Written by: Sabatino Caranci (@Scaranci25)
The “duck,” which was a nickname for the Brazilian Alexandre Pato at Milan, is derived from the Spanish word “Pato.” Pato’s debut was one of the most anticipated in the world at the time. He was signed from the Brazilian club Internacional as a 17 year-old prospect in the summer of 2007 for around 24 million euros, which at the time was a hefty price tag; especially for a teenager. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to take part in the Milan first team because of Italian football regulations having to do with non EU-minors. However, he was finally introduced to Serie A with a bang on January 13, 2008.
Pato was looked at as the new Brazilian ‘golden boy’; following in the footsteps of all of the previous Brazilian stars that donned the Milan jersey – such as Leonardo, Serginho, Dida, Cafu, Kaka and Ronaldo. Milan, at the time, were suffering from a home-win drought as they surprisingly had not won at home all season, up until that point. Needing answers, Milan were hoping Pato would be the right one. The immense anticipation was revealed all around the stadium as Milan fans all around were holding up signs: “Benvenuto Pato,” “Impato” and “Arra Pato.”
He was actually thrown into the starting eleven with a few of the previously listed Brazilians above, along with other prolific champions; Milan had a line-up that consisted of Dida, the starting goalie of Brazil at the time, whilst the world class, champion-filled back line was covered by Bonera, Nesta, Maldini and Kaladze. The star-studded midfield was governed by the likes of Pirlo, Seedorf, Ambrosini and Kaka while the attack was filled with two-time Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldo with Pato accompanying him. This was no pressure for Pato; at least it didn’t look like it when entering the field in place of the injured Filippo Inzaghi and out-of-form Gilardino.
Pato impressed right from the first whistle as he was piling on the pressure on Napoli by making intelligent runs; aggressively running at the defenders within the first minute of the game. At this moment, Napoli realised that this was going to be a very long game, as they would be trying to contain this new Milanese gem.
The “duck” was portraying his flair and dribbling skills early on in the game as he glided away from defenders, meaningfully protecting the ball and drawing Napoli players in. He was whipping crosses into the box, helping to create the tempo of the game and at the 15 minute mark, Milan had gone one-nil up, with Ronaldo as the scorer. Pirlo had creatively slided the ball to Ronaldo, allowing him to have a shot that ricocheted off a defender and over the keepers head, with Pato following it up to head it in; the goal was called as a Ronaldo goal as the ball was already barely over the goal line. It was not Pato’s time – yet.
Now that the game was picking up, Pato was too. He produced a well-driven shot outside of the box that was on the goal-frame, causing the Napoli keeper to punch it away within the first twenty minutes of the match. A Napoli goal would tie the score up as they pounced on a counter attack only 6 minutes after the first goal, but Milan bounced back as Seedorf had slotted home Milan’s second. Again, Pato was involved as the Napoli goalkeeper had a double-save against the young Brazilian; causing the ball to parry out for Seedorf to slot the rebound home only a few minutes after Napoli’s goal.
Pato continued to terrorise the opposing defenders with runs and menacing shots, but eventually, toward the end of the half, Napoli were awarded a penalty and had scored to tie it up. The score was 2-2 at half time and the San Siro knew they were in for a thrilling, goal-fest of a game. They thought that, moreso, after “El Fenómeno,” otherwise known as Ronaldo, opened the scoring a minute into the second half with a sublime header. The early second half goal gave the Rossoneri crowd hope that the old guard of Ronaldo, who was in his twilight years at the time, can still continue at a high level with Pato alongside him.
As the game went on, the Brazilian magic between the attacking three of Ronaldo, Pato and Kaka became more apparent. In the 68th minute of the game, Kaka, Ballon d’Or winner at the time, turned away from his defender at the top of the 18 yard box to drive home a screamer that went in the near-post of the net. The game was thought to be won but because of the amount of goals it could not be surely put to bed yet; as Napoli were down 4-2 with 25 minutes left.
At last, it was time for the end-product of Pato’s trickery, flair and aggressiveness towards goal to come to fruition. Six minutes after Kaka’s goal, Favalli sent a curling long ball from Milan’s half toward the top of the 18 yard box, toward the young Brazilian forward. He masterfully created a first touch that allowed the ball to go over the last Napoli defender for it to come back down to Pato’s foot and into the net after a cool, composed finish. The crowd erupted, the team congratulated the debutant with joy and a new Milan star was born.
The game was surely put to bed at this point but not without some more trickery from the “duck.” He continued to reap the Napoli defense with his dribbling ability and created more whipping shots for the opposing goalkeeper to parry. The Napoli defence would not forget about these 90 minutes for a long time. In the final minutes of the game, Pato’s trickery had led to countless foul and a red card was given to Napoli midfielder Gargano, who had had enough of the new, young Brazil star.
At the final whistle, it was confirmed that all of the pre-match hype was correct. The Rossoneri went home knowing they had a new gem in the young Brazilian, who heavily influenced Milan’s first win at home. If he had a little more luck, it could’ve easily been a hat-trick for Pato; nonetheless it was an impressive evening for the youngster, who the world had seen as the future of the game for years to come after this evening at the San Siro.