“I thought Dida was going to pick a side, but he didn't move.”
It’s the would-be Panenka’s worst nightmare. There are many different ways one can fail when put on the spot. And often it’s not failure itself that most aptly captures the plight of our protagonists, but rather the method of their misadventures.
3-2 down as he made the long walk to the penalty spot on last week in a Copa do Brasil quarter-final against Gremio, Kleber’s coolly dispatched spot-kick had left no margin of error.
And so for Alexandre Pato, the image of his shot floating placidly into his former Milan teammate’s grasp provided a harsh reminder of the importance of the approach one adopts when seeking out their goals.
Corinthians were out. Defeat had arrived via the supernova of their floundering star. Pato had already attracted coach Tite’s ire by rushing off after a September home defeat to attend a Beyonce concert and frustrations boiled over as he was reportedly singled out for some particularly strong words in front of his colleagues as Gremio continued their raucous celebrations in the neighbouring dressing room.
“I expected him to hit it in the middle,” revealed 40-year-old Dida - now enjoying an Indian summer in Porto Alegre after coming out of retirement last year. It was an outcome all too predictable for the man who was supposed to catapult the reigning world champions to the next level.
Instead, the embarrassment of his blunder felt like the tipping point for a player who has quickly become emblematic of Corinthians’ failures this season.
Their recent success had been built on an approach which held the collective above the individual. There was no room for idols at the club after a Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos-led side crashed out of the Copa Libertadores preliminary stage to Deportes Tolima of Venezuela in 2011.
Deployed in something akin to a striker-less 4-4-2-0, in which they reduced space and smothered their opponents into submission, Corinthians bounced back to lift the 2011 league title with the best defensive record in the country.
“We don’t have a star, but we are a very strong team,” said Paulinho in July 2012 after they followed up domestic success by seeing off Boca Juniors to end a 100-year wait for the club’s first Libertadores title.
There was a slight shift in approach with the arrival of Peru striker Paolo Guerrero, who provided a reference point for an onrushing midfield, but the philosophy remained as they ground out a 1-0 victory over Chelsea to claim the World Club Cup five months later.
A symbol indicative of the recent rise of the Brazilian domestic game, Pato was the €15 million craque brought in to provide the individual they were missing. Thus far, he has failed to live up to the tag.
Eight goals in 15 starts Brasileirao starts for an ageing and underperforming side that has managed to find the net just 24 times in 31 outings – fewer only than rock-bottom Nauticio – may suggest the criticism he’s received has been slightly harsh, but the perception amongst many Timao fans has quickly deteriorated into one of an unnecessary signing who lacks commitment.
A few flashes of his undoubted talent were enough to earn him a return to the international setup, but a disastrous 45 minutes against Zambia leaves him facing an uphill struggle to make the World Cup. And as the season races towards its finale, it’s an ascent that looks increasingly ominous by the likely lack of Libertadores football coming his way.
Eight points clear of the drop zone with seven games remaining, Corinthians have flirted with relegation for much of the season. One victory in six has them looking uncomfortably over their shoulders rather than ahead to the eleven points which separate them from continental qualification. The Copa do Brasil had represented their best chance of retaining a place in the continent’s premier club competition.
Absence will leave only the mismatches of an archaic state championships for Pato to prove his worth – a stage sorely lacking the prestige to suitably impress national team coach Luiz Felipe Scolari. Fred is first choice and former Man City and Everton striker Jo has impressed with five goals in his last nine appearances for the Selecao, which almost certainly has him next in the pecking order.
With Scolari wanting three strikers in his World Cup squad, Pato would have breathed a huge sigh of relief when Diego Costa revealed he had opted for Spain over Brazil.
Pato has confirmed that he turned down a potential move to Tottenham Hotspur earlier this year and with rumours that Spurs are ready to reignite their interest – with the Brazilians press also reporting that Arsenal are showing interest – and a move to the Premier League could provide a potential escape route. One looking increasingly necessary.
A home World Cup comes around once in a lifetime. With so few official Fifa dates before the big show, time is fast running out.
Wednesday’s penalty has provided an unwelcome précis to the most recent chapter Alexandre Pato’s career, now he must strive to ensure it doesn’t become the image that defines his pre-World Cup story. Whether at Corinthians or elsewhere.
Follow Rupert on Twitter @Rupert_Fryer