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Adriano – A Career in Limbo

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Adriano Leite Ribeiro, known to his friends (ok, to basically everyone) as simply Adriano, has decided to take a break from football. The Brazilian powerhouse, who netted 29 goals in 47 games for his national side, has “lost the joy of playing” football. He has “lost the happiness” that is so widely associated with beautiful game. For a Brazilian in particular, it was an incredible outcome.

Adriano made his decision not to return to European giants Inter Milan a few weeks ago, after traveling on international duty for Brazil’s World Cup qualifiers against Ecuador and Peru. The 27-year-old does not know how long he will be away from the game, saying that he could be out for “one, two, or three months”.

He has dismissed money as irrelevant in the decision he has made or in any decision he will make, unperturbed that his break will surrender a monthly salary at Inter in the region of 400,000 Euros. It is essential that he “be happy in his job”, lamenting the “big pressure” that has always been a trademark of the Italian game. He insisted that he is “not sick, an alcoholic, or a drug user”. He simply needs a break, time with his family and friends back in Rio de Janeiro where he grew to love the game.

The whole saga is just another chapter in what has been a hectic career for Adriano. A career of proud highs; winning the Serie A title on more than one occasion; and overwhelming lows, with chaos off the pitch and on it. It all started in 1999, when Adriano’s skill and power was on display back in his homeland for Flamengo.

Brazilian Brilliance

In typical fashion, the big club’s watched on like vultures, keen to sniff out any blossoming talent in the hotbed of past football greats. Inter Milan took the striker to Italy, giving him a brief spell at Fiorentina on loan, where his Serie A education would begin. After an impressive season, a co-ownership deal was drawn up between Inter and Parma in 2002, a transfer policy rather unique to Italian football. From 2002 to 2004, Adriano bulldozed through his time at Parma, smashing in 22 goals in 26 games in his days at the Stadio Ennio Tardini

Keen to commit the long term future of the robust forward to Inter Milan, a four-year deal was signed upon his return in anticipation of the 2004/2005 season. The campaign ended with a more than impressive 15 goals in 16 games. Then came the 2005 FIFA Confederations Cup, where Brazil triumphed with an attack lead by the clinical Adriano. The striker helped overcome the likes of Germany and Argentina to collect the trophy as well as his share of personal accolades, winning Player of the Tournament and the Golden Boot (top scorer) award.

The world was now well aware of this latest Brazilian sensation. His form continued, encouraging another new contract in September 2005. It was almost as if it was at that moment, as he dipped his pen into the pot of ink and scrawled his signature onto the new five-year deal (ok, clicked his pen…I was going for drama), the demons in Adriano’s career began to emerge.

Fall from Grace

Our modern Brazilians are often built up beyond all realms of incredibility. The media and the fans all over the globe cast all kinds of superlative praise at the nation’s illustrious best. Ronaldinho and Ronaldo are prime examples. They all reached the very pinnacle of the world game, all described by some as potentially the best there ever was. And then comes the fall. Like Pederson under a gust of wind, their careers can collapse so quickly and without clear reason. Often some kind of nightclub is involved, often some kind of weight gain too. Adriano followed the trend.

After all the hype, after playing an almost unstoppable role as an Inter Milan front man with terrific strength and clinical shooting, the decline came. And it was on the biggest stage of all that the criticism first began to surface. World Cup 2006. He managed to score two goals in the tournament, but it proved to be a disappointing competition for both the player and the team. His languorous playing style and fruitless work ethic was heavily condemned across the globe.

The following season was littered with more appearances in the national newspapers than in the Inter lineup. Criticism over his work rate and his recreational activities flew at him with as much venom as one of his trademark shots. Then came the international snub. His lethargic displays, intermittent with late night festivities and training ground no-shows, contributed to Dunga’s decision to overlook him for the national squad. The coach justified the exclusion to the press and to the player, demanding that he “focus on football” if he was to regain his place in the national side.

His club form continued to ebb significantly, and with 2007 providing no improvement, he was shipped off to Brazil, given a leave of absence where he spent time training in Sao Paulo, with hopes of regaining his faded fitness and recovering from his alcoholic issues. The came a loan move in 2008, extending his stay in his native homeland and in Sao Paulo. Many tipped it as the final rusty nail in his career. That he was simply drifting to early retirement of top class European football. Many Brazilians choose to spend the twilight of their career in their native land, playing for a domestic club. This was simply seen as early resignation. However, Adriano showed that despite his difficulties, he was still more than capable of playing in the Brazilian first division. 6 goals in 10 games showed this, and he made a successful return to Inter, helping them in continental and domestic competitions this season.

Under Jose Mourinho, rumours of a move away have persisted, but he put in a series of top displays to earn his place in the team and regain his national squad place. Since then, he has been in and out the first team, and in March he was called up for international duty for the World Cup qualifying campaign. After subsiding on the bench for both games without being called upon by his coach, despite a disappointing display in Ecuador, Adriano did not return to Italy.

Point of No Return

Adriano made it clear that he does not want to return to Inter Milan, and specifically Italian football. There is no rumour of a fallout in the capital, even in the most far-fetched newspaper reports. He has simply grown bored of the game and wants time away. Mourinho has wished the striker well, and his encouraging words don’t seem to carry the same tune of his usual platitudes. There appears rather a genuine concern for a troubled individual. There is sympathy for the man who has lost a joy that means so much to billions worldwide. He has lost that love of the game.

In Italy, it is not entirely surprising that his joy has been dampened. A league where the sole foundations of the game revolve around the sundering and smothering of attacking flair, skill and goals, rather than its encouragement. A league where a mazy run toward goal is met with as much condemnation of the defender’s inability to disarm the attacker than admiration towards the winger streaming forward with the ball. A league in which there is colossal focus and attention on tactical efficiency. Not a feature of the game that will have ceased his attention and love as he dribbled through the streets of Rio as a kid. It is a league where the pressure is paramount, where the fans either hate you, or adore you. Lose a game, you may return from training to find your car tyres sliced and your windows smashed. Win, the fans will personally carry you (and your car) on their shoulders through the town with pride. It is a fickle and demanding game in Italy, more so than anywhere else — and Adriano was not enjoying it.

As the striker spends time away from the game over the next few months, his love the game may return. Many fans all over the world will hope that in his case, absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder. That he will return hungry for success, desperate to strike a ball, starved of action. Adriano will be faced with his future ahead of him, and at 27 his best form can still be reached, and he can pursue a successful career once more. What he will do next is unknown, but a return to Italy looks improbable. It is suggested that he could stay in Brazil, with Flamengo as was discussed in his interview. Is this the right move? Will it simply mean his top class career abroad will come to an end, or will it be a way of showing the world that he can regain his class once again? Time spent with his family in “happy” surroundings, regaining his form, his goal scoring power, his passion, and his fitness.

Do this and there will be no shortage of demand on the European front if he was to crave success once again. Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Real Madrid have all declared interest in the past, though this may have curbed somewhat with recent events (bar Man City who were after all interested in a crippled and overweight Ronaldo not long ago). Some are saying that Adriano is at a crossroads in his frantic career. At the age of 27, it is maybe his last chance to take the correct turn. However, as the 2008/09 season comes to an end, as far as the crossroads that is his footballing career is concerned, he isn’t even on the road.

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