As the crow flies, the Vila Cruzeiro favela isn’t all that far from Ipanema, Leblon, and Rio’s other swanky beachfront neighbourhoods. In other ways, however, it`s a different world. It was here that the Globo TV reporter and producer Tim Lopes was murdered by gangsters in June 2006. It was here that Adriano grew up, and it was here that his own father was hit by a stray bullet in 2002.
It was in March 2010, in another Rio favela, Complexo do Alemão, that Adriano was caught on camera striking his then partner, Joana Machado, at a baile funk in the early hours of the morning.Around the same time, in Rocinha, Vagner Love was filmed at a different baile hanging out with some machine gun toting traficante “pals’.
A few months ago, there was the curious case of the woman shot in the hand while a passenger in Adriano’s car. While the story turned out to be not much more than a prank gone wrong (the gun belonged to Adriano’s bodyguard and the woman had grabbed it herself), it demonstrates the remarkable ability the player has to attract the wrong sort of attention.
Just this week, after a night out with Adriano that lasted until the small hours of Tuesday morning, Ronaldinho Gaúcho left training early complaining of “stomach problems”.
At least Adriano, who’d spent the weekend at the upstate beach resort of Buzios in the company of an ex-girlfriend, drinking and playing snooker, didn’t have to get up for work in the morning. His contract with Corinthians had been torn up the week before, shortly after he was dropped from the squad for two key games in the Campeonato Paulista and the Libertadores for “not trying as much as hoped in training.”
It marked the end of a miserable year in São Paulo for the former Imperador - 300 minutes on the pitch and a paltry two goals. While he spent the early part of his time at the Parque São Jorge recovering from a ruptured achilles, there is no doubt that his overall physical conditioning left much to be desired. And a lack of stellar performances on the pitch, which in turn would have driven up his marketing value, meant Corinthians took an epic financial bath on the deal.
Just this week, after a night out with Adriano that lasted until the small hours of Tuesday morning, Ronaldinho Gaúcho left training early complaining of “stomach problems”. At least Adriano didn’t have to get up for work in the morning.
It all adds up to a remarkable fall from grace for a player who has only just turned 30. While the death of his father hit him terribly hard, in truth Adriano has always been haunted by the twin demons of drink and loneliness. What is worrying is that among the waves of young Brazilian footballers heading to Europe, he is hardly alone.
As in so many areas of life, much of the problem arises from social background. In this context, Kaká and Adriano represent opposing poles. Kaká is the privately educated, middle class boy, eager to learn Italian and Spanish, thrilled by the prospect of immersing himself in foreign cultures.
Adriano is the lad from the wrong side of the tracks, blessed with only the most rudimentary of educations, happiest when he is back home drinking with his pals in the favela. Marooned and lonely in a big house in Milan or Rome, his head was easily turned.
Resorting to clumsy stereotype for a moment, the section of Brazilian society from which Adriano has sprung is one of simple pleasures and a generally unquestioning approach to life. It is also one where, if one knows where to look, there are plenty of bad influences. For the young Brazilian footballer from a poor background with far too much time and money on his hands, if not carefully guided and managed by good people, temptation is never too far away. And if dumped in Europe, loneliness and saudades for home can make the problem even worse.
Aside from the escapades of Adriano, Love and Ronaldinho (another whose career, despite hitting dizzying heights at times, leaves one feeling unfulfilled), there are plenty of other wayward sons.
Bayern Munich zagueiro Breno was arrested last year, suspected of arson after his house in Germany mysteriously burnt to the ground. At the time, rumours circulated that the player was suffering from depression and a drinking problem.
Superbly talented striker Jobson, who burst onto the scene with Botafogo in 2009, has been involved in countless scandals over the last two years, most due to problems with drug abuse. In 2010 he was banned for two years for testing positive for cocaine use, and also admitted having smoked crack in the past. The ban, reduced to six months on appeal, cost him a move to Cruzeiro, and since then he has bounced into and been bounced out of Atlético Mineiro and Bahia. Still just 24, he is now attempting to restart his career back at Botafogo.
And nor is it simply a Brazilian phenomenon. For the young athlete from a disadvantaged background, suddenly catapulted into a world of money, celebrity and considerable temptation, tremendous care must be taken. Closer to home, the truncated careers of George Best and Paul Gascoigne are examples, as is the sad story of Belfast snooker legend Alex Higgins.
The lessons of the past, however, are not always learned well. That, surely, can be the only -explanation for Flamengo president Patricia Amorim’s sweaty-palmed excitement at the prospect of bringing Adriano to the Gávea, and the flags and banners calling for O Imperador’s signing at last week’s Libertadores game against Olímpia of Paraguay.
Adriano, Ronaldinho and Vagner Love together at Flamengo.
What could possibly go wrong?
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