Pato: The new Michael Owen, or Alessandro Nesta?

Well, that's torn it: Alexandre Pato's out of action for another three weeks or so.

The young Brazilian was meant to be the catalyst to AC Milan’s assault on the Champions League and domestic title. Instead, he has hardly stepped on the pitch since the turn of the year and one objective has already disappeared over the horizon.

The sight of the once turbo-charged young fellow limping off the pitch on Sunday was an improvement on just three weeks ago when he was stretchered off with the same problem: a tear to the femoral bicep (part of the hamstring muscle group, to the layman).

Pato is only 20 so the worrying aspect of ‘The Duck’ hobbling away from the club’s Milanello training ground brings to mind the case of Michael Owen who became all too familiar to quacks – this time of the white-coated variety.

The Englishman was another precocious talent who, since sprinting through the Argentina defence at France 98, has spent the majority of his subsequent career getting to know the medical team rather than the playing staff.

This latest setback raises concerns that the South American is going to end up as the Serie A sick-note. He's certainly had his fair share of injuries for one so young.

There was a twisted ankle back in 2008, in his first season in Italy, although he bounced back like a spring lamb and it seemed nothing more than a minor inconvenience on what would be a stellar rise to fame for a boy being mentioned in the same breath as Lionel Messi.

He had a setback towards the end of the campaign but this latest problem has been going on since before the winter break and seems no nearer clearing up.

The Milan Lab – the club’s very own Area 51 where secret tests are carried out, presumably on how to reserve the ageing process on footballers – was established after the club bought the crocked Fernando Redondo, who played something in the region of four games per season in four years.

The lesser-spotted Redondo

That costly oversight on the fitness of a player was to be eradicated and, shrouded in mystery, the Lab was established.

Those with clipboards should know a thing or two about aches and pains - and according to most sports physios a hamstring injury can take up to two months to heal properly.

Milan don't have the luxury of time, so maybe that is why the player has pulled up three times in that exact period of time.

Adriano Galliani’s comments that he was hoping to have the wunderkind back in action for the Napoli game must have sent the club’s physios into a right old panic. What were they to do – defy the orders of Silvio Berlusconi’s right-hand man or get the lad out there and hope that it all worked out for the best?

Well the second option failed miserably and now the problem seems to have been exacerbated. However, there have been some sly suggestions slipping into the public domain  – possibly emanating from Area 51 – that it's all in Pato’s head.

The same assertion was made about Alessandro Nesta and his bad back when he disappeared off the radar for 18 months and pitched up in Miami.

Nesta had been under the knife one time too many times for his own liking and hightailed it to the States in the search of some good old-fashioned long-term rest, which got him back playing again.

That didn’t go down too well back at the Lab, where they claimed they could have solved the problem a lot sooner and when the 33-year-old did listen to their advice: another trip to the surgeon had him back in action again.

Unfortunately, the Roman has reclaimed his sicknote crown after picking up a knee injury a few weeks ago which may keep out for the rest of the season.

It will be interesting to see if Pato attempts to board a flight for Brazil for some alternative treatment back home or whether he is bundled into a blacked-out SUV to “disappear” for a while and then sold off to Cheslea.

Either way the mysteries of what really goes in the Milan Lab are not likely to become any clearer in the meantime.

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