by James Oddy
Picture the scene. The Mestalla, Valencia hosting Inter Milan. Inter produce a fabulous display of European football, thrashing the Spanish team 5-1. Established stars such as Christian Vieri and Dejan Stankovic produce some excellent moments, but the golden booted Brazilian nicknamed ‘the Emperor’ steals the show. Direct, aggressive, quick and nimble enough to pull off a Cryuff turn despite having a hulking 6ft 3-inch frame, Adriano looks like a man who can finally bring back some glory days for Inter. At the age of 22, he looks certain to cement his status as one of the world’s elite strikers.
Cut to eight years later, and a large man, both in height and girth, is filmed revelling in a Rio nightclub. He loves the crowd he says. He’s one of them, from the slums, he announces. He couldn’t care less if this video ends up getting him back in the papers. At the age of 30, this is where Adriano finds himself.
The story of Adriano is not all that unique. Brazil seems to produce the most naturally gifted footballers on the planet that then have the capacity for self-destruction. Ronaldo and Ronaldinho both succumbed to the party lifestyle, and players such as Real Betis’ Denilson and Mario Jardel mixed the sublime with the ridiculous to a maddening extent. Yet Adriano seems to be the ultimate embodiment of this trend.
Touted as a next big thing upon making his Flamengo debut as a teen, he was snapped up by Inter, and bagged his first goal off the bench against Real Madrid in a friendly. He showed promise in a loan move to Fiorontina, but it was a co-ownership deal with Parma that saw him explode into Serie A. His partnership with Adrian Mutu, another troubled individual, was one of the most deadly in Europe for a season. However, Parma’s parent company’s financial troubles caused Mutu to leave that summer for Chelsea, and while Adriano stayed for the first half of the next season, it was no great surprise as he was brought back to Inter to revive another flagging season. That he certainly did, scoring the goal which secured Inter’s late surge into the Champion’s League positions, pipping Lazio and, funnily enough, Parma.
The next season was his greatest at the San Siro, forming another formidable forward pair, this time with Christian Vieri, as the pair combined to score 45 goals. Typically though Inter barely dented the league, finishing some way behind eventual winners Juventus.
However, the Calciopoli scandal was soon to rock Italian football, and Inter were the club, which were poised to capitalise. Unfortunately for Adriano though, his career started to derail at an alarming rate as Inter began to establish a stranglehold on the division. They were awarded one Scudetto and won three outright, but Adriano’s contribution to the wins diminished year on year. He missed training sessions due to his late nights and the sudden death of his father seemed to affect him deeply. On the pitch, Zlatan Ibrahimovic had become the focal point for the nerazzuri, making it harder for him to secure a run of games.
It’s interesting to contrast Zlatan and Adriano, and how their careers have turned out. Both have similar physicality and playing styles. In fact, it could be argued that Adriano was the more athletic, at least when he was fit and in form, and he was also indisputably superior in the air. But while Zlatan oozes confidence (to the point of parody at times), Adriano always seemed fragile, and as things began to fall apart for him, a loan move to Sao Paulo was used as a way to get him back in the right frame of mind.
This proved semi successful, but his return to Inter quickly fizzled out, and at the age of 27, his contract was cancelled.
Since then, he has shown flashes of his old self, particularly with his regular stints at the club he started out with, Flamengo, alongside the ridiculous and the absurd. An aversion to training sabotaged his chance at an Italian redemption with Roma, while alcohol and gun controversies have dogged him since his return to Brazil. The likelihood of him adding to his forty eight caps for the national team (during which he had a return of 27 goals) seems unlikely and it’s an immense waste for a player who could have played an integral part in a World Cup staged in his own country.
But while many would blame Adriano for wasting his sublime talent, I feel he deserves some sympathy. Certainly, he must except some share of the blame but the idea of going from a crime ridden, poverty stricken favela to the intensely competitive and professional surroundings of a giant of European football is mind-boggling. That isn’t to say players have not done it previously; many adapt well and build a better life for themselves and their family. But it appears Adriano was simply unable to make this happen, and thus, on his third stint with Flamnego, he has reportedly missed training sessions yet again as he was filmed in yet another nightclub.
It’s been a dramatic and humbling fall for the ex Emperor of Europe.