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In many ways, Pato’s emergence reinforces the old image some people in Brazil have of the MLS. Another exceptional Brazilian, like Kaka or Denilson, who did his job at the end of his career. Pato was once a great hope and briefly shone for Internacional in Brazil and AC Milan in Italy. But then there were injuries and lapses in concentration and more columns in the gossip columns than on the sports pages. He never came very close to realizing his potential and, at 31, seems to have spent years wandering around – in England, Spain, China and even Brazil – in what may be one of his last chances in the United States.
This trend has weakened somewhat in recent seasons as veterans like Joao Paulo of Seattle Sounders FC, Heber of NYCFC and Arthur of MLS Cup winner Columbus Crew SC have become key cogs in their teams. Players who may not have settled in their home country or elsewhere, but who have found a home in the MLS.
Is Alexander Pato going to be a big hit at Orlando City? Alexander Schneider/Getty Images
People in South America, especially in places like Paraguay and Argentina, have seen that the MLS is much more than an elephant graveyard. The league has established itself as a buyer and developer of talent in these countries. But the idea of nurturing and developing Brazilian talent is new territory.
It is quite possible that the MLS has been snatching salaries from Brazilian clubs, which are considerably higher than elsewhere on the continent. But now Cincinnati FC have followed suit by acquiring 21-year-old striker Brenner from Sao Paulo for 15 million euros. This is the kind of actor who would have gone to Europe in recent years.
But the market has calmed down with the coronavirus pandemic. It makes more sense for clubs to consider a loan with an option to buy. Like Steve McQueen in The Cincinnati Kid, the Ohio-based company is betting on money by putting their money where their mouth is. They convinced Brenner that a move north would not only have advantages, but could also be a stepping stone to top European football. He’s a small striker, the kind of player who gives everything – and a lot has happened to him in the last 12 months. He did not break through in Sao Paulo and spent part of 2019 in Rio de Janeiro with Fluminense.
Brenner’s contract with Cincinnati FC could usher in a new era for young Brazilians in the MLS. Buda Mendez/Getty Images
But this all happened last year. Coach Fernando Diniz gave him confidence and he responded with a series of animated numbers. In the end, Dinis was probably a victim of his own success. Sao Paulo took the lead in the Brazilian standings. But the lack of titles in recent years has added to the pressure. Sao Paulo continues to lead the way in the final straight. But they succumbed to the pressure. Last month, the team’s bus on the way to the game was ambushed and attacked by a group of the club’s fans, who were furious that their chances of winning the title had slipped away from them.
It was the kind of moment that could inspire any young player to head for the door – and Cincinnati held the door open. Did he do the right thing? Of course there are risks. Brenner turned 21 last month. It’s a harsh reality, but the big European clubs now seem reluctant to spend money on someone from outside the continent who has reached the age of 24. They prefer to mold young men.
Brenner could be following the example of Paraguayan star Miguel Almiron. Signed by Atlanta United from Argentine club Lanus, he was well used by Tata Martino and moved to Newcastle United in the Premier League for big wins.
Almiron was still 24 years old when he left the MLS for Newcastle. Now, in his third season in England, he is doing much better. But it took him time to get his bearings, and a feeling he didn’t have. So Brenner will have to start – on a team only in its third season and opening a new stadium. The good news is, he can ride with her. Both he and Cincinnati are full of ambition, and it will be really interesting to see how far Brenner can get in Ohio.