“Emperor” Adriano celebrates leading role in Flamengo title success

In his first game after rejoining Flamengo, Adriano’s mere presence put an extra 50,000 on the gate. “The emperor has returned,” they chanted – and the 27-year-old striker was looking imperious from day one. His 19 goals – which made him the competition’s joint-top scorer – and his all-round attacking play were vital to the Rio de Janeiro club ending a 17-year wait to win the Brazilian Championship.

All this represented a remarkable comeback just a few months after mental health problems forced Adriano to quit Italian football and even muse about retiring from the game.

In truth, his success on the field does not necessarily mean that all his problems have been solved; he has confessed to a problem with alcohol. During the campaign he missed the occasional training session and, bizarrely, was absent from the crucial penultimate round when he turned up with an injured foot. The official line was that he had stepped on a light bulb. Few believed it – and plenty of alternative explanations circulated in Rio. His good fortune was that Flamengo won without him, while chief rivals Sao Paulo lost, and a possible title win suddenly became probable.

Flamengo could afford to treat his lapses with tolerance because, when he was on the field, Adriano won matches. At times he looked like an adult who had wandered into a kids’ game. From day one it was apparent that any decent cross from the byline would give him an excellent scoring chance – and right-back Leonardo Moura was a consistent provider.

In the closing months of the championship, Adriano forged a wonderful relationship with veteran Serb playmaker Dejan Petkovic, his main supply line through the middle of the field. Petkovic gave Adriano the chance to show he is much more than a big, hulking striker, and that his movement can be intelligent, while his left foot is capable of surprising subtlety as well as fearsome power. Theirs was the link-up that won the title.

The speed of his recovery meant that Adriano was only out of the Brazil squad for a brief interlude and he began 2010 as Luis Fabiano’s reserve. As well as the World Cup, the year also gives him the chance to represent Flamengo in the Libertadores Cup. But will he take it?

There is much speculation about his future, with transfer offers likely to come in from Italy and England. However, it is worth remembering his battle against depression in Italy is very recent and if he returns to Europe his employers must be aware that inside Adriano’s giant frame beats the heart of a vulnerable child. Whether he stays or goes, the “emperor” will need to be handled with care.