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Adriano: a brutally real Villain

March 10, 2011

Adriano at Roma: fail, again…


There are some insufferable characters in the world of football that because of either talent or a strong personality we cannot help but love – or, at the very least, love to hate.

The antics and controversies of players such as Zinedine Zidane, Diego Maradona or Eric Cantona never really did outshine their individual talents within the pitch – although sometimes they should have.

Moreover, there was something about those footballers that always made us smirk like idiots, and in forgiveness go “oh, Eric, you silly man, kung-fu kicking that fan, tisk tisk.”

Adriano Leite Ribeiro, on the other hand, is no such compelling character. He is just plain unlikable.

He is like that person on the bus you don’t even know or have never even seen before, but somehow you develop a sort of hatred for. And then that person ruins your day by sitting right next to you, and you quickly find something more tangible about them in order to back up your instant feeling of contempt; a loud breathing pattern or something stupid he/she is wearing.

Nowadays, that’s the kind of feeling Adriano manages to bring out in people as soon as he is seen in public.

Pure and plain scorn.

But here’s the catch: the joke is on us. Adriano, very much like that unfortunate bus rider, doesn’t achieve popular redemption because he is all too real. His problems – severe depression, homesickness and alcoholism – are far too mundane and “everyday” for our bourgeois taste.

Too sad. Too boring.

Where’s the story about the hookers who turned out to be men, or the midnight Carnival samba with the ladies before early practice?

There isn’t much of that from Adriano anymore, for our collective sadistic disappointment. Although there used to be the occasional “linked to Rio’s drug-dealers” wild story, what we mostly get now is that he has “normal people’s problems.” He’s been drinking a bit too early in the day; broke an arm; missed a flight connection; lost his driver’s license; and last week: had the flu.

Where’s the fun in that, eh?! I mean, if you ain’t playing ball, you better give us some serious entertainment boy.

Alas, no.

The thing about Adriano is that he is a man, and then, maybe, a footballer (and that really bothers us).

Actually, he is a child, trapped in a massive body – guided by a tortured mind.

He is a human being. And like any human being, he has many faults. And imperfections, like scars, can be interesting. But folk like that need a good PR agent, so that such faults can be masqueraded as “individual character”, which in turn will add a sense of uniqueness about the man.

Adriano is dreadful at public relations. He always seems to be in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Or, more accurately, not in the right place (practice), at the right time (in the morning).

Eric Cantona, on the other hand, was a brilliant spin doctor. Indeed, similarly to Adriano, the French star had many (many) faults. However, unlike Adriano, he was no mere human, as he once famously stated: “I am not a man, I am Cantona.”

We eat that stuff up.

It is all instantly fascinating and somewhat irresistible.

Surely, complete bollocks. And yet, compelling.

But no, nope; no fun from Adriano…

Nevertheless, I haven’t always felt this cynical towards the Brazilian.

In fact, there was a time I honestly thought he was about to become something even bigger than Ronaldo.

It was a brief period of time, I confess, but it wasn’t brought about by delusion. My feelings were sincerely real, for Adriano once was a truly outstanding footballer.

In 2004, at the Copa America final, Adriano made me literally jump onto a table at a restaurant and yell GOAL at the top of my lungs, while kicking cutlery and bottles of salt and pepper around.

That act of impulsive football vandalism happened in Recife, in Northeastern Brazil, while I was on vacation with my wife. We were watching the match on a big screen at a delightful outdoors restaurant lounge. Argentina was beating us 2 x 1, and the game was already into injury time. I turn to Elizabeth and say “that’s it, done, Argentina’s got this one. Gonna off myself now, bye”, and as I finish off my melodramatic bit, Adriano, hounded by three defenders and trapped inside the box, manages to flick the ball up in the air, releases himself free, and volleys it to the back of the net with rocket-power precision: GOAL!

The match goes into a penalty shootout, and Brazil wins 4 x 2.

The country explodes in joy. Adriano explodes in joy. This was the moment we all fell in love with him and thought “finally, a worthy heir to Ronaldo’s #9.”

Adriano ended up as the Copa America top scorer and tournament MVP. Indeed, as his nickname suggested, he was The Emperor.

A year later, in Germany, Adriano completely swept me off my feet once again by destroying (once again) Argentina at the Confederations Cup final. The imposing thick-necked striker scored twice in the 4 x 1 Brazilian victory, and (once again) finished off as the competition’s top scorer and MVP.

During those two or three years, fans in Brazil had only one thing to say about him: “Ronaldo who?!”

But then darkness engulfed him…

Adriano lost his beloved father, and he quickly began to lose his form and motivation as well. The Emperor’s performance at the 2006 World Cup Finals left a lot to be desired, and he exited the tournament with only two goals to his tally in five matches. The following year turned out to be a blur, filled with injuries, and battles against alcohol and drugs. To the frustration of Internazionale’s directors, Adriano would regularly skip practice and take unannounced trips to his native Rio, going missing for days. After finally having had enough, Inter sent Adriano back to Brazil on loan, in an attempt to reanimate their morose striker. He joined giants Sao Paulo FC for the first half of the 2008 season, and quickly found his groove again. Adriano immediately lost weight and returned to his goal-scoring form, signaling 17 goals in 28 matches. Six months later, Sao Paulo FC went on to claim the Brazilian League title.

Convinced that Adriano had been cured, Inter re-called their star for the rest of the 2008 season. A dreadful mistake. The striker’s woes returned in Europe, and depression once again took over his being. In 19 appearances, Adriano managed to score a meager five goals.

Desperation and desolation settled in, and Adriano decided to announce his retirement from the game at 27 years of age.

Thankfully, however, Rio giants Flamengo came to his rescue, and in a leap of faith they signed the player for the entire 2009 Brazilian season. The outcome could not have been better. Flamengo were crowned League Champions, and Adriano won the Golden Boot as the league’s top goalscorer.

The Emperor had returned home.

Alas, once again, his Empire of love and joy was short-lived. Adriano failed to persuade Brazil coach Dunga that he had overcome his mental disorders, and he was not selected to join the national team for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. By March of that year, the striker had already fallen victim to his old dramas and personal woes again; car accidents and embarrassing controversies (the association with Rio’s drug-lords, etc…) followed him through the next few months.

Flamengo were forced to release him, and Adriano remained unemployed until June of that year, when he signed with A.S. Roma on a three-year deal.

Obviously, as many had predicted, his new stint in Italy failed to impress. Adriano was unable to regain his goalscoring mentality, and the club decided to terminate his contract after only seven months. Adriano left Roma on March 8th, 2011, having struggled through eight appearances and scored zero goals.

And here we are, yet again, with an unemployed and troubled Emperor.  Where he will go next, nobody knows.

What truly bothers me, though, isn’t his dramatic fall from grace, but our general nasty attitude and ability to quickly judge the man.

I am actually disgusted by how much I enjoy jumping down his throat for being such a “tramp” , a “vagabond.”

Why is it so hard for us, in progressive 21st Century, to believe that a rich, handsome, 6 ft. 3 in. sports celebrity can indeed suffer from chronic depression?

It always seems much easier to vilify than to offer constructive criticism.

The spells of success at Sao Paulo FC and Flamengo have proven that Adriano is now only able to recover his joie-de-vivre in his homeland. Adriano has developed into a player who needs to perform in his mother-tongue.

And what’s wrong with that?! Is that seriously lazy, or simply the way it is for him? Why must we expect that every single player Brazil exports fit perfectly within the norms and style of European football?

Adriano left home at 19, and unlike most conventional people, he happens to find the mountains of concrete and trash in Rio’s slums more beautiful than the Italian Alps or the ruins of Rome.

In those communities, the Emperor is at home.

And because of that, we – in our “sensitive” middle class attitude – have stigmatized him, and sneered at him, and painted him in the colours of a jobless bum.

A ruthless villain indeed. A character straight out of Meirelles’s “City of God”. Run away children, for here comes Adriano, the mental!

Bottom line is, we may not understand Adriano, we may not find him as compelling as a coked-up Maradona or a fat Ronaldo, but he deserves our respect.

Adriano is a towering figure of many mysteries and personal dramas, and I am just now letting go of his supposedly unsympathetic issues and learning to appreciate the man beneath the muscles.

I entreat you to do the same.




ADRIANO makes me jump up (Copa America 2004):

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