On a different timeline, Alexandre Pato would be starring under the bright lights of UEFA Champions League games and in the World Cup with his native Brazil.
That’s not a far-fetched possibility, either, for a one-time wunderkind whose early career saw him thrive at AC Milan, where he won 2009’s Golden Boy Award, and then net 10 goals across 27 caps with the Seleção.
But things didn’t unfold that way, of course, and the Orlando City SC striker would like to set the record straight as to why.
“I think it’s time to put things right,” Pato wrote in a moving Players' Tribune story. “I’m 32 now. I’m happy. I’m fit. I’m not bitter about anything or anyone. If you want to believe the rumors, I’m not here to change your mind.”
Those whispers surrounded Pato’s rise and eventual journey through the proverbial footballing desert, with limited returns at Chelsea and Villareal before a spell in China and various stints at Brazilian Serie A clubs, where his career started with boyhood Internacional.
Injuries, mental health, relationships and possible transfers are all central to Pato’s story. He knows what the possibilities were for club and country, and how fans discuss the what-could-have-beens.
“Could my career have gone differently? For sure,” Pato said. “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."
Now, he’s in his second season at Orlando and has become a key player for Oscar Pareja’s team. But even this stop included a major obstacle, a knee injury that derailed most of his 2021 campaign. Pato “could have broken down,” he freely admits.
Pato’s instead roared back and found new joy with the Lions. The days of being told he’d become a world-great and Ballon D'Or winner got to him, though, leading to a greater appreciation for what he has today.
"I began dreaming too much," Pato said. "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."
For more from Pato, check out the entire Players' Tribune story here.