In the space of just a few games, Leite Ribeiro Adriano has become the new darling not only of Serie A but world football in general. His start to the season leading the line for Inter Milan has been nothing short of staggering, while his partnership with Ronaldo in the Brazil team continues to blossom. As qualification for the FIFA World Cup Germany 2006 continues, he is without doubt one of the biggest stars on show.
"He's one of the best strikers around now and what's amazing is that he can get a lot better still," asserts no less an authority than Pele himself, who also believes that since Adriano linked up with Ronaldo, Brazil have found, "the perfect combination."
At Inter, he has become 'l'uomo squadra' (one-man team), the player the Milan side is now built around. Adriano's desire to play every match and his total commitment meant it really could not happen any other way. He has developed the very popular habit of scoring winning goals (seven in the league and seven more in the Champions League) and the San Siro faithful bow down to his hunger for the game, all of which reminds them of a certain Ronaldo.
Even the previously untouchable Christian Vieri has been swept aside, with coach Roberto Mancini giving his once-assured place in the side to the young Brazilian alongside Nigerian Obafemi Martins. Reassured by the confidence shown in him by the management, Adriano revels in a new freedom to express himself, both on and off the pitch. The day after a disappointing 1-1 draw with Lazio, he stunned journalists with his willingness to examine where the problems may lie. "I always try and help the team and I'm ready to assume my responsibilities. We have to forget our personal problems and focus on playing with more concentration. We know we're a strong side, but we haven't shown it yet. We have to believe in ourselves and I'm convinced we can do better," he said.
Still only 22 years old, Adriano's honesty fits perfectly with his thirst for victory. A veritable steamroller at 6 foot 2 and weighing 198 pounds, defences are more often than not helpless to stop his extraordinary acceleration and stinging shot power. That helplessness often turns to frustration, and in stoppage time of a Champions League game with Valencia (0-0), Portuguese player Caneira brought Adriano down with a horrendous tackle before discretely striking out at him.
For the first time since his arrival at the Milan club, Adriano lost his cool and knocked his opponent to the ground in front of the referee, who had no choice other than to send him off. With great sportsmanship, the Brazilian apologised to the match official and promised it wouldn't happen again. Instead of reprimanding their player, the Inter staff commented with a smile that, "at least he will be able to get some rest now."
"He's awesome. At the moment he's the best striker in the world, he's simply unstoppable," affirms Adriano's compatriot Emerson, himself a success with Juventus. And far from letting such praise go to his head, compliments like this encourage the youngster in his desire to leave a lasting impression at the club to which he feels such a huge attachment. His appetite for the national side is just as pronounced, and he aims to help Brazil secure qualification for the next FIFA World Cup as soon as possible.
Alongside his idol
Like the child who never grew up, which in some ways he still is, Adriano admits to living a dream come true every time he takes to the field with his idol Ronaldo. "We are capable of playing well together because we have different strengths. Of course, if the choice had to made it's clear Ronaldo would start and nobody would disagree with that for a second," he explains, careful that his ambition not be misunderstood.
Given that his relations with the new phenomenon of Brazilian football are excellent, the Real Madrid striker hardly needs to be comforted in this way and, because he still has a soft spot for Inter, Ronaldo could not be happier for his compatriot's success there. Furthermore, since being partnered with Adriano in the forward line of the Seleçao, Ronaldo has had more space on the pitch to exploit than ever before.
Indeed, the Brazilian philosophy of sacrificing everything to attack suits Adriano down to the ground. "I think we can play together with Kaka and Ronaldinho without any problem. All of us have a different approach even if we all love to score," he concludes eagerly, already savouring Brazil's upcoming match against Ecuador.