Adriano a new Fat Boy for Corinthians?

“He’s fat, he’s round, he’s worth a million pound” was the chant of praise sung by Clyde supporters open-mouthed in awe at stout Steve Clarke’s prime. Nowadays it is more likely to be applied insultingly to faded Brazilian superstars. The great Ronaldo, probably the world’s finest forward of the thirty years preceeding Messi and Ronaldo, set the standard, returning to Corinthians looking a physical parody of his once lithe self. Even with the extra weight, he still managed to do some good business for Corinthians (see LSA Post “The Fat Boy does Good”), helping them to a Sao Paulo League title and a Copa Brazil. However when it came to the tournament that Corinthians really wanted to win, the Copa Libertadores, Ronaldo and his rotund fellow legend Roberto Carlos were just not fit enough to help, and both left Corinthians within weeks of the club’s exit from the premier South American trophy, with the boos and jeers of the fans ringing in their ears. Ronaldo sensibly, hung up his boots for good. Roberto Carlos, with a different kind of good sense, set sail for one last overseas adventure with the mega rich Russians of Anzhi Makhachkalia.

The vacated Fat Boy title was quickly claimed by Adriano who arrived in Sao Paulo in March 2011 to take over Ronaldo’s mantle as the Great Hope who would lead Corinthians to title glory.

Adriano came with a great deal of history. On the positive side, his good days, in Italy with Inter Milan and with Brazil, had shown him to be as good as any centre forward in the world, a world class finisher with surprising silky skills for such a big man. Known in Brazil as the Emperor for his imperious play. But, and it is quite a but, he has a long history of off-field problems that have always prevented him sustaining his best form over any consistent period. In the last LSA mention was made of Ronaldinho’s fondness for the nightlife, in some ways quite understandable for a young male, but Adriano’s problems are of a darker hue. He has a sad history of depression linked to drinking to alleviate it, drinking at a level sufficient to count as serious alcoholism. Inter Milan were surprisingly tolerant of the increased absences from training that became linked to such a threatening pattern of drinking and depression, but eventually their tolerance ran out and in November  2007 he was sent back on loan to Sao Paulo. There in the sun and less intense pressure he played quite well and was recalled to Inter for season 2008-2009. The then Inter manager, a certain Jose Mourinho, initially coaxed some good performances out of Adriano but it did not last, and the tears, the depression and the drinking returned. In April 2009 Adriano announced he was quitting football for good. Initially he blamed it on a breakdown of his relationship with his fiancée, but slowly deeper truths emerged including an inability to come to terms with the death of his father, shot in dubious circumstances in a crime spot in Rio.

Adriano confessed that he felt very unhappy in Italy and that he had lost all pleasure in playing football. He returned to Brazil where he described himself as happy, “with my friends and my family”. His exile from first class football lasted only 26 days, before he signed a contract with his previous Brazilian club, Flamengo. With three weeks training under his belt he made a scoring debut for Flamengo and went onto to become the league’s top scorer as he helped lead Flamengo to a surprise title triumph in December 2009.

Not a great Roman Emperor

Adriano had a different approach to night life than Ronaldinho whose happy relaxed personality led him in constant search of good company and good times. Adriano linked up socially with what any sensible manager would call the wrong crowd, many of whom remembered him from his younger Rio days. By summer 2010 after increasing amounts of bad publicity around his lifestyle and especially his association with men known to be drug barons, Adriano ignored the lessons of his European past and signed up again with an Italian club, this time Roma, in a setting not known for its tranquillity. He never really managed to settle in either the team or the city. The contract he signed with Roma had a number of get-out clauses related to his performance and his behaviour, and by early March 2011 a frustrated management decided to exercise these clauses and cut their losses. Once again the supposed retirement was brief. This time it took 20 days before Adriano was revealed as a Corinthians player, with the man himself explaining in passing how Sao Paulo will be a safer place for him socially than a return to Rio would have been. Corinthians fans were delighted, most fervently believing that at just 29, Adriano had more to offer their club than the very fat Ronaldo.

However the initial enthusiasm and excitement soon turned to frustration as the obviously overweight and unfit Adriano struggled against a series of niggling injuries to get himself fit enough to finally make his trumpeted debut. Without access to their new superstar the goalscoring burden at title favourite Corinthians fell on Leidson the other top class repatriated forward. Leidson rose to the challenge and without Adriano Corinthians still looked the team most likely to win the league. Incredibly it was to be October, in the 28th round of a 38 game league, before Adriano was finally to make his competitive debut for Corinthians. He came on for the last 11 minutes. However a series of minor injuries prevented him from building on this late start and coming up to the middle of November there had been only two more substitute appearances, with no goals. On 16th November Adriano declared himself fully fit again at last and he was named as a substitute for the away trip to Ceara. Despite the game being scoreless, Adriano was not given a chance by the cautious manager Tite and when Leidson was pulled off, it was a midfielder Morais that was brought on rather than Adriano. Eventually Corinthians snatched a 1-0 win.

From Emperor to supersub. Adriano at last makes his debut

Four days later, at home to Atletico Mineiro Adriano again started the match on the bench. This time however he was eventually brought on  in the 67th minute with Corinthians 1-0 down and facing a defeat that would hand the title initiative to Vasco da Gama with only two games to go. The substitution energerised the crowd, the noise generated was stupendous and somehow all the energy and excitement flowed into the Corinthians team. Adriano’s first major contribution was a brilliant assist to allow Leidson to equalise. Yet it appeared that all the energy and all the effort would not be enough as Atletico hung on desperately. Then in the very last minute Adriano struck to score a goal, taking a half chance with class and cool control to win the game for his team. As any normal football supporter would expect Adriano celebrated this first goal after so long in the most joyous fashion. That he was booked for this celebration says something about the soulless direction of the modern game. LSA would urge readers to google “Adriano goal for Corinthians” and see his impressive contribution, making one, scoring one and winning a game for his new club that surely clinched the league, leaving Corinthians two points ahead with two games to go.

Tite, in his usual pragmatic way, avoided getting caught up in the hype and come the next game, away to high-flying Figueirense, Adriano found himself back on the bench. A goal in the 66th minute by Leidson gave Corinthians the decisive advantage and when centre forward Emerson was substituted with 11 minutes to go it was not Adriano but a midfielder who was brought on. To his credit Adriano avoided any temper tantrums about his lack of action and seemed delighted just to be part of it all. A late winner by second placed Vasco da Gama over third placed Fluminense guaranteed that the title race would go down to the last day. Corinthians at home to old rivals Palmeiras only need a draw to guarantee them their 5th Brazilian Championship. It will be interesting to see what role if any Tite allows Adriano to play in the final game, but even if he spends the whole game on the bench, that dramatic last minute winner against Atletico will mean that Adriano will always be part of the story of that title win, even if he doesn’t add a single second to the 73 minutes that is currently his total contribution for the whole season.

But perhaps more importantly, he would appear to have coped with the frustration and inactivity of the past 6 months without triggering off returns to the black places that have haunted him in the past. In the week Gary Speed hung himself, and a book about Robert Enke a goalkeeper who committed suicide, deservedly won the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award, perhaps we should all just be grateful that Adriano, who displayed a similar depression more openly than these other two, seems to have found some contentment even in a secondary role. Let us all hope that whatever contribution he can make to Corinthians almost certain title triumph will bring him some inner peace.

With one round to go in the Brazilian Championship, there are several other issues still to be decided as well as the destination of the title. Fluminense and Flamengo would appear destined to join Corinthians and Vasco da Gama as Brazil’s representatives in the 2012 Copa Libertadores, but the 5th slot is still up for grabs with Coritiba and Figueirense competing with Inter PA, Sao Paulo and Botofogo. .If Inter beat local rivals Gremio in their last game that would probably be enough to give them, winners in 2006 and 2010, another crack at the Libertadores. And mighty Cruzeiro need a home win against local rivals Atletico Mineiro to be absolutely sure of avoiding the relegation with which they have been flirting dangerously over the last few weeks. LSA regular readers will be pleased that Bahia the carnival club from Salvador have finished their first season back in the top league safe from relegation.

The next LSA will report on the final resolution of the Brazilian season next weekend.