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Former AC Milan forward Alexandre Pato says he was forced to leave the Serie A club to save his career after being told he would never play again.

The Brazilian started having problems with injuries in 2011 and was restricted to just 25 appearances in two seasons. All attempts by Milan’s medical staff to get him back to full fitness failed and he has told Gazzetta dello Sport how he felt compelled to leave despite his love for the club, because he was told he had no future in the game.

“[Then AC Milan president Silvio] Berlusconi twice tried to stop me from going, the first time in January 2012 when the decision not to join PSG was not mine,” Pato said. “Barbara [Berlusconi] told me that her father wanted to talk to me, and the president called me over breakfast and said ‘you’re not leaving, you’re a symbol of this club’. I respected his wishes.

“I continued to have physical problems. For Berlusconi, I still could not be sold, but I went to him and convinced him. I told him that it was for my own good. I needed to rediscover faith in my body.

“There were people, even within Milan, who were telling me that I would never be able to play again, but I knew that it wasn’t going to end like that. That is why I left. I needed to change training methods and my recovery.

“At Corinthians, they changed my preparation and in 20 days and I started feeling good again.”

Alexandre Pato now plays for Tianjin Quanjian in the Chinese Super League.

After spells on loan with Sao Paulo and Chelsea, Pato moved to Villarreal a year ago, scoring on his debut in the Champions League playoff against Monaco. Six months later, he joined Tianjin Quanjian on a three-year contract, but the 27-year-old has not ruled out one day returning to Serie A.

“I’m in love with Italy,” he said. “I’m happy where I am in China right now and I’m delighted to make my contribution to this project developing football, but in the future who knows?”

Pato won the Scudetto with Milan in 2011, but injuries meant he made only 150 appearances in five and a half years in Italy.

Since moving to China, he has rediscovered some of his best form with seven goals in 14 appearances for Tianjin, after finding the back of the net only twice in the first half of last season for Villarreal.

Ben Gladwell reports on Serie A, the Italian national team and the Bundesliga for ESPN FC, UEFA and the Press Association. @UEFAcomBenG.

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