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Spurs' Wembley woes won't go away


Adriano serving notice to Brazil

Inter's shocking midweek demolition of Spanish Champions Valencia served notice to the rest of European football, what observers in Serie A this season already know: That Inter striker Adriano Leite Ribeiro, also known as 'The Emperor', is on the verge of becoming the next full-fledged Brazilian superstar.

The more surprising aspect however is not Adriano's emergence, but the fact that he still doesn't command a regular place in the Brazilian national lineup.

Adriano is already the most in-form striker anywhere; nine goals this season in Serie A and the Champions League attest to that. This of course follows a summer where Adriano almost single-handedly won Copa America for a second-string Brazilian team, leading all scorers with seven goals.

Paolo Maldini recently told the Corriere della Sera, "Adriano is the most dangerous of opponents, he has power, technique and a wonderful shot."

Big, powerful and blessed with surprising speed for his size, Adriano's physical prowess among strikers is matched only by the player he is most often compared to, his countryman Ronaldo.

In some respects, Adriano's career path is mirroring Ronaldo's, who also led all scorers when Brazil won the Copa in 1999 and later starred at Inter. Surprisingly, however, Adriano models himself not on Ronaldo but on his idol and mentor, the legendary Brazilian midfielder Zico, whom Adriano considers a 'second father'.

Like most Brazilian stars, Adriano grew up in a poverty-stricken area, in his particular case, Vila Cruzerio, a Rio shanty town. (He celebrated Brazil's Copa America win by throwing a fireworks display there but only after "clearing" the party with local drug bosses). He then starred for Flamengo where his spectacular goals earned him a lucrative move to Serie A with Inter.

Adriano's time at Inter, however, has not always been a smooth ride. During his first year, he found himself buried on the end of the bench behind Inter's star-studded strike force at the time of Christian Vieri, Ronaldo, Mohammed Kallon, Alvaro Recoba and Nicola Ventola.

In fact, Adriano's future at Inter was in question until successful loan stints at Fiorentina and Parma (where he scored a combined 28 league goals in 51 appearances) showed Inter the error of its ways. Earlier this year, the club bought him back from Parma for approximately $29 million, resolving a complex co-ownership deal they had in place over him.

Amazingly, though, Adriano remains on the fringe of the Brazilian first-team.

Brazil coach, Carlos Alberto Parreira, seems to be of the opinion that Adriano and Ronaldo do not necessarily blend in the lineup together. At present, Parreira's preferred choice is to pair Ronaldo and Ronaldinho up front with Kaka just behind. For Parreira, Adriano remains a luxury substitute and Ronaldo's chief stand-in.

This is a mistake on the magnitude of former Argentine coach Marcelo Bielsa's stubborn and ridiculous refusal to play Gabriel Bastituta and Hernan Crespo together, a decision that ultimately accounted for Argentina's poor showing at the last two World Cups.

Adriano has in fact played in tandem with Ronaldo before.

In a September World Cup qualifier vs Bolivia with Kaka sidelined, Parreira pushed Ronaldinho back to midfield and paired Adriano with Ronaldo. The result was that the strikers showed instant chemistry. Both scored and Brazil coasted to victory. Since that game though, with Kaka once again available, Adriano has for the most part been relegated to the bench, usually coming on as a direct replacement for Ronaldo.

If Parreira was more adventurous, he could push Ronaldinho permanently back to an attacking midfield role alongside Kaka, to leave a spot open for Adriano to pair with Ronaldo.

A formation such as this would give Brazil easily the most potent quartet in world football and possibly a team that could match some of the great flair teams of Brazilian lore. Advocates of attacking football can only hope Parreira wises up sooner rather then later.

Armchair musings

  • One rather comical note in world football this week was ex-star Paul Gascoigne's announcement that he would be changing his name. In fact, the footballer formerly known as 'Gazza' to his adoring fans will now be addressed only as 'G8,' a move designed to make people everywhere take him more 'seriously.'

    For those of you who are actually interested in the origin of the new name, it's an extremely 'clever' merging of his first initial and former shirt number.

    Personally I'm more worried about G8's newfound capacity to speak about himself not in the time-honored athlete tradition of the third person but to actually speak about himself in the plural. In explaining his new moniker to journalists, G8 was quoted as saying, "G8 is right for us now ... Paul's not right for us because it's too closely linked with the past."

  • As expected, it didn't take long for Graeme Souness to lay down the law at his new team, Newcastle. Equally unsurprising is the fact that he had a run-in with notorious troublemaker Craig Bellamy. Apparently the trouble started when Souness substituted Bellamy in a game last week vs Charlton. On leaving the pitch, Bellamy allegedly spewed some invectives the manager's way.

    Initially Bellamy was unrepentant but following Newcastle's win over Panionios in the UEFA Cup, he appeared suitably apologetic telling reporters, "I was out of order for what I did at The Valley on Sunday and I want to apologize to the manager. I knew within 10 seconds what I did was wrong." Bellamy's further transformation from goat to hero continued over the weekend with the last minute winner in a seven-goal thriller versus Manchester City.

    The cynic in me suspects that Bellamy's newfound contriteness comes rather soon on the heels of a rumored training-ground bustup a few days earlier, when club insiders apparently suggested that Souness had actually come to 'grips' literally with the Bellamy problem. The moral of this story is that players probably shouldn't curse out their managers, especially not when they have one who can kick their ass.

    As for Bellamy, he continues to be more trouble then he's worth. It's one thing to put up with a prima donna attitude when that player is a superstar- caliber franchise player. It's another thing to deal with it from a striker who has scored only 21 goals in the last three seasons entering 2004.

  • Claudio Ranieri is at his meddling worst again over in La Liga with Valencia.

    In his managerial career, Ranieri has often been accused of over-tinkering with his formations and lineups. At Chelsea last season he often refused to stick with the same winning lineup and often seemed to change formations for the sake of changing.

    With Valencia, Ranieri appears to be doing more of he same, constantly changing lineups for each game. With the recent defeat to Real Madrid, Valencia has now gone five games without victory and has looked defensively shaky all season. Compounding the situation was Ranieri's shocking decision to start the game vs. Madrid with Pablo Aimar on the bench. Chelsea's decision to get rid of him in favor of Jose Mourinho looks better and better all the time.

  • Arsenal's English Premier League record 49-game unbeaten streak ended this past weekend with a loss to hated foes Manchester United.

    If anything, it'll temporarily cease all talk of Arsenal being the greatest club team of all time. The Gunners are undoubtedly one of the greatest offensive units to ever grace European football. However their defensive frailties and failures in Europe mean that they pale in comparison to the Ruud Gullit-Marco Van Basten-Frank Rijkaard led 1991-92 AC Milan squad that went undefeated in Serie A.

    Of seemingly bigger note after the game is the now infamous 'Soupgate' incident. Apparently during a fracas in the players' tunnel after the game, an unnamed Arsenal player reportedly threw either pea or tomato soup (it's unclear) over Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson. This of course begs two questions, what was the player doing with the soup in the first place? And how difficult could it be to distinguish between the stains left by pea as opposed to tomato soup?

    Jen Chang is the U.S. editor for ESPN He can be reached at: