For six and a half years he has lived the almost impossible dream of being one of European football’s top strikers. For six and a half years he has hissed terror into the heart of every defender. For six and a half years he has walked the tightrope of celebrity life. But not anymore. He has now tumbled spectacularly from the tightrope and fallen with a massive thud on the bottomless abyss. The saddest fragment of the whole ghastly saga is that there’s no one to sympathise with him.
For Adriano Leite Ribeiro life that was once a symphony is now a broken song whose lyrics lack coherence and are littered with wailings. Just one and a half seasons back, the 25-year old Brazilian football star was one of the most feared strikers in the Italian Serie A, one was practically indispensable for his club Internazionale FC. But now he is a degenerating liability who can be disposed of and actually has been disposed of.
Adriano has been offloaded from Inter Milan to Sao Paolo for 6 months and the ever darkening fear is that the Serie A champions might not even take him back if Adriano cannot provide a strong case for his return. Coming back to his homeland after a successful career in Europe is of course what every Brazilian footballer wishes but for Adriano that wish has been granted prematurely. He returns home, or be it for 6 months at the moment, as an on-loan player under a cloud with question marks hovering dangerously over his attitude, mentality, personality and even more importantly on his ability to reinvent himself.
Adriano might have been the best player and top scorer at the 2005 FIFA Confederations Cup and might have hammered 33 and 20 goals in all competitions in the 2004-2005 and 2005-2006 seasons respectively but that was just that – a temporary encapsulation of genius; and now the vessel has been shattered into shards. For the last 18 months, the 6’2″ striker with a lightening pace rarely associated with one of his height and a lethal left has eroded steadily and without any suspicion.
He is still only 25 but Adriano is already looking more and more like a ghost of his former self, a skeleton in desperate need of flesh. And he sailing to Brazil is not as much a small window of opportunity for redemption as a last gasp chance to rediscover himself and grace the blue-and-black of Inter Milan once again.
Adriano managed just 5 goals in 23 league appearances for Inter last season. He was hardly the third choice striker for manager Roberto Mancini and was well below Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Hernan Crespo and even the forever-destined-to-be-a-substitute Julio Ricardo Cruz in the pecking order. He looked unfit, uninterested, uncommitted and seemingly beside himself with anything and everything that is bad. Just as his Brazilian international team mate Ronaldinho has observed a subtle dip in form immediate to a catastrophic World Cup in 2006 for Brazil, Adriano too has discovered himself in a free fall heading onto the ground.
For Adriano, the loss in form owes much to his personal life being in shambles and intruding into the professional domain. If his father’s unfortunate death struck a hard cord inside him, then the subsequent break up with his girlfriend Daniela in the autumn of 2005 when she was impregnated with his child was the final nail in Adriano’s coffin. Adriano might be a bulky person largely considered as overweight (as is the accusation against all Brazilian players who tend to misfire) but as his Inter Milan team mates would testify, his mind and mentality is still locked in his teenage years. He is like a child trapped hopelessly in a man’s body, a youngster who failed to cope with his father’s death and who has sought ill-advised means of “entertainment” (by that we mean booze and women) to pull himself away from the inevitable mental distress of a failed love life.
There have been constant reports of Adriano blowing £30,000 regularly at nightclubs on “entertainment” and the situation got so worse that his mother had to be sent a SOS message and shipped in from Brazil. But that barely helped Adriano to improve on the pitch. Inter boss Mancini had had enough, lost his patience with the Brazilian and blocked him out of his side’s UEFA Champions League this season.
This season Adriano has played just 4 matches for the Nerazzurri in the Italian Serie A, has score just once and has once again failed to recreate himself. He was sent to Sao Paulo’s training centre on a one-month fitness and psychological recovery programme and thereupon Inter embarked on a 6-month loan deal with the Brazilian powerhouse. The fact that Inter are paying 70% of his wage bill at Sao Paulo should at least augur some hope for all those who’ve even the remote desire to see the Brazilian rescale the mountain.
The man whom they affectionately call The Emperor is now without a kingdom. All he can do is fight and claim the lost status. At 25, Adriano is still quite young, has time on his side and given his undeniable talent, there’s no doubt smearing his potential. But can Adriano strengthen his self-conviction, stem his fragile mentality and beat himself to transform from a naughty boy to a mature footballer? Let’s wait and watch.