Adriano Has A Story to Tell

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They said that I disappeared.

“Adriano walked away from millions.” 

“Adriano is on drugs.” 

“Adriano disappeared into the favelas.” 

You know how many times I’ve seen those headlines? Shit. 

Well, here I am. Smiling in front of you.

Do you want to hear the truth? Straight from me? No bullshit? Well, pull up a chair then, brother.

Because Adriano has a story for you. 

“The favelas.

Even that word, people always get it wrong. Outsiders, they don’t understand, man. When they talk about Brazil, when they talk about the little kids in the slums? 

They always paint a dark picture. It’s always pain and misery, man. 

And yeah, it’s like that sometimes. But it’s complicated. When I think about growing up in the favela, I actually think about how much fun we had. I think about flying kites and spinning tops and kicking a football in the alley. Real childhood, not this bullshit tap, tap, tap on the screens that these kids do now. 

I was surrounded by my family, my people. I grew up in a community.

I didn’t suffer. I lived

Adriano Leite Ribeiro | The Players' Tribune
Courtesy of Adriano

Listen, I made a lot of money in my career. But how much money would you pay to have that much fun again? You know what I mean? 

A ball was always at my foot. It was put there by God. When I was seven years old, some of my family members pooled their money together so that I could play at Flamengo’s academy — the escolinha (little school). Shit, man! From the favela to Flamengo??? Let’s go! I’ll put on my shoes! Where’s the bus stop? 

But it was kind of crazy because we were living in Penha, and if you know Rio then you know it was a long fucking way from Penha to the Flamengo school in Gávea. This was the ’90s, before they put in the Yellow Line. It was like two different bus rides, and of course I was a little peanut, so I needed someone to go with me. 

This is where my nan comes in. 

My nan! Shit! You better bless yourself when you speak her name! Without her in my life? Forget it. You would not know the name Adriano. 

Listen man, you don’t understand this woman. This character! This legend! I’ll tell you a quick story….

A ball was always at my foot. It was put there by God.


One time when I was at Inter, the press were following me everywhere, hounding me about something. They were actually camped outside my house, and they wouldn’t leave. I felt trapped, man. My nan was staying with me at the time, and I heard her in the kitchen boiling water on the stove. 

I said, “What’s up, Nan? What are you making?” 

She said, “No, no. I’m not cooking, love.” 

But she had a big-ass pot, like she was making pasta. 

She said, “I’m just making a present for our friends outside.” 

I said, “What??? Nan, you’re crazy. You can’t do that!!!!”

She said, “No, no. I’m just going to give our friends from the press a little bath! It’s nice and warm! They’ll like it!” 

Hahahah! Shit! She was serious, man! I had to calm her down. She was like, “They need to stop messing with my baby! I have to teach them a lesson!” 

So that’s my nan, O.K.? You understand now?

When I was a kid, she would ride with me on the bus to training every single day, and of course we didn’t have much money, so she used to pop some popcorn for us to have something to eat. Or sometimes she’d cut a piece of white bread and pour some sugar in the middle. Basic stuff. Whatever we could afford. But sometimes the simple stuff tastes the best, right? Shit, especially when you’re hungry. That popcorn tastes like heaven!

Anyway, once we got to training, what’s my nan going to do? Sit in a nice cafe and have some tea? No, man, she had to sit there and watch me play for hours. 

The funniest thing was that she could never pronounce my name right. 

Ever since I was a baby, she called me “ADI-RANO!” 

So we would be training and she’d be yelling at the other kids, “Hey! Pass the ball to Adirano!! What are you doing, love? Give Adirano the ball!”

I had to tell her, “Nan! Be quiet! You can’t talk like this!” 

Adriano Leite Ribeiro | The Players' Tribune
Courtesy of Adriano

Then on the bus ride home, the analysis would begin. 

She’d say, “Adirano, why you run like this? Why didn’t you go to the other side? I don’t understand why you didn’t shoot it, love.” 

Hahhahaha! Man! She was really pushing me! She was Mourinho before Mourinho! Ruthless, bro!!!

We did this routine for like eight years. Every single day. Together. I will never forget it. Never, never, never. I don’t even know how many hours I spent on the bus with my nan. That was our whole life. I mean, when do you think I had time to study? No wonder I failed the fifth grade three times! 

My nan sacrificed her life so that I could try to be a footballer. And then one day, out of nowhere, the whole dream was almost over. 

Over, man! 

When I was 15, Flamengo were going to release me. Seriously. Hand to God. The problem was that I was actually a left back at the time, and I was growing way too fast. Too much popcorn! Imagine me? Adriano? A fucking left back? So at the end of the year, the coaches literally lined up all the kids and put them into two rows. 

They would point at you and say, “You, go over there.” 

Left row, you’re released. 

Right now, you stay. 

They pointed at me. “Adriano, go there.” 

The left row. Goodbye. 

Then, by the grace of God, as I was walking, one of the coaches yelled, “Hey, no, no, no. Not Adriano. He stays for now.”

When do you think I had time to study? No wonder I failed the fifth grade three times! 


Unbelievable, no? When God puts his hand in our lives, we cannot explain it. 

At that point, I knew that it was about survival. When they moved me up front, I knew it was my last chance. So what did I do? 

Bro, I fought. I punched everyone who was standing in my way. 

That’s another thing that outsiders don’t understand. When you’re a striker, it’s not a race. No, no, no. When the ball comes to your feet, and you have two big centre backs trying to kill you, it’s not a race. 

It’s a fight. It’s a street fight. 

So what did I do? I punched every big bastard standing in my way! 

PUM! Hahahah! ;-)

Adriano will be the last motherfucker standing. Take that to the bank. 

Adriano Leite Ribeiro | The Players' Tribune
Antonio Scorza/AFP via Getty Images

Flamengo kept me on as a striker, thank God, and then a couple years later, when I was 17, I got my chance to train with the first team. But now I’m playing against grown men. They’re playing to feed their families. This is a different level. So I have to prove to everybody that they can’t mess with me. I’ll never forget this moment — we’re playing 11-v-11 and the ball is going back and forth. Nothing is happening. All of a sudden, the ball comes to me in the box. It drops out of the sky. The defenders rush at me, and I just push them away. OOOF!!!

I turn, and I just see this beautiful fucking goal, sitting there in front of me. 

I had the ball on my left foot. And you know what I’m gonna do when I get the ball on my left foot, brother. 

I can’t even explain it. It’s like God reached his finger down from heaven and touched that boot. I closed my eyes and put my foot through the ball as hard as I could. 


The ball hit the post. 


And it went flying in the air like a bird. 


Soaring. Goodbye!!

Man, I swear to God, the ball rebounded all the way back to the halfway line. No joke. All the way to the halfway line. And I could see the look on everybody’s face. The players, the coaches, everybody. 

They were just like, “Oh shit! This is the boy.

And I can remember thinking, Thank you, Heavenly Daddy. Thank you for this gift. 

Adriano will be the last motherfucker standing. Take that to the bank.


A few months later, I was called up to the national team. That’s how fast everything happened. I was still living in the favela with my parents at the time. Actually, I was taking a nap when they made the big squad announcement on TV.

My mom came into the room yelling, “Adriano! Adriano! Son! You have been called up! My God!”

I was snoring. Zzzzzzzzz.

She said, “You’ve been called up! My God! My God!” 

I said, “Huh? Wha? Are you kidding me?”

I got out of bed and saw my name on the TV. 

Come on, man. Be serious. I’m 18 years old. Living in the favela. How can you say that I was not touched by God? My story, it does not make any logical sense, even to me.

Just a year later, I made my move to Inter Milan, and I had people calling me The Emperor.

How can you explain that? The hand of God, I’m telling you. 

Adriano Leite Ribeiro | Football Club Internazionale Milano | The Players’ Tribune
Gianni Giansanti/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

I remember I had just arrived in Italy, and I didn’t know what was going on. I was just looking around at the guys like, “Seedorf. Ronaldo. Zanetti. Toldo. Damn.” I’m in awe of these guys, right? Seedorf walking around in the dressing room with his shirt off — 7% body fat on this motherfucker! Respect!!

I’ll never forget, we were playing against Real Madrid in a friendly at the Bernabeu, and I came on as a substitute. We win a free kick outside the box, and I step up to the ball. Hey, why not? Well, guess who comes up behind me saying, “No, no, no. I take it.”

Materazzi! That big mean bastard! Hahahah!

I could barely understand what he was saying, because I didn’t speak Italian yet. But I understood that he was pissed. 

“No, no, no!” 

He wanted to take it. But Seedorf stepped in and he said, “No, let the kid take it.” 

Nobody messes with Seedorf. So of course Matterazzi had to step aside, and what’s so funny is that if you watch the video, you can see Matterazi standing with his hands on his hips thinking, This fucking kid is going to blast the ball into the top row!!!

People ask me all the time about that free kick. 

How? How, how, how? How did you kick the ball that hard?

I tell them, “Shit man! I don’t know! I hit it with my left and God did the rest!” 


Top corner. 

I really can’t explain it. It just happened. 

That was the start of a love affair with Inter. Still, to this day, Inter is my club. I love Flamengo, São Paulo, Corinthians ... I love many of the places I have played, but Inter is something special for me. 

The Italian press? O.K., that’s another story. Hahahaha.

But Inter the club? The best, man. 

The song still gives me goosebumps when I remember how they used to sing it at San Siro. 

Che confusione

Sarà perché tifiamo

Un giocatore

Che tira bombe a mano 

Siam Tutti in piedi 

per questo brasiliano 

batti le mani 

che in campo c'è Adriano

“We are all standing for this Brazilian.”

Adriano Leite Ribeiro | Football Club Internazionale Milano | The Players' Tribune
Paco Serinelli/AFP via Getty Images

Damn, man. A favela guy like me? I’m the Emperor of Italy? I had not even done much yet, and everyone was treating me like a king. It was crazy. I remember my family all coming over from Rio to visit me, and when I say my family, you don’t understand what I mean, bro. I mean my family. Brazilian style. I’m not talking about just mom and dad, I’m talking about 44 people, man! Cousins! Aunts! Uncles! My boys! 

The whole neighborhood got on that airplane.

So the news got to the club president, Mr. Moratti (the legend!!) And Mr. Moratti said, “Hey, this is a special moment for the kid. Let’s get a bus for his family.” Moratti had his people secure a whole tour bus for them. Can you imagine, 44 Brazilians on tour in Italy? Hahaha! It was a scene, bro. It was party time. 

This is the reason why I will never say a bad word about Mr. Moratti, or about Inter. Every club should be run like that. He cared about me as a person. 

Now, I know what you are thinking. 

“But Adriano, why did you walk away from football? Why did you leave us?”

I get this question every time I go back to Italy. 

You know, sometimes I think I am one of the most misunderstood footballers on the planet. People don’t really understand what happened to me. They have the story all wrong. It’s very simple, honestly.

In the span of nine days, I went from the happiest day of my life, to the worst day of my life. 

I went from heaven to hell. For real. 

July 25, 2004. The Copa America Final against Argentina. Every Brazilian remembers that game. We’re losing to those bastards in the final minutes. They were starting shit with us, mocking us, trying to make us lose our heads so they could waste more time. Luis Fabiano wanted to punch everybody! Hahaha! “Forget the game! Let’s kill these bastards!”

The rest is a poem, man. It’s a movie. It’s a song. I don’t know what it is, but it’s not reality.  

The ball came floating into the box. Confusion. Bodies. Elbows. I couldn’t see shit! If you watch the video, I actually put my elbow up to hit somebody. But then, suddenly, the ball was at my feet. A gift from heaven. 

I thought, Oh! Come here, you beautiful son of a bitch!!

I’d be lying to you if I said I knew where I was aiming. 

I just hit it with my left, as hard as I could. 


A kiss from the fat man to the Argentinians!!!

It hit the back of the net, and I can’t describe the feeling. Incredible. 

We had only tied the game, but we knew that we broke them. We knew what would happen in the penalties, and it did. 

Juanzão — poom!!!!

We were the champions. 

And Argentina were not.

To beat Argentina like that, for my country, with my family watching ... it was probably the happiest day of my life. 

Think about it. The boy from the fucking favelas, man. How could I not think that God had reached his hand down from heaven to touch my life? 

And that’s a lesson for everybody. Because no matter who you are — you can be at the top of the world, you can be The Emperor — but your life can change like….


Like that. 

In the span of nine days, I went from the happiest day of my life, to the worst day of my life. 


August 4, 2004. Nine days later. I was back in Europe with Inter. I got a call from home. They told me my father had died. Heart attack. 

I don’t really want to talk about it, but I will tell you that after that day, my love for football was never the same. He loved the game, so I loved the game. It was that simple. It was my destiny. When I played football, I played for my family. When I scored, I scored for my family. So when my father died, football was never the same. 

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. 

To be honest with you, even though I scored a lot of goals in Serie A over those few years, and even though the fans really loved me, my joy was gone. It was my dad, you know? I couldn’t just flip a switch and feel like myself again. 

Adriano Leite Ribeiro | Football Club Internazionale Milano | The Players’ Tribune
Adam Davy/PA Images via Getty Images

Not all injuries are physical, you understand? 

When I popped my Achilles in 2011? Man, I knew that’s when it was over for me, physically. You can get surgery and rehabilitate it and try to carry on, but you will never be the same. My explosiveness was gone. My balance was gone. Shit, I still walk with a limp. I still have a hole in my ankle. 

It was the same thing when my father died. Except the scar was inside me. 

“Man, what happened to Adriano?” 

Brother, it’s simple. 

I have a hole in my ankle, and one in my soul.

In 2008, it was the time of Mourinho at Inter, and everything was just too much. The press were following me everywhere, and everything with Mourinho was, “Fucking hell! Fucking shit! You’re going to fuck me, aren’t you, boy?” 

I said, Oh Lord. Get me out of here. 

I just couldn’t cope. 

I got called for the national team, and before I left Mourinho said, “You’re not coming back, you are?” 

I said, “You already know it!” 

One-way ticket, brother. 

The press, sometimes they don’t understand that we’re human beings. It was a lot of pressure to be The Emperor. I came from nothing. I was a kid who just wanted to go play football and then drink his drink and hang out with his boys. And I know that’s not something you hear from a lot of footballers these days, because everything is so serious and there’s so much money involved. But I am just being honest. I never stopped being that kid from the favela. 

The press were saying that I had “disappeared.” They were saying that I had gone back to the favelas and was on drugs, and all kinds of crazy stories. They were publishing photos of me and saying that I was surrounded by all these gangsters, and that my story was a tragedy. But I have to laugh, because they don’t know what they’re doing when they talk like that. They don’t understand how much they’re showing their ass. 

I came from nothing. I was a kid who just wanted to go play football and then drink his drink and hang out with his boys.


I went back to my people, my friends, my community. I didn’t want to live up in the castle on the hill away from everyone. I went back to the people who knew me back when I was ADI-RANO, eating the popcorn on the bus. 

Of course, there is a price for everything. I was out of shape — physically and mentally. I knew that I needed some help.  So I ended up going to São Paulo so that I could get help from the REFFIS. At the time, SPFC had some of the best doctors in the world. I started seeing a psychologist to help me deal with my depression, and I was able to build myself back up. 

And this is where I have to give some love to Mr. Moratti, because he was always cool with it. He let me have my space, because he knew what I was going through. I went back and forth a few times from Italy to Brazil. But in the end, I could not lie to him. 

Mr. Moratti called me up one day and said, “How do you feel?”

And I told him, “I just can’t do it anymore. I have to stay in Brazil.”

And he accepted it, completely. He let me leave in peace. And I respect him so much for that. 

“Adriano gave up millions to go home.” 

Yes, maybe I gave up millions. But what price would you put on your soul? How much money would you pay to get back your essence?

At the time, I was broken from my father’s death. I wanted to feel like myself again. I wasn’t on drugs. Was I drinking? Yes, of course. Hell yes, I was. Cheers to you, brother. Listen, if you test my piss — hand to God  — you’re not going to find any drugs in my system. The day that I do drugs is the day that my mom and nan will die. But you know what? You will definitely find some booze. That piss cup is probably going to turn cloudy like a caipirinha!

When I came home to Rio to play for Flamengo, I did not want to be The Emperor anymore. I wanted to be Adriano. I wanted to have fun again. And brother, we had some fun. I will tell you the truth about that Flamengo team. Sometimes we showed up to training not for the football, but just for the drinks afterward. As soon as we were dismissed from training — poom! — party time. Straight to the Mercado Produtor. All the wives knew the deal! “We’ll be home at midnight!” Hahahah. ;-)

The next day at training, someone would really be suffering, and another guy would say, “It’s O.K., brother. I see that you’re fucked. I’ll run for you! I got you!!!” 

We did everything together, man. 

And we won. To deliver the first league title for Flamengo in 17 years? Come on, brother. It was special. 

Adriano Leite Ribeiro | Football Club Internazionale Milano | The Players’ Tribune
Antonio Scorza/AFP via Getty Images

I was never completely the same after my father passed away, but that season I really felt at home. I felt joy again. I felt like Adriano again. 

Adriano was the boy from the favela. 

Adriano was the boy on the bus with his nan. 

Adriano was the boy who Flamengo were going to release. 

Adriano was the boy who fought

Adriano was the last motherfucker standing. 

I never stopped being that person. The money, the fame, the recognition … it does not change how you were born, you understand? 

I did not win a World Cup, no. 

I did not win the Libertadores, no. (Washington, that fucker!!!) 

But you know what? I won just about everything else. And I had a hell of a life, brother. 

I was very proud to be The Emperor. But without Adriano, The Emperor is useless. 

Adriano does not wear a crown. Adriano is the boy from the slums who was touched by God. 

You understand now? 

You see? 

Adriano did not disappear into the favelas. He just went home.