Back in 2016, Chelsea signed a talented Brazilian on loan, tipped to be the next Kaka, Alexandre Pato.
The only problem was his arrival at Stamford Bridge came about nine years after he was hyped as the next big thing, having originally arrived in Europe as a 17-year-old, making the switch from Internacional to AC Milan – then reigning champions of Europe.
By the time he rocked up at Chelsea, he was largely seen as washed up unfulfilled potential, but at the age of 26 he was presented with an opportunity to rekindle his career at the highest level at one of Europe’s top five leagues.
But his short spell with the Blues wasn’t especially successful, and his strange and nomadic career has taken another couple of twists and turns since. Here’s how his career’s panned out, all in all.
The Milan years
There was plenty of hype behind Pato, even as a teenager, when he first arrived in Europe. But his early years in Serie A suggested some justification.
He looked to be on the right trajectory, finishing his second season (2008-09) with the club as their top scorer with 18 goals in all competitions.
When Kaka moved to Real Madrid for a world-record fee in 2009, many thought the time was right for his understudy to go a step further and take the reins as I Rossoneri’s new talisman.
At that point, Pato was a fully-fledged Brazil international, having won the South American Youth Football Championship with their Under-20s in 2007.
As the mild-mannered, devoutly Christian Kaka left, in came another one of Pato’s Ballon d’Or-winning international team-mates – Ronaldinho, reportedly shown the door by Pep Guardiola at Barcelona due to concerns over his lifestyle and influence on a young Lionel Messi.
As Messi went on to win the Ballon d’Or six times, Pato went down a different path, with constant stories in the Italian press about his love of partying alongside Ronaldinho, something his ex-wife, Brazilian actress Sthefany Brito, cited in the reasons for their divorce.
Pato and Ronaldinho featured alongside one another as Milan won the Scudetto under Massimiliano Allegri in 2011. He finished as their top scorer in Serie A, joint with Robinho and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, with 14 goals – but that was to be as good as it got, and he never quite made that next step forward to superstardom many expected.
Recurring thigh injuries saw him lose form and a regular place in Milan’s team over the next couple of seasons and in January 2013 he returned to Brazil, signing for Corinthians.
Back to Brazil
Pato’s return to his homeland saw him fall out of contention for the national team, in spite of being managed by the well-regarded future Brazil coach Tite.
A raft of missed chances and an ill-advised panenka penalty, resulting in Corinthians’ exit from the Copa do Brasil, did not endear him to his new club’s supporters, and nor did his club-record €15m fee and hefty wages.
Things went a little better for him in subsequent loans to São Paulo, where he scored a respectable 38 goals in 98 appearances over a two-year period.
A missed opportunity at Chelsea
With the Brazilian season over and Pato in excellent individual form, he had the chance to re-establish himself at the top when Chelsea came calling.
It wasn’t the ideal environment to walk into, the earth still scorched from Jose Mourinho’s third-season meltdown, with the Blues unthinkably in the bottom half of the table under his interim successor Guus Hiddink.
But it came in the middle of a comparatively rosy 15-match unbeaten streak in the Premier League, and a sense that the affable Dutchman had lightened to the mood at Stamford Bridge.
Unfortunately for Pato, despite the relatively low-stakes feel of the remainder of that season, his momentum was stunted as opportunities were few and far between with concerns raised over his match fitness following a long and gruelling full season in Brazil.
He scored a penalty on his debut, a 4-0 win over Aston Villa, but that only came in April, far too late in the season to make an impression.
One substitute appearance later, he was gone, destined to become little more than a tricky answer in a “Premier League Brazilians” Sporcle quiz.
Life after Chelsea
Desperate to get his considerable wages off their books for good, having not featured for them in over two years, Corinthians finally offloaded Pato in the summer of 2016.
Signing for Villarreal, they went on to have a decent campaign, narrowly missing out on Champions League qualification with a fifth-place finish in La Liga.
Pato made 14 appearances in the league that season, but all came in the first half of the campaign, leaving for the Chinese Super League in January.
He signed with Fabio Cannavaro’s Tianjin Quanjian for a hefty €18m fee – the most expensive of his career since signing for Milan – but like so many of his compatriots, his time in China was a lucrative stop-gap before a return home.
Last March, he returned to São Paulo, where he enjoyed the best form of his career since leaving Milan. He scored five goals in 19 appearances as they finished sixth in last season’s Campeonato Brasileiro.