Adriano looking for redemption
Adriano will get a fresh opportunity in the Brasileirao with Tite's Corinthian's side. (Photo by Wagner Carmo/Inovafoto/LatinContent/Getty Images)
“It’s been hard, but I have to thank the support of the players, the coaching staff, the board and Ronaldo, who gave me great strength,” chimed a relaxed Adriano, perched cheerfully on a stool inside the offices of his new club, Corinthians, in an interview with Globo TV last week. And it has been hard. Very hard, in fact, for the 29 year-old, who kept the discussion largely around football this time; there would be no repeat of the tears we witnessed when he sat down with the same station two years ago.
The last six years or so have been difficult for the multi-Scudetto winner. In 2005, the Brazilian international was one of the very best around, hammering home goal after goal in Italy’s Serie A for Inter, with suggestions that Roman Abramovich was ready to shell out a record-breaking £60m to bring him to London, if Florentino Perez didn’t make him a Galactico first. He was fast becoming a key player for his country, too, contesting two Confederations Cup campaigns and helping Brazil to the Copa America as the competition’s top scorer in 2004. The footballing world had bowed at his feet. But by then the wheels were already coming off.
“I ask for patience from the fans,” the big man added, his eyes drawn sheepishly to those exceptionally gifted feet of his. “I am relaxed, and in the end everything will be OK.” For Adriano Leite Ribeiro, ‘OK’ is something he has to strive for. The untimely death of his father in 2004 has largely been attributed as the catalyst for the bouts of depression that have dogged the self-proclaimed ‘Emperor’ ever since. Alcoholism, trouble with the law, late nights and the subsequent lack of punctuality has cost him.
At 29, Adriano should be at the height of his powers. He returned from Italy this past summer with a realistic chance of being without a club this season. 2009 was supposed to have kicked off his redemption after Inter Milan agreed to terminate his contract. He led Flamengo to the Brasileiro title as the league’s top marksman before heading back to Italy to join Roma last year. His career back on track, it was time to put the most untimely of blips behind him. Instead, he made just five appearances in seven months before having his contract rescinded.
“I have not been able to succeed at Roma, mainly due to injuries,” he admitted earlier this year. “I have lost a lot money, but I want to be happy and with my family.” Adriano has always wanted to be with his family. Born and raised in the Vila Cruzeiro favela, he didn’t have much, but has always spoken of having his people. In Italy, he revealed he felt lost without them. Following the Roma debacle, another return to Flamengo seemed likely. Having already signed Ronaldinho, ‘Fla’ was unwilling to take the gamble; so too it seemed were everyone else in his homeland. Adriano was another self-destructive ‘idol’ that had let the fame and fortune get the better of him. He wasn’t worth the risk.
However, to suggest Adriano’s problems are entirely of his own doing would be unfair; they stem from something more visceral. “It’s no joke. It’s not about lack of discipline,” said a worried Jose Mourinho in 2009 after failing to get the best out of the Brazilian at Inter. “I am sad, not angry… I am concerned for the person rather than the player.”
And there’s the crux of it. All too often, we, as football fans, seem unable to separate the two. Troubled young men such as Adriano are viewed as discordant and self-destructive, deserving of everything they get, or in some cases, don’t. Paul Gascoigne – whose demons are not too dissimilar to Adriano’s – is often derided as a ne’er-do-well, guilty of wasting his talent. Yet had his career been ruined by physical injury alone, as, for example, Dean Ashton’s had, he would undoubtedly be remembered differently. It would be nice to think that football has come a long way since John Gregory asked what on earth a professional footballer has to be depressed about. After reading through some of the column inches dedicated to Adriano over the past 12 months, it seems little progress has been made.
Adriano did eventually find a home when old pal Ronaldo helped him seal a move to Corinthians. He was immediately ruled out for five months with an ankle injury and gained ten pounds. However, five of those have now been shed and the Emperor is well on his way to match fitness, desperate to help his team push for the league title. He was hoping to make his debut next week, and against the club that broke his heart when they rejected him earlier this year, but now looks more likely to return two weeks later. “[To come] back against Flamengo would be very exciting,” he said. “I wanted to [rejoin them], but I couldn’t. I’ve always wanted to play for Flamengo.”
Fighting fit, there’s also a new woman in his life – one Adriano believes will help him focus on getting his career, and life, back on track. “We do not live together and we met in Sao Paulo,” he revealed. “She is totally different from the other girlfriends [I’ve had.]. She’s quiet. I am well, thank God, and I hope this relationship will last a long time.” So, too, does Adriano think of his other new relationship. “I think I have a good chance of entering the hearts of the Corinthians fans,” he says. “I will give everything to win this crowd over, like Ronaldo did.”
Last time Adriano left Italian football he admitted he had “lost the joy of playing.” This time, he stepped off the plane vowing to “keep on playing.” He hasn’t been able to do so yet and will likely never reach the remarkable heights he did half a decade ago, but he’s still here. He’s still playing. And, for now at least, he’s happy. For some of us, that’s achievement enough.