The madness of Emperor Adriano

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It’s not only a player’s skills that amaze me. I’m also especially impressed by the enlightenment of some footballers who, when faced with trouble, look to their forefathers for counselling and guidance.

Consider Adriano.

Enduring, yet again, some off-field turbulence, the bumper-sized Emperor tried to find a way to save his skin by calling upon the sagacity of a fellow ruler: Nero.

As our man Suetonius reports straight from the year 64 BC, the nutty emperor, taken by an insane desire to destroy the city, started the Great Fire of Rome – and, as the legend goes, played the lyre while watching it burn.

Of course Nero didn’t feel like taking the rap for it, so he smartly decided to blame the Christians, who were burned or crucified for his deeds.

Adriano, in contrast, was doing fine. Apart from the threat of a 120-day ban for headbutting a player (which turned into a mild two-game suspension), things were going smoothly in his stint with Sao Paulo FC.

He was still far from his former brilliance, but a goal every now and then was proving enough for the fans. Last week, however, the uncontrollable forward had the heat turned on.

First, he was slammed by the club president for arriving at the airport before the Copa Libertadores match against Medellin’s Atlético Nacional wearing a T-shirt instead of Sao Paulo’s team uniform.

“He might be the Emperor in Rome, but here he’s equal to others,” grumbled Juvenal Juvêncio, clearly unaware of Internazionale’s location. Not to mention clueless about the fact that the coaching staff had allowed Adriano to change his clothes on the plane.

His scolding was thus completely out of place – though it did an excellent job of attracting bad publicity for his recovering star player. (That’s what happens when you have amateur directors in charge; unfortunately, they’re everywhere in Brazil.)

Next day, however, Adriano decided to flip out.

He arrived half an hour late for practice, didn’t join his team-mates, went straight to the fitness room, quit the session a few moments later, shooed away a director who tried to get him back and left the club facilities without an explanation.

His only words were directed at a photographer: “If you take one more photo, I’ll break you right here.”

Adriano was fined in 40% of his wages and had to apologise to the entire squad. And that’s when, to avoid another further punishment (either from coach Muricy Ramalho or the club board who had threatened to cancel his contract), he decided to pull a Nero – and blame the press for his mistakes.

“I’ve fought a lot to be here. You [the press] won’t destroy it. I won’t let it,” he announced.

In the same statement, Adriano, who had said more than once that in Brazil he didn’t want to be called Emperor – “Let’s leave this nickname in Italy, I’m a new person now” – changed his mind.

Apparently missing his old self, he commanded the journalists to refer to him as the Emperor again. “If I wasn’t still Emperor, those things in the last days would not have that dimension.”

If that seems like plain madness, there's a simple reason why: it is.

Despite being a terrific athlete, a world-class striker and a jolly nice fella (at least when he’s not threatening people), Adriano is once again starting to act more like a delirious emperor – the kind of behavior that drove him to the rock bottom at Inter.

Some say Sao Paulo is his last shot, and it’s starting to slip away. And the worst of it is that, in Brazil, most fans – and even the club – would tolerate such nonsense if he was performing like a real sovereign on the pitch.

But a month and a half after his debut, not only has he dismally failed to find his A game but he's beginning to cause trouble. And all the while, Borges, his replacement, is coming on strong, doing what people were expecting from the star man.

Red alert.

Sure, the media can obey and keep calling him Emperor – even change his name to Adrianus, in a good old-fashioned Latin way. But it won’t do any good if he doesn’t elevate his game.

It might not have happened back in the Roman Empire, but in the wild world of Brazilian football, Adriano should be well aware, even an Emperor can be thrown to the lions.