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Adriano - an unfulfilled career

“Really, this is a dream, to be a champion again and, above all, to be happy.” These words from a 28-year-old striker, who was once feared as one of the top strikers on the planet, only begin to give a glimpse into the complex character that is Adriano Leite Ribeiro, commonly known simply as Adriano. For a man that was once considered as the long term replacement for Ronaldo in the Brazilian national side, he has had a turbulent career, mixing some brilliant performances with a troubled personal life that has, at times, threatened to overwhelm him and destroy his career in football.

Adriano was born and bred in one of the favelas in Rio de Janeiro, and started his career at Flamengo. His career had a dream start – fast-tracked into the first team less than a year after signing youth terms with the club, he scored his first ever professional goal within 5 minutes of his debut against Botafogo. After scoring 7 goals in 19 games, he made his international debut against Colombia at the tender age of 18, having only played his first competitive match less than 10 months before.

In the summer of 2001, he was signed by Italian giants, Inter Milan for a fee believed to have been over €5m, but struggled early on and was loaned out to Fiorentina in January, 2002, where he impressed, scoring 6 goals in only 13 appearances. He returned to Inter during the summer, but rapidly moved on, signing for Parma for €12.5m in a co-ownership deal that saw him playing for Parma, but meaning that Inter held 50% of his contract and had future options on him. He scored 15 goals during the 2002/03 and hit 8 in the first 9 games of the following campaign before Inter decided to buy out Parma’s 50% share for a fee of €29m – a huge fee, meaning that they valued him at around €58m. His impressive run continued and in the summer of 2005, he was rewarded with a new five year contract, having hit 40 goals for club and country in the previous 12 months and having picked up awards for the best player and top goalscorer in both the 2004 Copa America and the 2005 Confederations Cup. A legend appeared to be being born.

However, it was during this period that tragedies in his personal life began to affect Adriano. He was hit severely by the death of his father in late 2004, and then he was dumped by his partner during the summer of 2005, whilst she was pregnant with his first child. For a man whose teammates have reportedly claimed ‘his mind and mentality is still locked in his teenage years’, it was a difficult period. He began to seek refuge in ill-advised forms of entertainment, including alcohol and women. Reports surfaced that he was regularly blowing £30k in nightclubs, and his partying habits cost him his place in the national side, with his manager claiming he needed to ‘change his behaviour’ and ‘focus on football’. He was later dropped from the starting line-up at Inter following him skipping training the day after his birthday due to the effects of a length celebration the night before. Despite Inter flying his mother in from Brazil to try and help, his form plummeted and in November, 2007, Inter chairman, Massimo Moratti sent him on unpaid leave to train in São Paulo in Brazil, due to his poor physical condition and an ongoing battle with alcoholism.

In December, he was officially loaned to São Paulo to allow him to compete in the Copa Libertadores and he scored twice on his debut against Guaratinguetá. However, things were soon to go downhill as he was sent off against Santos a few months later and narrowly avoided an eighteen month suspension, escaping with a two game ban on a virtual technicality. Weeks later, he was fined for arriving late to training, then walking out early. He returned to Inter Milan early in June as Såo Paulo felt he was too unreliable to keep for the rest of the campaign.

His career back at the Guiseppe Meazza began well, scoring five goals at the beginning of the 2008/09 season. However, due to personal issues once again, he was allowed to return to Brazil early for the winter break, then his relationship with the club collapsed in April when he did not return following international duty, cutting contact with the club. On April 24th, it was announced that the club had terminated his contract by mutual consent. It was believed that he had abandoned his contract because he was unhappy in Italy and wanted to be closer to his friends back in the favela where he had grown up. Indeed, he came close to quitting football altogether claiming “I’ve lost the happiness of playing. I wouldn’t like to go back to Italy. I want to live in peace here in Brazil.”

However, he decided to continue his career and re-signed with his first club, Flamengo, the following month. He scored on his debut and went on to top the goalscoring charts with 19 goals in his first season, whilst winning the award for the Player of the Year. His improved performances caught the eye of the Brazilian national coach and regained his place in the national squad, scoring his first international goal for over 2 years against Venezuela and pushing for a place in the World Cup squad.

Unfortunately, once again his personal life has threatened to destabilise his prospects. In March 2008, he hit the headlines following a confrontation with his girlfriend whilst out partying with some of his teammates 36 hours before a crucial league match. He was reportedly attacked by her, pushing her away, then she damaged his car by hurling rocks at it. He then missed training the next day and there are reports that he has turned to alcohol again and is hiding out back in the favela. Marco Braz, a director at Flamengo, has said that “when he starts drinking, he can’t stop. He had to overcome this, but it started again because of this personal situation he is going through.”

It would be a huge shame if he is unable to overcome these personal demons, since he is undoubtedly a hugely talented footballer. His record of 27 goals in 48 appearances for Brazil is impressive and he has scored over 150 goals at club level at a rate of almost a goal every other game. His height, combined with exceptional pace and finishing ability, means that he is virtually unplayable on his day, and it is no surprise that he is still coveted by a number of European clubs, with Roma and Juventus the latest two sides to show an interest. However, if he is unable to put his alcohol problems to one side and concentrate on his game, a promising career may come to a tragic end earlier than he may have hoped.

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