Adriano’s latest comeback is over—his 100 days at Flamengo ending after several photos and a video showing him boozily handling a microphone at a Rio discothèque surfaced on Facebook. The incident (almost certainly not a one-off) followed a string of skipped practices and warnings from the club and a bizarre, September stroll through the Vila Cruzeiro slum.
“Six blunders and an evening with funk and women,” was how Brazilian outlet UOL summed up Adriano’s latest misadventures, which in addition to the night out also included at least six skipped training sessions.
On Monday the 30-year-old striker, formerly of Parma, Inter Milan and AS Roma, announced yet another sabbatical from football—a few months’ break that will no doubt conclude with yet another miserable (and likely failed) attempt and restarting his football career.
“I thought a lot, talked to my family and friends and came to the conclusion that the best thing to do is return [to football] in 2013,” he said through his press agency. “[Flamengo] have to concentrate on their final stretch of matches and I have to regain 100 per cent of my fitness…I’ll keep training with even more vigour…Believe me: this decision was made taking everything into consideration,” he said.
Just as he has said so many times before. And while it has become so easy to roll the eyes and almost disregard his stated intentions as the nonsensical blether of a madman, Adriano’s story is far more disheartening than absurd when the highs are given the same consideration as the lows. There was a time, after all, when this giant of a man was one of the most formidable footballers on the planet.
There was a time when Adriano’s youth, 6-foot-3-inch frame and cannon of a left foot all came together to assemble something very close to the ideal centre-forward. After scoring eight Serie A goals in nine appearances for Parma in the first half of the 2003-04 season, the then-21-year-old was acquired by Inter Milan for a sizeable transfer fee in excess of €23 million.
He scored nine more goals in 16 league matches for the Nerazzurri, and with the Copa America on the horizon it looked as though 2004 would go down as one of the life-shaping years of his career.
That July, barely a year after his first international goal for Brazil, he cemented his status as the national team’s natural successor to Ronaldo. A hat-trick against Costa Rica in the group stage was followed by a brace against Mexico in the quarterfinals, a goal against Uruguay in the semis and then, in the final against Argentina in Lima, one of his finest moments.
Rodrigo Beilfuss, an actor, director and occasional football chronicler, watched the match in the north-eastern Brazilian city of Recife, and described the goal as follows: “Adriano, hounded by three defenders and trapped inside the box, manages to flick the ball up in the air, release himself free and volley into the back of the net with rocket-power precision.”
The goal came in the third minute of second-half stoppage time, cancelling Cesar Delgado’s go-ahead marker of just six minutes earlier and eventually sending the final to penalties, where Adriano scored from the spot as Brazil won their seventh continental title. With seven goals in the tournament, Adriano finished atop the scoring ledger and was awarded its Best Player gong.
The following month his father died of a heart-attack.
Almir Leite Ribeiro, 44 at the time, had been shot in the head in 1992 as he fled a shoot-out in the Vila Cruzeiro favela—one of Rio de Janeiro’s most notorious slums, and the family home (Adriano, 10-years-old, was with him when it happened). Although Almir survived the incident the bullet he carried in his skull over the next 12 years likely hastened his death.
A life-shaping year, indeed.
Despite the devastation, Adriano put together his best season for Inter in 2004-05, scoring 28 goals in all competitions and helping the club to the Champions League quarterfinals and the Copa Italia, where he scored twice in the away leg at AS Roma as the Nerazzurri won the trophy on a 3-0 aggregate.
But despite his on-field exploits, away from football Adriano was becoming a very broken man. And he was spending a lot of time away from football.
Unable to deal with his father’s passing, he drowned himself in the Milan nightlife—a lifestyle that quite quickly caused his performances to deteriorate. At first there were only intermittent lapses in form, but then came missed training sessions, benchings, sudden trips home to Vila Cruzeiro and, finally, a leave of absence from the club. By 2009 his contract with Inter had been terminated.
When Adriano joined Roma in 2010—one of many ill-fated comeback attempts he has made in the last three years—South American football expert Tim Vickery wrote that the Giallorossi club directors “may as well have lit their cigars with high denomination banknotes or poured the money down a rat-hole.”
Seven months and five Serie A appearances later, Roma had terminated Adriano’s contract. He has lived in Brazil ever since, and in stints with Corinthians and Flamengo has played only four matches in nearly two years.
A real person
Adriano has left the slum, but the slum has not left Adriano.
“I like to be in my community, as everyone knows. This is nothing new. It makes me fell human—makes me feel like a real person.”
Adriano made this remark in a recent interview with respected Brazilian newspaper Globo—an article that also included the above quote in italics, offered by a resident of Vila Cruzeiro.
Two months ago, shortly after agreeing a pay-for-play contract with Rio giants Flamengo, Adriano was back in the favela, where he reportedly strolled the streets shirtless, beer in hand, before getting into his BMW and hitting a motorcyclist. The excursion wasn’t cited as one of the reasons why Flamengo cancelled his contract on Wednesday, but it is, in itself, representative of Adriano’s present head-state.
“I wanted to speak with [Adriano] personally [last] Friday about why he came to this decision, but he was very upset by the problems he’s having outside football,” wrote club president Zinho on Flamengo’s official website. “His first three absences [from training] gave Flamengo the right to terminate the contract, but we took a humane approach to help him recover.”
Like Corinthians, Sao Paulo, Roma and Inter before them, Flamengo had taken a chance on Adriano, beguiled by the physical pieces that were still there, and crossing their fingers that the mental pieces could be sorted out.
But what they came to realise, and what many have known for a while, is that Adriano, at a time when he should be enjoying the peak years of his career, is in no state to be playing football.
That he has battled alcoholism for seven or eight years is hardly a secret, and the signs of chronic depression are there as well. Help has been offered everywhere he’s been, and while he has occasionally participated in recovery programs he much prefers the self-medication that is Vila Cruzeiro. It’s a choice he has made.
What’s truly heart-rending is that it’s also a choice that has cut him off from any kind of support network. Watching it all go to pieces from the outside, you can’t help but want someone or something to come into his life and put Adriano the person back together. Adriano the footballer can come later.