Surprises were expected from Emerson Leao’s first squad as Brazil coach. But few could have foreseen the inclusion of an 18-year-old who was frequently on the bench with his club side.

‘Adriano is one for the future,’ said Leao, after naming his party to face Colombia in a World Cup qualifier last November. ‘He’s a big striker, the type of player we haven’t seen since Serginho Chulapa.’

It was not the happiest comparison. For all his domestic prowess, Serginho is best remembered for the 1982 World Cup, where many exuberant Brazilian attacks broke down at his clumsy feet.

Adriano’s call-up seemed premature, a belief confirmed when he stumbled through subsequent games for his club, Flamengo. And he had little time to make an impression when coming on as a late substitute against Colombia. But his mere presence was evidence of remarkable progress. A year earlier Adriano helped Brazil to victory in the World Under-17 Championship, even though he failed to score in an attack seen generally as the team’s weak point.

Young players develop at different rates. While most of his Under-17 colleagues have yet to play first-team football, Adriano was given his chance with Flamengo and responded with goals.

Until the call-up for the Colombia game, 2000 was a year of steady improvement. His threat in the air is now considerable, the result not only of his height but also of good technique. He has grown stronger in possession and his footwork is surprisingly nimble for a man of his size.

‘Being called up to the national team increased my responsibilities, and I’m aware I have to keep battling to improve,’ he says. ‘It’s helped me pick up experience. I’m more mature as a result.’

Nevertheless, he took time to adjust to being the star name in this year’s South American Under-20 Championship. An ugly stamping incident earned him a red card and a suspension, and without him Brazil’s attack was toothless. But he returned with his head inthe right place — on the end of team-mates’ crosses — and his goals ensured his country’s comfortable qualification for the World Youth Cup in Argentina later this year.

‘I’ve always wanted to take part in the competition,’ he says. ‘Another dream I want to fulfil this year is to buy a house for my parents.’

A move to Europe would help him achieve his financial objectives, and Internazionale have shown interest in taking him on loan, though Flamengo say they are only interested in a sale.

Either way, his prestige and value are on the up and a trip to the estate agents should not be far off.

By Tim Vickery

Club Flamengo
Country Brazil
Born February 17, 1982, in Rio de Janeiro
International debut November 2000, v Colombia
International caps 1
Honours World Under-17 Championship 1999; South American Under-20 Championship 2001