“It was time for this personal project. I apologize to the supporters of Atlético Mineiro,” were the words of Argentina centre-forward Lucas Pratto on Thursday as he announced his departure to Brazilian rivals São Paulo.
Pratto proved to be an outstanding signing for Atlético Mineiro and after bursting into Edgardo Bauza’s Argentina side as back-up to Gonzalo Higuaín it was expected that if the 28-year-old were to leave Belo Horizonte it would be for Europe.
However, São Paulo have flexed their considerable financial muscle and snapped up one of the best forwards in the Brasileirão for a fee of $6.2 million for 50% ownership.
Former club Vélez Sarsfield are in line to pick up $400,000 as part of the deal.
“I had said that when an important offer arrived, for the club and for me, it was going to be analyzed,” Pratto explained in a press conference after not being included in Atlético Mineiro’s latest squad on Thursday.
“We waited for a proposal from Europe and it did not come but an important one from a Brazilian club did.
“It was the ideal time to accept a deal and it is one that is the best for the club and for me. I apologize to the supporters because I did not win an important title here, which I would have loved to.
I thank Atlético Mineiro for everything they did for me. I leave with a very special affection and hope to return someday.”
Something of a late bloomer, Pratto spent many of the early years in his career out on loan but was outstanding when he returned to Argentina to play for Vélez Sarsfield. The former Boca Juniors youth player’s goals, tireless workrate and ability to bring his teammates into play helped El Fortín to the title and it wasn’t long before another shot at Europe, following a failed switch to Genoa, was being touted.
That European transfer never materialised but Atlético Mineiro eventually took Pratto to Brazil for $5 million and aside from being named the best foreign player in the 2015 Brasileirão, El Oso has forced his way into the Argnentina squad.
Bauza has already confirmed that Pratto is his second-choice number nine and so remaining in Brazil will do his chances no harm.
However, leaving Atlético Mineiro, Pratto gives up a place in this year’s Copa Libertadores and instead faces Defensa y Justicia in the first round of the Copa Sudamericana for São Paulo.
The talented forward will link up with fellow Argentines Julio Buffarini and Andrés Chávez at his new club.