The last few years have been a turbulent time for Inter’s troublesome striker, Adriano. Dogged by injury and suffering psychological problems, he’s battled with alcohol abuse and had several spats with various Coaches. After a loan spell with Sao Paulo, the Brazilian’s return to Milan was supposed to herald a fresh start, but despite Massimo Moratti insisting his superstar is going nowhere, a cloud of speculation hangs over L’Imperatore’s future.
Reports in the Il Corriere dello Sport indicate Chelsea and Flamengo are interested in the talented hit-man and that the latter has already made contact with the striker on his return to Brazil for the holidays. Though Inter still had a game to play before the winter break, Adriano was granted an early leave of absence as yet another injury setback – this time a thigh strain – ruled him out of the trip to Siena at the weekend.
The players £230,000-a-week wage demands may prove a stumbling block for the Brazilian outfit, and although money is of such concern at Chelsea, the Londoners may want to guard against straying from their wage structure and upsetting the applecart with established players. If Adriano does show an interest in a move away from the San Siro, you can guarantee Real Madrid will come sniffing and Manchester City will throw stupid money his way in a bid to lure him to Eastlands to join his money-happy compatriot, Robinho.
There is no disputing that Adriano is a special player and on his day can be devastating for opposition defenders to nullify. For the casual observer he can simply be a joy to watch. When he is in the mood there are few who can match him for skill, audacity and sheer entertainment value. Sadly, the spellbinding magic has disappeared from his game in the last few seasons and so far this campaign is not showing any signs of returning.
After re-joining Inter from his co-ownership with Parma, Adriano bagged an impressive 12 goals in 18 appearances, immediately winning over the hearts of the Inter faithful. This was followed with an overall tally of 34 goals in 2004/05, but fell to 18 the following season. The last three seasons though have seen a return of only 10 goals in 45 appearances. For a player of Adriano’s calibre something is clearly not right. So where did it all go wrong?
The downturn in the striker’s private life has been well documented. As he struggled psychologically to overcome the loss of his father and the split from his long-term girlfriend, his teammates noticed a change in his character which led one teammate to remark the Brazilian has an attitude of a “boy in his mid-teens.” Speaking about the traumatic episode in his life, Adriano admitted, “It was a horrible time. I felt abandoned and I began to look for comfort elsewhere, in bars and nightclubs. I also began to drink heavily. I wanted alcohol to absorb all my problems.”
As the drink began to take its toll, his psychological problems deepened. Having been a starter in the Brazil side eliminated at the 2006 World Cup by France, new Coach and former Inter star Dunga dropped the troubled striker from the national side, commenting the forward needs to “change his behaviour” and “focus on football.” Moratti though was prepared to stand by his prized asset and packed him off for rehabilitation in his native country. Upon his return to the San Siro though, little had changed. After failing to show for a training session following elaborate birthday celebrations, then Inter Coach Roberto Mancini lost patience with the striker and dropped him for the next two games. There were reports that the striker from Rio de Janeiro was omitted from the side to avoid being tested by the FIGC and banned for whatever substances discovered that were rumoured to be in his system at the time. Moratti chose to send the star back to Brazil for a second stint at rehab. Originally just training with the club again, he subsequently joined São Paulo on loan for the start of 2008 in a bid to rediscover his form and build his confidence and fitness in anticipation of a return to greatness in Italy.
Adriano was quoted on the move as saying, “I just need to stay calm and keep working, good things will happen. I didn’t lose control even when I was facing difficulties.”
And by April 2008 he was described as happy again, even stating himself that he was able to concentrate as necessary when playing, which in turn was aiding his performance level. However, things soon took a turn for the worse in Brazil as Adriano was sent off in a game for head-butting an opponent and on another occasion fined for storming out of training. His return to Italy came sooner than expected with São Paulo Sporting Director Carlos Augusto de Barros e Silva commenting, “It was better for Adriano to go back, given that we won’t be able to count on him for the rest of the campaign.”
Despite returning to the peninsula in a cloud of controversy, with doubts surrounding his physical and psychological state, Adriano was gifted the opportunity to re-galvanise his Inter career yet again, this time under new Coach Jose Mourinho. Arrigo Sacchi, who in the summer of 2007 was one of many to suggest Adriano leave Inter for his own good, instead came out in support of the striker’s potential relationship with the new Inter boss, stating that “Adriano could be the best acquisition of Mourinho’s Inter.”
The former Parma Coach, who was at the Stadio Ennio Tardini when Adriano was there on loan in 2001, was talking of Mourinho’s record with strikers and his preference for tall, strong, domineering talisman leading the front line alone. Adriano’s playing style and natural physique put him ahead of World Player of the Year contender Zlatan Ibrahimovic in terms of offering the new Coach what he wanted from his front man. Mourinho had turned Didier Drogba into a world class striker using his unique brand of football and coaching, and many anticipated the second coming of Adriano under this same guidance. The Special One welcomed the striker back to the club as he became his personal project; “Adriano needs a Coach to be close to him at the moment,” Mourinho said, before warning the striker, “I am a trainer of men and not children.”
In the pre-season TIM Cup, Adriano was so impressive he already had newspapers raving about a return to the Adriano of old, and despite an injury preventing him starting the season, his first competitive game of the season saw him grab an impressive goal in the Champions League victory against Panathinaikos. The Brazilian was quick to thank his new mentor; “Mourinho puts a lot of faith in me for my work and my life. He said I had to work hard in every training session and charged me up. When you meet a Coach like that, it helps you to get back on track.”
However, it soon became apparent the flawed genius had not overcome his holier-than-thou attitude and it wasn’t long before he felt the wrath of the Portuguese Tactician. Relegated to the bench under disciplinary measures by the end of October for turning up late to training and this time in poor condition, the former Chelsea boss had this to say, “Adriano trained from nine to 10 and I don’t want to comment any further, I don’t let my children do whatever they want and so why should I let my players get away with anything?”
This was not the first occasion the player had disappointed his Coach with his time-keeping, having also returned home several days late from international earlier the same month.
After the apparent up-turn in form, L’Imperatore had undone all his – and Inter’s – hard work once more. The player was dropped by his Coach for the next three weeks as punishment and since then has been confined to cameo appearances, struggling with fitness and to find any sort of consistent form. Newspaper reports suggested he had returned to his old partying ways, even turning up to training hung-over. Mid-December stories suggested the player had turned up to training on time, but a little worse for wear after spending the night before out on the town. It was the first training session after the club’s Champions League defeat by Werder Bremen – a game that reportedly saw the two men lock horns over Adriano’s performance. Mourinho saw including the striker in the starting line-up as an act of faith, Adriano was angered at being substituted at half-time.
Mourinho’s reputation has been built on discipline and a focus on the team ahead of the individual and one feels Adriano’s lingering presence at Inter is more to do with peer pressure from the club President, than through Mourinho’s own choosing.
Mourinho is starting to find his feet at Inter, having endured an indifferent start to life at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza. His side have now gone 12 games unbeaten in the league, with last weekend’s 2-1 success over Siena the Nerazzurri’s 8th consecutive Serie A win. Adriano’s last appearance in this sequence came in November’s home win over Napoli and it appears Moratti is being forced to listen to his side’s Coach as things continue to go well for the Tactician. The more Mourinho impresses upon his team and the more successful his formula becomes, the less chance Adriano has of remaining the club’s No. 10 when his behaviour fails to improve. The side may be struggling for goals, but with the Coach hinting at a possible January approach for Chelsea’s Didier Drogba, it seems that the powers that be at the San Siro are considering a future without the Brazilian.
However, Moratti is desperate not to let his man go, even though one suspects the same cannot be said for the Inter’s Coach. In seven appearances, Adriano’s solitary Serie A goal has come from the penalty spot. A great footballer he may be, but it doesn’t show with those stats. There are continued reports speculating on the striker’s future and they all seem to hint at a move away from the San Siro – some reports suggest just for a short-term loan to appease Moratti, whilst some stories intimate the player himself would prefer a more permanent change.
He has worked with some of the world’s top coaches and played with some of the game’s greatest players. Inter are a big club with the support network – and patience – few clubs can offer such an enigmatic bi-polar star. Adriano has been given countless opportunities to turn his life around by the club and would be mad to leave the Inter family, but just as mad to stay and continue the way things are.
It seems apparent that Adriano is still dogged with the psychological struggles of his personal life and if he is to rediscover his form and achieve his potential, he needs to revaluate himself and move forward in his life. With the 26-year-old coming into the prime of his career, it would be a shame not to see him performing at the top of his game. A change of scenery won’t bring about a change of attitude and regardless of his surroundings, Adriano will always struggle to rekindle the early promise he once showed until he learns to change the way he acts.
Mourinho summed up the player’s predicament during one of their first fallings-out this season, warning the striker, fans and pundits alike; “If he is tired when he approaches the goal, it is because he has not worked adequately in recent years. To score he needs to play.
“To play he needs to work. If he does not work hard, then he will not play.”