Once revered as one of Europe’s top strikers, Adriano’s tremendous fall from grace has since set the tone for his career, and the man once known as ‘L’imperatore’ has now become the quintessential ”what if?” player. Once described by a Brazilian football agent as having ”above all the desire to win, to be a professional”, after his father’s death in late 2004, his career plummeted, and he became something of a Ronaldinho-esque playboy, missing training and being snapped in various compromising positions in Italy and his native Brazil. One of his most recent adventures, after a role with Le Havre failed to materialise, allegedly involved 18 prostitutes, and seemed to be something more fitting of an 18th century Turkish Sultan, than the former ”Emperor of Europe”
Adriano Leite Ribeiro, to give him his full title, grew up in Vila Cruzeiro, one of the toughest Favela’s in Rio de Janiero, a place famous for the brutal murder of an undercover Journalist Tim Lopes during the 2002 World Cup. The phrase ”Rags to riches” is bandied around with increasing frequency, particularly by people who view anywhere outside of Europe as third world and desolate, but the man who is to this day loved and fondly remembered in Vila Cruzeiro certainly seems to fit the bill. Admired for having strength, speed and technique, he is one of the few footballers to ever escape the dangers of Vila Cruzeiro, and was described as having ”a good heart”, and when he returned to Brazil in 2008 with Sao Paolo, many within the country saw it as the return of one of the country’s most loved sons.
There were never any hints that he would become a big time Charlie, and for the most part his career seemed to be going down the Ronaldo route, more than the Ronaldinho route, and all of this lends itself to one question; What happened to Adriano?
After his father’s death, a curious phenomenon came about- Adriano started to play some of the best football of his career, scoring 19 goals in 23 games for Brazil between 2004 and 2005, as well as 28 goals in 42 appearances in the 2004-5 season. However, in the background, things were slowly spiraling downwards for the Brazilian, as the void left by his father was filled with alcohol and various other bad influences. The Emperor was fighting internal battles that left him alienated at Inter Milan, and in poor shape both physically and mentally. Football is infamous for the lack of support it supplies its players with, both during and after their careers, and it seems that this is a most telling example- Adriano’s mental welfare took a backseat, even as he became something of a nomad within the club, for as long as he was scoring goals at a rate of knots.
However, between 2006 and 2008, the goals started to dry up for Adriano, and when he finally left Inter Milan in 2009, it seems that his return to his first club, Flamengo, might hint at some longing to be close to his father’s memory. Whatever his reasoning for returning, he did well, scoring 19 goals in 30 appearances; Unfortunately this was not enough for the club to extend his contract, as he fell out with officials at the club. A pattern was slowly starting to emerge, and this knack for ruining his relationship with those in charge would permeate the rest of his career.
Inconsistent spells at Roma, Corinthians and Atletico Paranaense followed, all marked by inconsistency and a blase attitude to hard work that the Adriano of days past would have sneered at. The Emperor had clearly taken the route of all the great Empires that came before him- Fading into the history books. Adriano had repeated chances to get his career back on track, and there is no doubting he had the ability- Even if his physical state has left a lot to be desired in recent years, as was highlighted when he signed for Corinthians. He is only 33 years old, and while his career is far from at it’s peak, the dreamer inside can’t help but feel that a player who once produced moments such as these might still have something to offer, at some level. To keep the extended metaphor alive, Napoleon had one final go at ruling the world, why can’t Adriano?
Since retiring, Adriano has spent much of his time with the people who at the start of his career he so desperately wanted to escape. Allegations of working with drug dealers, weapon possession, a playboy lifestyle and stories about his personal relationships collapsing around him all suggest that his downwards spiral will not slow down in the near future, and all one can hope for is that he fades into oblivion, rather than imploding spectacularly. Adriano will always be ‘L’imperatore”, and the memory of him as a hungry young striker, desperate to succeed, will fade but never disappear.