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Not just a big man up front

Six goals in five Serie A games, joint top scorer with Andriy Shevckenko, and one in the UEFA Cup.

Defensive play in Italy's top division is not what it used to be - ah, the Seventies and Eighties when you could count on a handful of 0-0 draws in top matches - but Parma striker Adriano could not have started the season in any more explosive form.

His first-half goal against Sampdoria on Sunday, a header which took a deflection but would have gone in anyway, gave Parma the winning margin in one of the closest, most exciting matches of the current campaign.

Sadly, Parma's Stadio Tardini was filled way below capacity, as newly-promoted Sampdoria - despite close ties between the two sets of fans, with the home end celebrating their rivals with a show of both teams' colours before kickoff - do not currently represent a great attraction, their glories of the early Nineties having faded to less than grey during a four-year spell in Serie B which ended last spring.

Adriano did not do much else on Sunday, unless you count scaring the life out of Doria defenders every time he had the ball. A powerful runner who appears to think a goal is there for the taking every time he gets possession, he has a strong build (1.88, 86 kilos) and can easily fend off defenders.

But he's not your typical clumsy centre-forward who only holds the ball up and waits for midfielders to join the attack, trying not to fall over in the process. Instead, once his defender backs off or is sealed off, Adriano often tries to turn (left, mostly) and run for goal.

He gets into more blind alleys than his coach Cesare Prandelli perhaps would like. Defenders now try to crowd him and get a touch that takes possession away from him, but often you'll see him emerge from a cluster of bodies with the ball at his feet - preferably his left foot - and that spells annihilation for the goalkeepers: Adriano appears to have an above average ability to convert chances.

Those who were concerned - with a degree of reason - about his skill at scoring the easy goals, the tap-ins, were made to think again after the Brazilian scored against Siena, in a home match where Parma struggled mightily, from close range after some shaky defending by the Tuscan side.

On Sunday, Adriano's goal again had something to do with opposing defenders putting their feet wrong: winger Marchionni got behind Doria's left back Bettarini and, with Parma enjoying a numerical advantage and goalkeeper Antonioli in no man's land, his cross at the far post was nodded in by the Brazilian.

There were some who thought that without Chelsea's new hero Adrian Mutu, Adriano would have struggled to hold his own.

But Prandelli has managed to create a side which has played some brilliant football AND scored goals, although you wonder what would happen should Adriano ever feel as much as a headache.

Even in the UEFA Cup, Parma were 1-0 down to Ukraine's Metalurg Donetsk - admittedly not exactly Real Madrid - before the Brazilian was catapulted from the bench and immediately levelled.

Part of it is down to Prandelli's decision to field a 4-2-3-1 set-up which plays to Adriano's strengths of leading the line alone, creating room for the three attacking players behind him, playmaker Morfeo and wide men Bresciano, Marchionni or Nakata.

Born in one of Rio de Janeiro's many poor neighbourhoods, Adriano was first employed as a left back in his youth side, but kept scoring so many goals on surges from that flank that the team's coach came to his senses and the young Leite Ribeiro (his full name) became a force at centre forward, although a very raw one.

His tendency to attack with his head down looking at the ball, missing the sight of better-placed teammates, was a concern from the beginning of his career, although his coaches have always tried to keep a balance between his healthy selfishness, a trait of any goalscorer worth his wristbands, and their own desire to see him fit into team play.

Adriano himself admits to having been too self-centred, but his attitude in training and his public utterances about the need to work harder and improve his right foot and movement make Prandelli very optimistic.

Adriano's great form has Parma fans buzzing - but not apparently rushing to the box office - and a barman in one of the city's best bars busy setting aside toffees (he does it every time the Brazilian scores a goal, and Adriano has been known to like a sweet or two too many).

But it is the sort of fake bliss that comes when you ride your rich friend's sportscar and every girl casts glances at you at traffic lights: you can't have it forever and tomorrow you'll be a regular Joe without as much as an acknowledgment from the old lady behind the newsagent's counter.

Adriano is a Parma player only in name: Inter signed him from Flamengo in August 2001, for 5m euros, then saw him nearly burst one of the Santiago Bernabeu's goals with a freekick during a pre-season friendly.

Too raw to be a part of Inter's rotation that year, Adriano was loaned to Fiorentina in January 2002 but his six goals in 15 matches were not enough to keep the Viola in the Serie A.

Adriano: Line leader and star man for Parma.
Adriano: Line leader and star man for Parma.

Parma got him last year on a deal with Inter: the Emilian club would pay the Nerazzurri 17.3m euros for their two-year "half" of Adriano.

If nothing else happens, at the end of this season the Milano team can have Adriano back for 20m euros or 15m plus a couple of significant others, a shrewd piece of business for Parma, whose owner Tanzi, one of Italy's top entrepreneurs and founder of the Parmalat foods empire, enjoys a long-standing friendly relationship with Inter supremo Massimo Moratti.

This did not prevent Moratti from hitting the roof in late September when Adriano revealed on a TV show that he'd like to play for Milan one day. Is it because of their recent success or their increasing Brazilian contingent, although you wonder if lame-duck Rivaldo will stay past January 3.

Adriano said that he was just answering a question about the teams that he fancies, but a few days later Moratti metaphorically gave Inter fans a strong dose of smelling salts when he announced that Adriano will definitely be an Inter player next season.

Do they need that. After losing Ronaldo, Crespo and countless opportunities to claim a trophy, not to mention Sunday night's derby, the last thing Nerazzurri fans need to hear is that one of the world's most promising strikers could join Milan.

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