Adriano put the record straight during Mental Health Awareness Week. Footballers deserve better in many cases and his sad story shows that.
It speaks volumes about both Adriano’s career and the modern gaming obsession that the Brazilian striker is best remembered for his immense and unrivalled shot power on Pro Evolution Soccer 6, or the fact that he never fulfilled his potential, rather than for his actual ability.
But the saddest thing about Adriano is that by the time he was given his computer-generated rocket of a left foot, he was already well on the way to a heartbreaking decline. Everyone thought they knew his story; the preconceptions were well-known and quickly spread. It wasn’t until this week, Mental Health Awareness Week, that the man himself set the record straight via a beautifully articulated and poignant piece on The Players’ Tribune.
Rather strangely, the notion of Adriano’s failure to do what was expected of him is better known than the early promise he showed. There is a reason he became a Pro Evo icon: he was that good in real life; he could have rewritten the rule book on forward play like the icon who came before him. But while that is often forgotten or under-appreciated, it has become widely accepted that he threw away what could have been something truly special despite there being very little basis for such an assertion.
As Adriano explained, he was the victim of an awful situation, and that should always be remembered.
Not even Ronaldo earned a nickname like ‘The Emperor’ at Inter, let alone as early as Adriano did. He was raw but incredibly powerful, strong enough to ‘street fight’ with defenders, as he puts it, but with that touch gifted to almost every elite Brazilian footballer. Education was what he needed, and he got it at Parma, but he was already loved by the Nerazzrurri by then.
Ask anyone who played with him and they’ll tell you how good he was. His peak probably came in 2004 when he scored against Argentina in the Copa America final just before his father died. It was that fact which became the catalyst for his career spiralling out of control, even though Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a man who didn’t even play with Adriano until two years later, is among those most vocal about what he could do. There is an entire generation of football fans who were robbed of the chance to truly appreciate him.
Sympathy is not what Adriano asks for – and he sets that point out early – but nor does he deserve disdain or mockery. He sets the tone for his perspective by making the favela in which he grew up sound like a truly joyous environment rather than the poverty-engulfed hell often portrayed by the media. While times were tough, he holds family and childhood memories close, which is the first peek into his character and something you can’t help but take with you as you read on. His grandmother, and of course father, were major influences in his life, and the pain he felt when the latter passed away is best illustrated when he compares it to an Achilles injury which also played a big role in the darker side of his career.
‘The scar is on the inside,’ he says. In this week of all weeks, that is such a key message to remember. For too long, there has been an expectation that emotional scarring is more easily healed than physical, especially for rich and famous footballers. Adriano is case in point: everyone is human and we all deal with grief in different ways.
There is even reference to the fact that, when he left Inter in 2009, Adriano turned away from millions in wages. This wasn’t born out of laziness, or a lack of motivation, but a need to reset himself. It is at this point, he claims, where The Emperor was no more; he again became Adriano. It is clear that he doesn’t want to be put on a pedestal and that reset is what allowed him to rebuild himself enough to enjoy success with Flamengo the following season.
Perception and, arguably, prejudice has played a huge role in the way Adriano has been remembered. When he stepped away from Inter his weight ballooned, just as it had done for his former Brazil teammates Ronaldo and Ronaldinho, which fed into the narrative that he simply didn’t have the drive to succeed. He did, once upon a time. He had everything in fact, but lost it through a bereavement. There is all the proof you need that he wasn’t the problem player he was once painted as; how many others could be going through something similar but have their character already marked?
It may be a far less severe example, but Sheffield United striker Oli McBurnie was arrested recently after being harassed in the street by a man with a camera. He was going about his daily life and reacted in the face of abuse. Yet he is now being cross-examined.
Chinese whispers spun out of control when it almost became universally believed that Adriano had turned to drugs at his lowest points, something he vehemently denies in his article.
Looking at the case of Adriano, it is hard to find a sadder story. His pain took away his gift and stopped him from being viewed as a legend rather than a precocious but failed talent. That piece is a must-read and it was brave of him to put his story across, but it is a stark reminder that nobody truly knows what is going on behind the curtain. It is even worse when people try to guess.