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Apr 14, 2010

The enigma of Adriano

Adriano has always lived his life on a tightrope. Sometimes depressed, sometimes enjoying the local nightlife, but always seemingly on a knife-edge.

A year ago, he looked to be in freefall at Inter Milan and he eventually made a major career decision. Living life to extremes, as has become his nature, Adriano momentarily left football and went AWOL for three days, missing, as it turned out, in a favela - or shanty town - in Rio de Janeiro.

The episode provoked the worst fears in Adriano's friends and family. His girlfriend admitted at the time that the player had failed to overcome his problems with alcohol. Perhaps more worryingly, she also recognised that Adriano was associating himself with some dubious characters: some of the country's most wanted drug traffickers.

"I am happy in the favela and I'll continue to go there," Adriano said. At the time, he was earning 5 million euros per year with the Serie A champions, and yet he found his place in one of the poorest neighbourhoods of Brazil. In Italy, the dreamworld had become a nightmare; at home, a dose of hard reality appeared to offer him a tonic.

Adriano grew up in Rio's Complexo do Alemao and, at the age of 27, he decided to return. His family, meanwhile, turned to their faith to help them through those dark days. "I pray for him," his mother said, "and I ask everyone to pray for him."

A year on, Adriano has become one of most important players in the Brazilian league with the reigning champions, Flamengo. He has been dominant enough in the Brasileirão to have prompted calls for Dunga to reintroduce him to the national side ahead of the World Cup, but it appears he has yet to leave behind all of the bad influences of his past.

Adriano insists that he has carried none of the old problems into his new life, but an extensive report published in Rio-based daily newspaper O Dia, entitled The forbidden world of Adriano, details a life of continued excess. "While he remains in Brazil, there will be no way for him to recover," a source close to the player at his club said. "At Flamengo, he does what he wants to do because the club allows him to."

Many of Adriano's friends have even tried to convince him that he should return to Europe, but the striker insists that he has been trying to leave his past behind him. "When I arrived in Brazil, I really was not at all happy," he told O Globo recently. ''I had problems with depression and alcohol. I had lost my father [in 2006], a World Cup. Today, I am well. What happened happened and, unfortunately, when these things happen with Adriano, they are blown out of proportion. Today, my relationship with alcohol is completely normal - if it wasn't, I would not be able to play. I drink two or three times a week."

Adriano recently inspired Flamengo to victory over Vasco de Gama and proved that he is ready to confront the big issues. After scoring a goal, Adriano sent a message, via his shirt, towards his detractors. "Forgive bad people," the shirt read.

His agent, meanwhile, has signalled that Adriano will come back to Europe in the near future yet, for now, the player is simply enjoying life in Brazil with his close friends in the favela, steering clear of the spotlight. "I have had to carry a lot of pressure on me since the age of 18," he added.

He is now 28, reaching what should be the peak of his career, and has regained his form in his homeland. What does the future hold? With a man like Adriano, it is better not to make predictions. Where he will be tomorrow, no one knows.

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