2005 Confederations Cup final: Brazil 4-1 Argentina. The Brazilians battered their rivals and looked a simply unstoppable force on their way to retaining the World Cup in Germany in a year’s time. Adriano scored a brace in the final, taking his tournament tally to five on his way to the Golden Shoe as top goalscorer and Golden Ball as best player. The 24-year-old had the world at his feet.
That season Adriano scored a phenomenal 40 goals for club and country beating defences to a pulp all round Europe. The previous year he scored 15 goals in his first 16 games following his arrival at Inter from Parma, where he had struck up a devastating partnership with cocaine enthusiast Adrian Mutu, and that summer he led the line for Brazil in their victorious Copa America campaign. He scored a last minute equaliser in the final against Argentina to force extra time before Brazil won on penalties. Once again Adriano finished as top scorer with seven goals and was named best player. The striker carried his country to victory after Parreira rested the other stars Ronaldinho, Kaka, Ronaldo, Cafu and Roberto Carlos. There seemed no limit to the Pro Evo 4 god’s potential and he was seen as the long term successor to the declining Ronaldo.
While comparing him to the best striker of his generation and a national icon might seem over the top now, at the time it was more than justified. Adriano possessed an absolute cannon of a left foot (John Arne “Release the Kraken” Riise had nothing on him) was a beast of a man and was remarkably light on his feet. Think Hulk on steroids.
However, when the World Cup arrived in 2006, Brazil faltered under the pressure of enormous expectation and Adriano like many of his teammates was never the same player afterwards. In many ways though the World Cup could be seen as the motivation that had kept him going to that point, as it seemed Adriano had grown disillusioned with the game by the summer of 2006 aged just 25.
In 2004 his father died and given their close relationship Adriano was deeply affected by his loss. This came to the fore after the World Cup as Adriano started to fall into depression and turned to alcohol as a solution. The other factor to be taken into account is that Inter rewarded the striker’s phenomenal form with a new five year contract extension in September 2005. The contract effectively secured his financial future and gave him the opportunity to live the free and easy lifestyle he had always imagined, growing up in poverty in Vila Cruzeiro.
Stripped of his motivation and fatherly advice Adriano was no longer the “Emperor of the San Siro” and Inter out of frustration with his poor attitude and physical condition sent him back to Brazil in an attempt to rehabilitate their former star. He finished the 07/08 season on loan at Sao Paulo and despite a decent scoring record, they too grew tired of his lack of professionalism and he returned to Inter.
Jose Mourinho was in situ at Inter when Adriano returned and there seemed to be brief hope of a return to form and favour. He hit the 100 goal landmark in Serie A and following a goal in the Milan derby he started against Manchester United in the last 16 of the Champions League. However, Zlatan Ibrahimovic was now the main man in Milan and Adriano’s failure to return on time from international duty in April 2009 was the final straw for Mourinho and Inter “who did everything possible to help him”.
Following the disappointing end to his time in Milan, Adriano returned to where it all started, Flamengo. Fuelled by the motivation to make the World Cup squad Adriano hit form in his homeland, scoring over 30 goals. While his form agonisingly failed to get him to South Africa in 2010 – he was one of two players in Dunga’s initial 24 man squad not to travel – it did earn him another shot in Italy, this time with Roma.
However, his time in the capital was nothing short of a disaster and Roma terminated his contract after just seven months, before he was given one final chance at Corinthians back in Brazil. Despite Corinthians even resorting to placing the striker under “house arrest” at one point in order to get him fit, their efforts failed as Adriano had completely lost interest in the professional game and he soon retired at a mere 30 years of age.
The 48-cap international has returned to the game in the last few months with Atletico Paranaense after a two year absence, with the aim of winning the Copa Libertadores. But, that turned sour last week as Adriano’s contract was cancelled following a familiar pattern of unexplained missed training sessions.
Unfortunately, that will be people’s abiding memory of Adriano. A player who lacked the determination to make the most of his phenomenal talent, quite possibly the saddest thing to witness in sport.