After 711 days The Emperor is back. Adriano made his debut last night for Atlético Paranaense, my team here in Curitiba, in the first match of the group stages of the Libertadores (Champions League for South America) in the 40th minute of the second half.
If you’ve never heard of him, Adriano Leite Ribeiro (better known just as Adriano) was O Imperador (The Emperor). He was one of the most promising players to ever come out off the seemingly never-ending footballer production line in Brazil. He made his professional debut for the Rio club of Flamengo in 2000 when he was 17 and scored in his second game. He was nicknamed the Emperor because of the way he owned and dominated the pitch.
He was soon sold to the Italian team Internazionale for around £14m. In Italy he he scored 22 goals in his first 36 games. He has won 4 Scudettos, a FIFA Confederations Cup and a Copa America and 2 Brasileirãos. He is now 31 and should be fighting for a place in the upcoming World Cup.
Except he isn’t.
As well as all of the positive achievements, he also holds the record for the highest number of Bidone Doro (Golden Trashcan), an Italian award for the most worthless player of the year. His career has been marked by inconsistency with short inglorious spells at a number of clubs in Brazil. The worst part was a one year contract with his home club of Flamengo in which he failed to play a single minute of a single game.
His problems have been well documented. He has been accused of enjoying the high life rather than focussing on his football. He has had well-publicised battles with alcoholism and over-eating. He has been accused of domestic abuse on at least more than one occasion.
There are many potential reasons for his problems. Some say he was an uneducated kid who was taken away from his family and friends at too young an age, given loads of money and sent to Italy. He couldn’t cope with all this and the fame that came with it and, as I probably would have done, ended up enjoying himself too much. Some say it was his father’s death that sent him over the edge. Others claim he is just an0ther example of overpaid spoilt footballers.
Whatever the reasons for his problems, he has another chance. On February 13th he played all of 7 minutes for his new club. He didn’t contribute much, but he looked fitter and leaner than he has for a long time. He ran around a lot, which given some of the previous criticisms is a good thing. After the game he was in tears as he thanked everyone he had ever met for giving him another chance.
And the game?
Despite Adriano not contributing much, Atlético managed to win 1-0 against The Strongest from Bolivia. (Seriously, that is their real name. I haven’t translated it from Spanish. They are called The Strongest. I think this is one of my favourite names for a football club ever.) It is only the first game, but a home win for the team from Curitiba gives them an excellent chance to qualify for the knockout stages later this year.
Some highlights of the game