Adriano fought basketballers, evaded gangs and was Brazil's icon in wild football career

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Brazil has never had a shortage of supremely talented strikers to worship over the years, but cult hero Adriano was undoubtedly one of the most memorable. Nicknamed ‘The Emporer’, Rio de Janeiro-born Adriano Leite Ribeiro was considered one of the most talented players of his generation when he burst onto the Italian football scene after securing a move from Flamengo to Inter Milan.

An early loan spell with Parma turned into an odd co-ownership deal, yielding 22 goals in 36 appearances before Inter bought their man back in January 2004 on a four-and-a-half-year contract for around £20.2million.

He would go on to score 73 goals in 163 appearances for the San Siro-based club over five and a half seasons, winning Serie A in 2006 and 2007.

Renowned for his incredible shooting power even Swedish icon Zlatan Ibrahimovic was a fan. In 2020, he told Sport Bible: “He could shoot from every angle, nobody could tackle him, nobody could take the ball, he was a pure animal.”

Adriano earned 48 caps for the Brazilian national team, scoring 27 times, helping the Samba boys to win the Copa America in 2004.

But as Ibrahimovic eluded to in the same interview three years ago, there was another side to the Brazilian that would plague him throughout his career.

“I enjoyed playing with him, playing against him, but it’s a shame that it lasted such a short time,” said Ibrahimovic. “Fifty per cent of everything you do is the mental part. If you don’t have it in your head, it’s difficult.”

That was certainly the case with Adriano, who was involved in drama off the pitch as often as he was scoring on it.

Adriano was a big star at Inter Milan. (Image: Getty)

When he rejoined Inter Milan in 2004, he had become the big star of Serie A. As photographers surrounded his house, the player’s grandmother came up with a novel solution for getting rid of the congregated press – by pouring boiling hot water over them from a window.

The incident was recited by Adriano himself during an interview with the Players’ Tribune in which he claimed his grandmother said: “I’m just going to give our friends from the press a little bath! It’s nice and warm! They’ll like it!”

The Inter star’s life hit a dark moment when his father passed away in 2004, resulting in the use of alcohol to self-medicate. “My love for football was never the same,” he said in the same interview. “I was across the ocean in Italy, away from my family, and I just couldn’t cope with it. I got so depressed, man. I started drinking a lot. I didn’t really want to train. It had nothing to do with Inter. I just wanted to go home.”

Before long, he was finding himself in regular scrapes. He allegedly got into a fight with 6ft 7″ American basketball player Rolando Howell. After regularly turning up for training drunk he was sent back to Brazil on unpaid leave before eventually joining Sou Paulo on loan.

Despite undergoing a rehabilitation programme, he is sent off for headbutting an opponent and also fights a photographer who snapped him turning up late for training.

With his place in Brazil’s 2010 World Cup squad in serious jeopardy, manager Dunga grants a desperate Adriano one last chance but it doesn’t last long. Just weeks later he was photographed posing around gang members with an AK47 and was dropped from the squad.

The drama doesn’t stop there, as the Daily Mail reported that the troubled Brazilian spent Christmas Eve in a nightclub before leaving in a car with four women. But after fooling around with his bodyguard’s gun, he accidentally shot one of the women in the hand.

With his lucrative career in Italian football now a distant memory, he is back in the news three years later when the Mail reports that Brazilian prosecutors have charged him with drug trafficking offences. It is claimed that Adriano gifted a motorcycle to a known gang member from his former shantytown who then used the vehicle to run drug errands.

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Adriano playing for Brazil against Italy during a friendly match in 2009. (Image: Getty)

He is threatened with up to 10 years in prison but the charges are eventually dropped. At this moment it looks like his career has been handed a lifeline back in Europe when French outfit Le Havre offered him a six-month contract. But the deal collapsed at the last minute leaving Adriano down on his luck.

In an attempt to cheer himself up, the fallen striker books out a five-star hotel room and allegedly invites around 18 sex workers for a night of passion. The whole event is said to have cost him £20,000.

After enjoying hotel life, he sold his £1.2million home and moved into a £10,000 per month penthouse. Here it is alleged that he dated two girls at the same time, who have their own rooms on either side of his but know nothing about each other. When the tabloids blow his cover they both walk out, presumably in opposite directions.

With calming down now considered high on his list of priorities, Adriano married Micaela Mesquita, a hairdresser 16 years his junior in 2022. But the good times only lasted 24 days before they reportedly split up.

The Brazilian’s new wife was less than impressed when he nipped out to watch the World Cup with friends and didn’t return for two days.

The last straw in the doomed marriage comes soon after when Adriano is snapped celebrating his 41st birthday on board a yacht whilst cozying up to another woman. When the photo lands on Instagram, Mesquita responds by writing: “Ah, how cute! I wish you all the happiness in the world. Adriano, send me the divorce papers.”

Had the mercurial forward managed to keep himself on the straight and narrow, who knows how successful a career he could have ended up having. But the reality is his time in football will be remembered just as much for the drama off the pitch as it was for his undeniable talent on it.