he has as many good days as bad days. In Serie A and the Copa Libertadores, he was substituted 16 times last season (only one of those as a result of injury). On 9 of those occasions, he was removed in advance of the 70th minute (previous caveat applies, once due to injury).

His nadir arrived in a 0-0 draw with Chapoceonse in September. Pato had made a big public relations ‘campaign’ for inclusion in Dunga’s Brazil squad for the October World Cup qualifiers. In cocksure terms, he told the press that there were no better forwards in Brazil. Dunga ignored this charm offensive, opting instead for Santos’ Ricardo Oliveira. Hours after this omission, Pato started for São Paulo in a home match with struggling Chapoceonse. It happened to be the sole Brasileirão fixture of the evening, which resulted a larger than normal television audience. Pato turned in one of his most impoverished displays of the season, before being substituted in the 56th minute.

When he can’t be bothered, it’s pretty obvious and his managers realise it. His low energy levels are not ideal for the closing stage of matches. Having struggled with the pace and physicality of the game in Brazil, it will be interesting to see how he adapts to the Premier League, which is markedly faster and more physical than Brasileirão. That said, this seems largely to be due to lack of motivation, as opposed to any genuine physical defect. Therein lay the challenge for Chelsea, to rekindle his desire for football.

The good news for Chelsea is that his knee problems are firmly in the past. He has suffered no recurrences of the issues that dogged him in Milan. It’s also worth remembering that he turned down a lucrative move to China, where the pay packet on offer would have cast even Chelsea into the shade. He has prioritised playing in Europe over the absurd riches on offer to him in China, which suggests a level of motivation that Chelsea will have to harness.

Because if they can rehabilitate his attitude, they will have quite a player on their hands. He’s fit and at 26 he is approaching his prime. I do wonder how cognizant Chelsea are with his positional alteration last season. It’s likely that Chelsea will view him as more of an impact sub than a starter, rendering concerns over his energy levels obsolete. However, if they are looking for a replacement for Falcao, they may be disappointed to discover his distaste for the striker role- not least as Chelsea operate with a lone forward.

Pato can operate as a false 9, a role that Eden Hazard has been thrust into in this season. He is also a player that requires “an arm around the shoulder” to burgle popular English footballing parlance. Hiidink will need to treat him like a son in order to extract his best. The Dutchman does seem to have calmed rising tensions within the Chelsea squad since assuming the interim manager’s role. A month ago, the toxic environment of London Cobham, multiplied by the scowling presence of Mourinho seemed like the worst place imaginable to restore the motivation of a player like Pato.

With an avuncular presence like Hiidink in the hotseat, plenty of compatriots in the Chelsea squad to surround himself with and as pressure free a run-in as Chelsea are ever likely to experience for some time, the conditions appear good for the player himself. Whether Chelsea can eke out some more enthusiasm and restore some of the magic we saw in his teenage years remains to be seen. It’s a huge gamble on Chelsea’s part, but given the circumstances, one they can probably afford.


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