What Really Happened to Alexandre Pato
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I know what you’re thinking. I’ve heard it for 10 years.
“What happened to Pato?”
“Why did Pato not win the Ballon d’Or?”
“Why was Pato always injured?”
Pah. I should have answered these questions long ago, man. There were so many rumours, especially in Milan. I partied too much. I had no desire. I was living in a fantasy world. But when I wanted to speak, I was told to “focus on my football.” I was too young to disagree.
Really, I was just a kid.
So I think it’s time to put things right. I’m 32 now. I’m happy. I’m fit. I’m not bitter about anything or anyone. If you want to believe the rumours, I’m not here to change your mind.
But if you want to hear what really happened, then listen up, brother.
The first thing you have to understand is that I left home very early. Maybe too early. When you are 11, you’re not ready for the world. You go out there chasing this dream, but you’re alone, and it’s very easy to get lost on the way.
God gave me a gift, that is clear. I did not even play on a full-size pitch until I was 10, because futsal was more fun. I still got a scholarship to a private school. Then one day I played in this school tournament, and a scout from Internacional asked my dad, “Sir, have you considered letting your son try 11-a-side?”
My dad was like, “Hmmmmmmm, you might have a point.”
So I got a trial with Internacional. That’s when we ended up at the sex hotel.
Hahaha. So let me explain. We didn’t have much money, right? My mom couldn’t work due to a bad back, so my dad had to provide for my older brother, my sister and me. He was out all day building motorways. We had food on the table, but at the private school I couldn’t even afford the books. I turned up with photocopies. I mean it.
My old man drove a Beetle. Nobody did that at the private school. I’d ask him to drop me off a block away from the front gate.
He was like, “But son, why?”
I’d be like, “Uhm, all my friends are here.” (None of them were.)
Then I’d get to the gate, and one time this cute girl was like, ““Heeeeeeeyyyyy, you’re the one in the Beetle, right? Hahahahaaaaaaaaaa.”
Anyway, you can see that my dad had to get creative sometimes. So the big day comes and we’re off to the trial at Internacional. The chance of a lifetime. We drive up from Pato Branco to Porto Alegre, nine hours on the road. We get there and my dad realises: he can’t afford a proper hotel.
What does he do? He checks us in at a sex hotel.
He’s like, “Son, this is the only place we can afford.”
And I’m all like, “Let’s do it, dad!”
HAHAHAHAH. Man, I had no clue!! I was too young to understand. I think our room had a tiny bed, that was it. The hotel was opposite of the Beira-Rio, so people were having sex while looking at Inter’s stadium.
I still joke with my dad about this. If he did that today he’d probably go to jail.
Next thing we’re walking around the stadium — beautiful — when a club director comes over. “Kid, shouldn’t you be training?” Damn. We’ve got the times mixed up. Worse, my boots are back at the sex hotel. So my dad sprints off to get a pair, but what’s in the bag he comes back with?
One boot with rubber studs. One boot with metal studs.
I’m like, “Dad, are you kidding me? How can I play with these???”
Luckily, there was this big shot at the academy called Cocão, who had a boot endorsement deal. He lent me a pair. Brand new. I’m like, UUUHH!! Let’s do this.
Thank God, I got accepted by Inter. But I swear, I wasn’t thinking about turning professional. In fact, I felt blessed to be playing at all. Maybe you have read about this story….
About a year earlier, I had tripped over a chain in a car park and fallen on my left arm. They bandaged me up so heavily, I was half human half mummy. I played a tournament with my arm in a sling. After the cast had come off, my friends and I played this silly game where whoever got up from the sofa would get kicked — unless he managed to run away. That was fun until I accidentally sat on the left arm, and the pain got so bad that it reached my legs.
The doctor did an X-ray and found a big tumour.
He said, “He must have surgery now, or we’ll have to amputate.”
I was shocked. I was 24 hours away from losing my left arm.
But you think my parents could afford the surgery? Pfffffft.
We were all like, What do we do now???
Well, my dad had to get creative again. He used to film my games. So he took the tapes to the hospital, sent a prayer to the skies, went into the doctor’s office and put on some grainy footage where this grinning kid was running around on a futsal court.
My dad said, “Doc, this is my son. I don’t know how to pay for this, but I just don’t want to see him stop playing.”
Then I don’t know what happened. Maybe the doctor thought I was good. Maybe he heard the voice of God.
The doctor said, “Don’t worry, the surgery will be on me.”
I’m telling you, it was a miracle.
I’ll never forget that name: Paulo Roberto Mussi. He gave me a new life.
The recovery was so painful, man. The bone bank didn’t have the bone that my arm required, so they had to take one from my hip. I also had to go back to the hospital in Pato Branco every six months for check-ups. One time my arm had turned GREEN. I was screaming. More injections, please!!
Luckily, I was able to play again. This is when I was accepted by Internacional.
But that led to more pain when I had to leave my parents. They couldn’t afford to live in Porto Alegre. They both said, “GO!” but I think it was even worse for them. After I left, my mom kept making the kitchen table as if I was going to eat there. She tidied my bedroom, as if I would come home any minute.
There were so many lessons they were yet to teach me. As a footballer, I was ready for the world. As a person, I was nowhere close.
I was definitely not ready for the Internacional academy. The youngest ones had to do everything for the older boys: Wash their underpants, clean their boots, get crisps at the petrol station. They had a game called Tag the Cattle, in which they’d call out the kids, grab a piece of wood and smack it against your leg. PAU! It was total horror.
I cried a lot. I hid in my room. I couldn’t tell my mom, because I knew she’d turn up the next day to take me home. So I just told her, “Ohhh, things are grrrrreeeat!”
The football? That was just fun. I went from the under-15s to the first team in no time. At 17, I was going to the Club World Cup, scoring in the semifinal and playing Barcelona in the final. That’s when I met Ronaldinho.
Maaaaaaan. We need a new word to describe this guy. He’s magical. He’s not a real person. That day I was not a rival, I was a fan. In the tunnel I told him, “Keep your shirt for me.” I almost didn’t care about the game!! Once it was over I was just like, “Where is he? Where is he??” Everyone ran to get his shirt, but he kept his word. He saved it for the little one. That’s Ronnie.
As you know, the Club World Cup is a HUGE deal in Brazil. When we won 1–0, it was the biggest moment ever for the Colorados. Soon we were driving around Canoas on a firetruck. I was holding the trophy, people were screaming my name.
Seven years earlier I had never played 11-a-side.
Now I was a world champion.
After that I could have gone to Barcelona, Ajax, Real Madrid. Why Milan? Well, let me ask you a question back.
Did you ever play with that Milan team on the PlayStation?
They were unreal!! Kaká, Seedorf, Pirlo, Maldini, Nesta, Gattuso, Shevchenko … Sheva was unplayable! O Fenômeno, the REAL Ronaldo. I had to play with that guy. What a line-up, man. They had just won the Champions League. Milan were the team back then. I was like, When’s the next flight?
When I landed in Milan, I had to do this eye test as part of the medical. Silly me, I pressed the palm of my hand too hard against my left eye, and when I opened it I could hardly see. The doctor put some dilating drops into it, but I went out of the room almost blind. So who turns up? The great Ancelotti.
He said, “Tutto bene?”
I said, “All good,” but I could barely see him. We took a picture together where my eyes were almost closed, hahahaha.
Carlo led me into the dining room. “This is Pato, our new striker.” Everyone stood up to shake my hand. Every. Single. One. Ronaldo, Kaká, Seedorf … WOW.
That was Day One at Milan. The video game had turned into reality.
Unfortunately, I didn’t turn 18 until the registration deadline passed in late August, so I missed out on the Club World Cup. I was born on 2 September. Had I come into this world a few days earlier, I’d be a double world champion. But just training with these legends was special. The Brazilian crew welcomed me with open arms: Ronaldo, Cafu, Emerson, Dida, Kaká. And no, I didn’t live at Cafu’s place!! — but we hung out a lot because his sons were almost my age. Cafu was very inclusive: Whenever he went out for a meal, he had to take a van because there were at least 10 people with him.
The Brazilians had my back even in training. There was this guy, Kakha Kaladze: Georgia captain, a giant. One day he chopped me down. BAM!
I was feeling all sorry for myself. But the Brazilians were like, “Oi! Be strong! If he kicks you, you kick him back.”
I was like, Me???
They said, “Yes, you! If anything happens, we’ll be there for you.”
So Kaladze gets the ball and I jump in. POM! He’s on the floor. I’m like, S***, what now? He gets up and comes over, and I’m thinking he’s gonna knock me out cold. He stretches out his hand aaaaaaaaand …
… he puts his thumb up.
“Buon lavoro,” he says. Good job.
That was the mentality they wanted at Milan.
Ancelotti became like a father to me. He even named his dog Pato. You saw that picture of him on the bus parade in Madrid, with the sunglasses and the cigar? Well, at Milan he’d turn up to training in a helicopter. He lived in Parma and his wife knew how to fly one. He’d step out like James Bond. If anyone lived with style, it was Carlo.
I learned so much from those legends. I sat next to Ronaldinho in the dressing room. After training, Carlo would tell Seedorf and Pirlo to hit long passes to me so that I’d know where to run. Pirlo said, “Just go and the ball will arrive.” It always did.
One day in my second season I arrived to practice free kicks. Who was there shooting?
I was like, You know what? Today I’ll just watch.
Of course, we all knew who ran the show. One day Silvio Berlusconi called me over. He was a great boss, always cracking jokes. I was actually dating his daughter Barbara. Anyway, I used to dribble a lot down the wing, zooooom past everybody. So Silvio said, “Why do you dribble out wide?” He wanted me to play in the centre. Soon Carlo and Leonardo were telling me the same.
That’s how I scored that goal at the Camp Nou. I was in the middle, I spotted a huge gap, kicked it and ran. When Valdés came out I was like, S***, what do I do? Dribble? Chip? I tried to shoot to his left, but the ball went between his legs. Wow. Blind luck.
I think even God wanted that to be a goal.
Deep down I was like, Is Guardiola watching this? I admired him a lot. He said that not even Usain Bolt could catch that boy. How cool is that? It was the best goal I ever scored. Even the commentary was beautiful.
People still come up to me and say, “Twenty-four seconds! Ventiquattro secondi!”
Man … those were the days I thought I’d make it to the very top.
The expectations were so great, you know? I was the supertalent, the sure thing. I was already playing for Brazil. The press writes about you, the fans talk about you, even other players hype you up.
PATO WILL BE THE BEST IN THE WORLD.
PATO WILL WIN THE BALLON D’OR.
I loved the attention. I wanted to be talked about. But you know what happened?
I began dreaming too much. Even though I was still working hard, my imagination was taking me all kinds of places. In my head I was already holding the Ballon d’Or. You can’t help it, man. It’s very hard not to get affected. Also, I had suffered like hell to get there. Why should I not enjoy it?
When I became the Golden Boy as the best young player in Europe, in 2009, I didn’t think about the Ballon d’Or. I was just having fun and OPA! — a prize.
I was unstoppable when I was living in the present.
But my head got stuck in the future.
Then in 2010 I started to get injured all the time. I lost confidence in my own body. I got scared of what people would say about me. I’d go into training thinking, I can’t get injured. If I did get hurt, I wouldn’t tell anyone. I’d be recovering from a muscle problem, then I’d twist my ankle and play on. It was swollen like a ball, but I didn’t want to let the team down. I wanted to please everyone. That was one of my flaws.
People were expecting me to score 30 goals a season, but I couldn’t even get on the pitch. I could handle that others doubted me. When the doubt comes from within? That’s different.
And you know what happens then? You find out who truly loves you. A lot of people around me went, Hmmmmmm, maybe he won’t make it after all.
I felt so lonely. At Internacional, I had always been overprotected. Everyone did everything for me. I didn’t know about injuries or fitness or diets — because I didn’t have to. All I had to do was play.
So when I struggled at Milan, I had no idea what to do.
Today every player has a team around him, right? Doctor, physio, fitness coach. Back then only Ronaldo had it. I had no relatives near me. My family was still in Brazil. I had an agent, but he didn’t take care of everything like agents do now. Sure, Milan had doctors and staff, but they had to look after 25, 30 players. They couldn’t be with me all the time.
One time I played against Barcelona after seeing a doctor in Atlanta. I’d been on a plane for 10 hours and had one training session. Of course I got injured! Nesta was going crazy like, “He shouldn’t have played, are you all mad??”
But I just didn’t get it. I was like, Let’s give it another go.
I didn’t know how the industry worked, you know? At Internacional I hadn’t even cared about my contract negotiations — just renew it so I can continue to play. The politics, the stuff behind the scenes, I didn’t understand it. Football is like a theatre, where you put on an act to get what you want. But I was out there thinking it was still just a simple game.
When the press wrote lies about me, I had no PR guy. I should have clarified things, but I never understood the importance of communicating well and building relationships. I was told that only the results on the pitch matter. This is simply not true.
Did I party a lot? Not as much as they would have you believe.
Did I lack desire? They were saying that because of the way I ran. But come on. Who really knows that? God made me the way I am. I can’t change that.
They wanted me to fly into tackles. They wanted blood, sweat and tears.
They got the tears alright. I paid a heavy price.
I should have told everybody the truth. You remember the PSG story? Galliani was in England to get Tévez, and PSG made me an amazing offer. I wanted to go — Ancelotti was there — but Silvio told me to stay. I was injured, so the fans were like, “Ooohh, Pato didn’t want to go! With Tévez we’d be champions!” The press went crazy, too. I was like, What? I had wanted to go!
I missed out on the 2010 World Cup. The PSG story came in January 2012. I was hardly playing at all. Mentally I was a wreck. I was the big flop, the kid on the big bucks, the guy even the fans wanted out.
I never understood the importance of communicating well and building relationships. I was told that only the results on the pitch matter. This is simply not true.- Alexandre Pato
Bro, do you know how hard I tried to come back?
I travelled the world, man. I saw every doctor worth seeing — and a few more. A guy in Atlanta made me hang upside down while he spun me around. Diagnosis? My reflexes weren’t aligned with my muscles. A doctor in Germany injected a liquid all over my back — the next day I was walking around in Munich airport all hunched over because of the pain. One doctor stuck 20 needles into me every morning and every evening. I could go on forever.
I was seeing doctor number 6, 7, 8 … every one of them was saying something different. I was like, Damn, what do I have???
I cried and cried and cried. I feared I would never play football again.
That’s why I went to Corinthians in January 2013. Yes, I wanted to go to the 2014 World Cup, but I also wanted to work with Bruno Mazziotti, Ronaldo’s physio. Once I got there they removed a muscle from my arm to do a biopsy. I was lying in bed shaking with pain. After 20 days they found out that some of my muscles had shortened due to the injuries. I had more muscle in the front of my legs than in the back. My whole body was out of balance.
Thank God, Bruno got me fit again. Since 2013 I have only had three muscle injuries, I think.
It was just a pity how things turned out at Corinthians.
I arrived there as a celebrity. When you earn big money in Brazil, where the inequality is bad, the fans demand a lot. So when I missed that panenka against Grêmio in the quarterfinal of the Copa do Brasil, I got all the blame. Yes, it was a terrible penalty, but it’s not true that my teammates punched me. Nobody did a thing. The fans wanted to kill me though. I was travelling around São Paulo with armed body guards and a bulletproof car with tear gas bombs. The fans who broke into our training ground had bats and knives. It was scary. Things happened that have no place in football.
You know why I played so much better at São Paulo? They looked after me properly. There I just had to play. But when Chelsea called me, I was still dreaming of Europe.
Unfortunately, I paid the price again for being overprotected.
I still didn’t get it. I thought that Chelsea would loan me for six months and then I’d sign for three years. I didn’t realise that they could say no after the loan. Had I known? I would have gone elsewhere. It was a pity, because I was training really well, and the coach only played me twice. I never understood why.
Then I was back at Corinthians, where people were trying to push me out. I wanted to stay in Europe, so I did something I had never done before. I called up Daniele Bonera, who I knew from Milan and who was playing for Villarreal. “Bony! You think they’d be interested?”
Well, the coach, Marcelino, offered me a deal and I was off to Spain. OPA! I had engineered my own transfer.
Contacts. Relationships. This was how the game worked.
That was a turning point for me. All these years I had been acting as if I was still that kid at Internacional. At 27, I realised I had to change. I had to put on my own act.
I had to take charge of my own destiny.
Sadly, Villarreal didn’t work out, but Tianjin Tianhai was a revelation. When I went to China, I broke up with my girlfriend and moved there with a friend. Why? To connect with my inner self. I had never had the time to look at the big picture. Now I was like, Wait a minute, what do I like? What matters to me?
I began to focus on mental health and relationships. I saw a therapist. I learned how to find happiness in hard work. I was still having fun, but I was treating football as a job, you know? I took responsibility for every aspect of my career. In Milan I had gone the first year without speaking Italian. In China I learned about the food and the culture straight away. I was even dishing up rice and noodles in my flat.
The kid matured. I was playing well. I understood that there is much more to football than what happens on the pitch, and that felt so fulfilling.
It was like my life just … clicked.
But then I went the wrong way. After China I was still single, so I decided to enjoy my freedom. I went to Los Angeles. I wanted the best hotel, the best car, the best parties. I ended up at this place where a girl was snorting coke right next to me. Suddenly I was like, What am I doing here?
This was not what I wanted. It was an empty world. I asked a friend, “Am I really going to spend the rest of my life alone?”
So I go back to Brazil and text an old friend, Rebeca. “You want to hang out?” We grab a coffee and within seconds I’m like, Yes, this is what I want.
The next time I see her she says, “We’re going to church.”
Man, it was a revelation. The bible had all the answers I was looking for. I turned my head to the sky and said, “Lord, I no longer want this life.”
That day my life changed forever.
Since then I have lived in a different reality. When I went to Orlando and got that knee injury last year, I could have broken down. The next day I resolved to come back stronger, and now I know everything about the knee. Got an injury? Call Doctor Pato.
Could my career have gone differently? For sure. But it’s easy to look back and say what I should have done. When you are there, you don’t see the big picture. So, no regrets. Look at the bright side, man. I’m fit. My mental health is great. I’m still in love with football.
Why would I be bitter? We only get one chance to live in this world.
I still believe I can go to the World Cup. Look at guys like Thiago Silva and Dani Alves; they’re still playing well at 37 and 39.
But these things happen on God’s time. I live only for today. The rest is up to Him.
As you get older, you realise what makes you happy. When I left home, I thought football had everything I wanted. I went to Italy, England, Spain, China. I suffered, I cried, I screamed with pain. I was always alone.
Maybe I didn’t become the best player in the world. But, brother, let me tell you something.
I have an amazing relationship with my family.
I am at peace with myself.
I have a wife that I love.
The way I see it, I have a lot of Ballon d’Ors.
If life is a game, I have won.