Forget Adrian, just remember Adriano

Champions' League: As Mutu seeks escape route back to Italy, Internazionale's gifted Brazilian has Mancini purring
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The Independent Online

He may not be the most elegant player in Internazionale's history, but after scoring nine goals in his opening 10 games of the season, not to mention seven for Brazil at last summer's Copa America, Adriano has certainly demonstrated he can be one of the Milan club's most effective, and captivating, strikers.

He may not be the most elegant player in Internazionale's history, but after scoring nine goals in his opening 10 games of the season, not to mention seven for Brazil at last summer's Copa America, Adriano has certainly demonstrated he can be one of the Milan club's most effective, and captivating, strikers.

This afternoon, while English eyes focus on events at Old Trafford, most of Italy will follow The Tank's latest exploits as Inter attempt to carry the form that brought them a 5-1 victory at Valencia on Wednesday night into the San Siro derby against defending champions Milan.

Another, now forlorn, Adrian, Chelsea's Mutu, who sought a return to Italy from his self-inflicted problems at Stamford Bridge, may be excused a pang of envy as he watches from afar, but he should have followed the Brazilian's example in sniffing out goal chances, not indulging in other fantasies.

Milan, under their seasoned coach Carlo Ancelotti, lifted the European Cup in 2003 and, along with city rivals Inter, coached now by the highly-rated Roberto Mancini, and Juventus, guided by the vastly experienced Fabio Capello, boast a 100 per cent record in this season's Champions' League. Only Chelsea, notable this term for their superb organisation under Jose Mourinho, have matched the Italian triumvirate after a perfect run of three straight wins.

Mancini, of course, left cash-starved Lazio for Inter while Capello abandoned Roma, for Juve, so it is no surprise Italy's capital club is struggling to keep step. Roma, after three troubled fixtures, are pointless.

Of the quartet of excellence, however, only Internazionale have truly raised the pulse. This is as much due to the skilful, stampeding Adriano as it is to Mancini's clever restructuring of a team who enjoy the classy prompting of a resurgent Juan Sebastian Veron, not to mention Dejan Stankovic and Emre Belozoglu.

Few believed Adriano could play alongside Christian Vieri in attack, both being left-footed men of great power, but, so far, Mancini has made it work and it is a measure of the talent at his disposal that he has the luxury of bringing Andy van der Meyde off the bench when required. Valencia's former Chelsea coach Claudio Ranieri was certainly impressed.

"I can only congratulate them," he said, in the stunned aftermath of his team's 5-1 humbling at the Mestalla. "They reminded me of the great Milan side of some years ago. I think they will be an even better side in two or three months. Adriano is exceptional, but their whole team is packed full of quality." Ranieri and Valencia's next assignment was at the Bernabeu last night against Real Madrid, an anti-climax of a contest that confirms the European pendulum has swung back from Spain in Italy's favour.

But back to Adriano. The Brazilian, born Adriano Leite Ribeiro, in the Rio de Janeiro favela of Vila Humeilde, on 17 Feburary, 1982, has a resemblance to Real Madrid's Ronaldo, a powerfully-built body and a stunning left foot. He possesses sole-of-the-boot trickery to bewitch anyone and a Pele-like ability to produce gravity-defying jumps for headed goals. His seven goals in Peru last summer made him the highest scorer in a Copa America tournament since Pele struck eight in 1959.

He learned his football on the beach at Leblon, where Flamengo practise and where Zico once searched for talent, scored on his senior debut for Flamengo, scored seven goals in his first season (in 19 appearances) and left for Inter in a €20m transfer in the summer of 2001 after starring for Brazil in the 2001 Under-20 World Cup in Argentina.

And therein lies another curious tale. For if Inter had not dismissed Hector Cuper last season, Adriano might have been lining up for Milan this afternoon. After a goalscoring debut for Inter, in the Trofeo Bernabeu in Madrid against Real, he made only eight appearances for Cuper before going out on loan to Fiorentina, where Mancini was coach, and then, in 2002, to Parma, where Mutu was his successful partner in attack.

Along the way, however, Inter's president Massimo Moratti sold half of Adriano's contract registration to Parma for €12.5m. The mistake was only rectified when, after he had scored 15 goals in 2002-03, followed by eight in nine games last autumn, Adriano was brought "home" to Milan valued at €58m. In effect, Moratti had to pay Parma €16.5m for Adriano's education and preparation.

By now a confident, quick and clinical centre-forward, he hit nine goals from only 13 starts and rescued Inter's season as they finished fourth and qualified for this Champions' League, inspiring a resurgence in Vieri as well.

Perhaps his most extraordinary effort came last Sunday against Udinese when, after missing his planned flight home from Brazil, he only arrived on Saturday. Unexpectedly selected to start, and despite jet lag, he drove in a 30m free-kick after seven minutes and then dribbled past three defenders on a run from his own half to secure a 2-0 lead after 11 minutes.

Moratti had every right to purr with pleasure. Compared with Juve, Milan and Chelsea, the masters of 1-0 victories, he has a team who can swagger as well as defend with technical precision.

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