Over the past couple of weeks, practically since the moment that Corinthians lifted the Club World Cup in Japan, AC Milan striker Alexandre Pato has been linked with a move back to Brazil to join the São Paulo-based giants.
Pato, 23, joined the Rossoneri from childhood club Internacional five years ago and has gone on to record a fantastic strike rate in his time in Italy. However, only once in five seasons has he managed to make 30 league appearances—with injury a common theme over recent seasons in particular.
With both appearances and goals drying up, Milan have found that they cannot rely upon the Brazilian to replace Zlatan Ibrahimovic—as had been the plan. Offers from major European sides have also dried up.
However, given his relative youth, why would he consider a return to Brazilian football at this stage? Let's take a look.
Should Pato return to Brazil, it is important to note that he would not be returning to the league of five or 10 years ago. The Brazilian championship is thriving and is easily comparable to several of Europe's bigger leagues.
Over the past season, we have seen four strong teams challenging for the league title, as well as Brazilian winners of the Copa Libertadores, Copa Sudamericana and Club World Cup—where Corinthians were crowned deserved winners over Chelsea.
Brazil has never had a problem producing talent. Rather, the issue has been retaining those players past their teenage years. That is beginning to happen, and, even if their exit is at some stage inevitable, the league is benefiting from their presence.
Those based abroad, too, have seen the improvement and are beginning to head back younger, although the improved financial pulling power of the big clubs is, of course, also a major factor. In the past week, São Paulo have sealed the capture of 2002 World Cup veteran Lúcio from Juventus, while Renato Augusto has joined Corinthians from Bayer Leverkusen.
Robinho, Diego Lugano and Elias are all tipped to also be heading to Brazil this January, with next season's Brasileirão looking to be the strongest in many years.
Through his five-year spell in Italy, Pato has just one Serie A title and one Italian Super Cup to his name—not the greatest return for that length of time for one of the giants of the Italian game.
Currently, as the Italian league goes on its winter break for the 2012-13 season, Milan lie in seventh place in the table—a whopping 17 points behind leaders Juventus—and have a struggle on their hands to get into the top three to secure Champions League qualification.
That, in itself, may be reason for Pato to think about moving on. There appears to be little chance of Milan challenging for titles domestically anytime soon, whilst dreams of continental glory are even further from reality. It is not a great time to be a Milan supporter.
What Corinthians would offer Pato is the chance to challenge for major titles. They may not be as prestigious as the Champions League or Serie A in the eyes of many European observers, but to Brazilians they carry great weight.
Against Chelsea, Corinthians proved their Copa Libertadores title was no stroke of luck. They are, indeed, a very good side. The addition of Renato Augusto, also, will only augment their current abilities.
If Pato wants to win titles, the Parque São Jorge may be the place to be.
When Pato has been fit this season, he has not always been guaranteed a starting position for Milan, with the Rossoneri not in a comfortable enough position to ease players back to fitness in league games.
The result of that, combined with the form of striker Stephan El Shaarawy, is that Pato has spent almost as many games on the bench this season as he has played—not that he has even played many.
With new Brazilian national team coach Luiz Felipe Scolari yet to make his first squad selection, there is a very real possibility that Pato could fall out of contention, with the World Cup just 18 months down the line.
Thus, could it be that a move to Corinthians would help him secure his place? The advantage of playing in Brazil, particularly for one of the bigger sides, is great. A couple of good performances and you have millions of people rallying for your inclusion, and, in this case, Corinthians support is not far off the biggest of the lot.
Pato would be the main man at Corinthians and be granted boundless column inches in the Brazilian media should he return. Should he want another crack at European football later in his career, he still will have plenty of time on his hands.
Having left home so young, there must be a part of Pato's thinking that would be grateful to return to his homeland and everything that is so familiar to him.
São Paulo, where Corinthians are based, is relatively close to the star's home state of Paraná, and, given the injury hell that has plagued him in recent times, the desire to return home should be underplayed.
In returning to Brazilian football, Pato has the chance to make himself an icon. Fred, for example, who returned to Fluminense relatively young after a stint at Lyon, has made himself into an iconic figure for the Tricolor Carioca and will go down as a major player in the club's history.
For Pato, this opportunity could present itself with Corinthians. The Timão are a wonderful side, but they are a side without an individual star. Pato, at a reported cost of €15 million, could be the figure that the fans will rally around if the side go on to enjoy sustained success in the coming years.
He may yet go on to become a club legend at Milan, but that would not hold the same emotional pull for the player as it would at one of Brazil's most successful clubs.
Brazilian football is no longer Europe's poor cousin, excluded from the party while its own players sit at the high tables of the game in the Old Continent.
While some clubs are still going through notable financial difficulties, those that have been prudently run are currently reaping the rewards of increased TV deals, massive sponsorships and third-party ownership.
Corinthians, with their massive support and political connections, are among the best placed to capitalise and would not require the Seleção star to drop his wages considerably to join.
The financial boom of the Brazilian economy, although it has slowed in recent months, is allowing the league to flourish, and, with a spate of new stadiums on the way, the clubs should continue to reap the rewards in the coming years.
The big Brazilian clubs will soon be in a position to compete with the majority of Europe—even if the oligarchy and lure of the Champions League will dictate that some players will remain out of reach.