When a whole city – and plenty more besides – is watching your every move and you have been dubbed as the team’s saving grace, it takes a special talent to shrug off the pressure and live up to the expectation. When that team is AC Milan and those fans are the Rossoneri, that statement holds ever truer.

Alexandre Pato arrived in Italy in the summer of 2007, carrying the reputation as the new big thing in Brazilian football and sending the Italian media into an almighty frenzy. He was just 17 years of age yet the youngster bore the brunt of a hefty €22M price tag. However, owing to registration regulations, his Serie A debut for the Italian giants would have to wait until the January transfer window opened.

And the long wait just added to the anticipation, with pundits all over Italy trying to predict the impact he might have. Milan had responded to the serious doubts over their aging team by signing one of the game’s hottest young properties. For all the experience of Paolo Maldini, Filippo Inzaghi and Alessandro Nesta, the squad was crying out for an injection of youth to reignite their assault on the Serie A title and the Champions League.

Then-manager Carlo Ancelotti did not hesitate to trust Pato’s ability, handing him his league debut in the Milan red and black against Napoli on 13th January. The Brazilian, who had turned 18 in September, lined up alongside compatriots Ronaldo and Kaka as Milan unleashed one of the most deadly strikeforces in Europe.

That night would prove to be a fairytale for Pato as he surpassed even the loftiest of expectations. Milan terrorised Napoli, conjuring wave after wave of attacks and prompting the fans inside the San Siro to celebrate the start of a new era, in which their team would provide a genuine challenge to city rivals Inter.

Pato showed immediately that he was at home on the big stage, displaying good touch, quick feet and not a shred of fear. He seemed to have it all. The crowd applauded his every touch as Milan stormed to a 5-2 victory – remarkably their first home Serie A victory of the season.

Ronaldo opened the scoring but, after Napoli levelled, Pato demonstrated his sharp football brain by making a series of clever runs off the ball. One such run led to the home side’s second goal. Pato raced through, saw his effort stopped by opposition keeper Gennaro Iezzo but was soon celebrating as Clarence Seedorf netted the rebound.

He continued to be a sparkplug in the second half, bringing out the best in Ronaldo and helping Milan establish an advantage after the break. Kaka’s low shot made it 4-2 before Pato’s big debut moment arrived. Finally rewarded for his vibrant performance, he outpaced the Napoli back four and calmly picked his spot to put the gloss on a hugely promising display. Cue the bucket-loads of praise.

Ancelotti wasted no time in highlighting the quality of Pato’s Serie A debut. The Milan boss told reporters: “’Pato is a very fast player with great technical skills and he is a mature guy. His debut is on the same line as that of Kaka in Ancona. The feelings are the same, there’s value and there is a technically important element. I am really happy the fans applauded him and cheered him.”

Pato was equally thrilled with his promising start, saying: ‘I must thank Milan for giving me the opportunity to play. I am really happy for the game and for the goal that I have scored. I always dreamt of playing a game for AC Milan and that dream has come true. In the future I want to become a great player in the Milan shirt.’

He may well do just that. In the past two years, he has developed further as a striker, establishing himself as a key man for Brazil and Milan. The Italian giants remain in a rebuilding phase but Pato, as his debut suggested, has become a star.