For many, Alexandre Pato's is a story of what might have been.
In 2008/09, he scored 18 goals in 42 matches in all competitions, winning the Golden Boy and Serie A Young Footballer of the Year awards. By the end of the following season, he'd netted another 16 goals in 33 appearances, lifted the Serie A title with AC Milan, and was scoring with regularity for Brazil.
But that is undoubtedly where Pato's career peaked. From there, a number of injuries and inconsistent form sent him on a pit-stop tour of global soccer, turning out for the likes of Corinthians, Sao Paulo, Chelsea, Villarreal, and Tianjin Quanjian.
Nowadays, of course, Pato is in Florida with Orlando City. Injury struck once again in his first year, limiting him to just four MLS regular-season appearances. But in 2022, Pato has already played 14 times across all competitions, scoring three goals and assisting another three.
And after everything that's happened, that's what Pato is thankful for; being fit and able to step out onto the field, week after week.
“I think it’s time to put things right,” Pato told the Players' Tribune. “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.”
It'd be easy for someone with Pato's story to lose faith in soccer and cast the game aside, given the level number of setbacks he's endured across his career. But with his body seemingly going strong and his mental health in 'great' shape, the 32-year-old is still well 'in love' with the game.
“Could my career have gone differently? For sure,” Pato added. “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."
During those early days with Milan, Pato was regularly tipped as a future Ballon d'Or winner - a pressure he struggled to deal with.
"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."
Nowadays, Pato places value in very different things. No longer a young Brazilian kid finding his feet in Milan, the striker is older and wiser. Family and well-being are his Ballons d'Or now.
"As you get older, you realize 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," Pato said.
He added: "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 Ballons d’Or.
"If life is a game, I have won."