Enigmas in Calcio – Adriano

On August 12, 2001 Inter played Real Madrid in their annual pre-season fixture, the Trofeo Santiago Bernabéu, and produced a fairly unremarkable match. Yet it will be remembered and recounted for the 89th minute, when a 19-year-old Brazilian striker by the name of Adriano stepped up and scored a free-kick to win the match for la Beneamata.


Adriano’s goal announced his talents to the world, and was considered even more special due to him only being on the field for a short time after coming on to replace Christian Vieri, a player who was the most expensive in the world only a couple of years beforehand, after 82 minutes. The goal itself portrayed the power, confidence and ability that would encapsulate the Brazilian’s game in the years to come, and would lead to him being considered as one of the most feared strikers in the world. By the time he arrived at Inter, Adriano had begun to make sure people were taking notice of him. He had already cemented his place in the national youth teams as a teenager, firstly by winning the FIFA U17 World Cup in 1999, where he also finished as top scorer with six goals, before starring in the 2001 FIFA World Youth Championship. In this competition Adriano once again finished as Brazil’s top scorer with five goals (despite Brazil going out at the quarter-final stage), winning the silver boot award for the competition, one goal behind Argentina’s Javier Saviola.

By Brazilian standards, Adriano is an unconventional striker, standing almost two metres tall and commanding a large physical presence, yet he does possess the skills and agility regarded as commonplace to all Brazilian footballers. Such a physique landed him the nickname “The Tank” early on by the local Brazilian Press, yet following his Copa América heroics in 2004 this was soon altered to l’Imperatore, after the Roman Emperor Hadrian (Adriano in Spanish).

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It was apparent that Adriano was a striker who had the world at his feet and by nurturing his talent appropriately it was hoped by Interisti all over Italy that he could help deliver the long awaited Scudetto they wanted. An abundance of attacking talent already at Inter meant that after only eight appearances with one goal to his name, Adriano was loaned out to Fiorentina for the rest of the 2001/02 season. Six goals in 15 games for la Viola was a fairly impressive return for the teenager’s debut season in a foreign country, yet it was the following season when Adriano went to Parma as part of a co-ownership deal with Inter that his true potential emerged. In the 2002/03 season Adriano formed one of the most impressive Serie A strike partnerships of the last decade with Adrian Mutu, where they scored more than 15 goals through assists from each other. Adriano himself found the net 15 times in the league that season and started just as strongly in the 2003/04 season by scoring eight times in nine appearances. Such prolific goal scoring at such a young age prompted Massimo Moratti to buy out the other half of Adriano’s contract from Parma, and playing in the second half of the season for Inter Adriano managed another impressive tally of nine goals in 16 appearances, bringing his season total in the league to 17 and his most impressive haul in the Italian top flight to date.

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The summer of 2004 signalled the start of perhaps Adriano’s most impressive form, and his most decorated period as a footballer. In just under a year from July 11, 2004 to June 29, 2005 Adriano scored a remarkable total of 42 goals in all competitions, for both club and country, along the way leading Brazil to Copa América and FIFA Confederations Cup victories in 2004 and 2005 respectively. Furthermore, he gained worldwide recognition and acclaim for the manner in which he led Brazil to victory on those two occasions. In 2004 in the Copa América he equalised in the final against Argentina in the 93rd minute before Brazil eventually won on penalties, with Adriano winning the golden boot with seven goals. The next year in 2005 in the FIFA Confederations Cup, he surpassed this feat by winning both the golden boot with five goals and the Player of the Tournament award as Brazil beat Argentina in the final 4-1. With the media frenzy and big-money transfer speculation surrounding him, Inter moved quickly to tie Adriano to the club in September 2005 by rewarding him with a new contract, which was to run until June 30, 2010.

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This, however, was to mark a decline in form for Adriano, which recently and ultimately resulted in his contract being cancelled by Moratti. There has been much speculation as to why, but regardless of the reasons, Adriano’s dip in form meant he only managed, by his high standards, a disappointing 13 league goals in the 2005/06 season, which ultimately culminated in him being criticised for his poor performances in the 2006 FIFA World Cup in the summer. The year 2006 proved to be a decisive one for Adriano in terms of his decline in form and resulted in him almost leaving la Beneamata in December that year. This, coupled with incidents such as skipping training in February 2007, meant that the 2006/07 season was a huge disappointment for the Brazilian as he lost his place in the Brazil squad under Dunga and finished the season with only five league goals in 23 appearances. This marked the beginning in a remarkable – and well-documented – declinefor l’Imperatore who was once coveted by all the major clubs around Europe and heralded as a player with the world at his feet.

The shoots of recovery have started to grow however, with the striker scoring a goal on his debut for new club Flamengo on Sunday. He often flew back to Brazil in times of need during his career in Italy, he is now there to stay for the foreseeable future.

Past Enigmas in Calcio


  • Alvaro Recoba

  • Paul Gascoigne

  • Antonio Cassano

  • Zlatan Ibrahimovic

  • Massimo Moratti

  • Christian Vieri
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