'Only I know how much I suffered' - The phone call that crippled Adriano's career and still haunts Zanetti

Adriano Inter
The Brazilian striker seemed destined to shine for many years but his career would eventually crash in the wake of family tragedy

At the start of the millennium, Adriano seemed destined to be Ronaldo's Brazilian heir but despite some initial brilliance, a promising career stalled significantly following off-field setbacks. 

After departing Flamengo as a youngster in 2001, the slick striker took Serie A by storm as he starred for Parma, Fiorentina and ultimately Inter. 

Adriano also wasted no time leaving his mark on Brazil's national team as he made his debut at 18, before briefly forming a mouth-watering attacking quartet with Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Kaka. 

At his peak, the young forward was the complete package in front of goal. Blessed with pace, excellent ball control and a powerful finish, Adriano appeared to have the world at his talented feet. 

But just as he was approaching superstardom in 2004, the Brazilian attacker received a call that would end up crippling his career and leave the man himself battling a severe alcohol addiction. 

"Adriano had a father who looked after him a lot and kept him in line. But at the start of the [2004-05] season, something unimaginable happened. He got a call from Brazil and was told his father had died," former Inter team-mate Javier Zanetti revealed in 2017.

"I saw him cry. He threw the phone down and started shouting it was impossible. From that day on, [Massimo] Moratti and I decided to take him in like a brother and protect him.

"He kept playing, scoring and dedicating the goals to his father. But, after that call, he was never the same again. 

"We would tell him he was a mix of Ronaldo and [Zlatan] Ibrahimovic and that he could be better than both. But, in spite of everything, we couldn’t do it. We did not cure his depression and that still haunts me."

As Zanetti notes, Adriano was initially determined to make his beloved dad proud and paid tribute with two more unbelievable seasons in front of goal that saw him score 47 goals for Inter and strike 19 times for Brazil.

Those goals helped the Selecao claim the Copa America crown in 2004 and the Confederations Cup a year later, while at club level he helped ignite the Nerazurri's four-season domination of Serie A. 

Though Adriano seemed to be keeping things together on the pitch, he was falling apart off it as he struggled to deal with such a profound loss.  

"Only I know how much I suffered. The death of my father left a huge hole," Adriano admitted in 2018 to TV show R7.

"I felt alone and I isolated myself when he died. I was sad and depressed in Italy, and that was when I started to drink. 

"I only felt happy drinking, I drank everything in front of me: wine, whisky, vodka, beer...I didn't know how to hide it. I used to go to training drunk in the morning."

In the 2006-07 season, Adriano's career began its tragic decline as a result of those off-field demons, with the Brazilian denied an international call-up as a result of poor behaviour and Inter manager Roberto Mancini reportedly benching him after excessive partying. 

Eager to spend more time with the family he had left, Adriano was allowed to return to Brazil the following season on unpaid leave before sealing a loan move to Sao Paulo and then joining boyhood club Flamengo the following campaign. 

Back in his homeland, Adriano showed he could still fire in front of goal, netting 51 goals across three years to help seal a return to Italy with Roma in 2010. 

Sadly, the move would prove to be a massive mistake as he failed to deliver any goals across eight appearances before having his contracted terminated just seven months after signing it. 

Adriano Zlatan Ibrahimovic Inter GFX

Returning to Brazil with Corinthians in 2011, Adriano would then tear his Achilles tendon, which left him sidelined for six months and seemed to spoil any hope of another resurrection. 

Short stints with Flamengo, Atletico Paranaense and even Miami United would follow but it became clear at each club that Adriano was past his best and lacked the drive to tap into what skills he had left. 

Still just 38, Adriano hasn't played professionally in over four years and even had to clarify on social media earlier this year that he was in fact still alive after false reports of his death emerged. 

Ibrahimovic, who is the same age as Adriano and still scoring goals for AC Milan, loved played alongside the Brazilian at Inter and believes his career could have been so much greater, 

"I played with great champions. I played with players that were already... wow! I played with players that I saw were a talent and became... wow! But the one I felt could [play at the top for] longer, and he didn't do it, was Adriano when I was at Inter," Ibrahimovic told SPORTbible in 2017.

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"When I came to Inter the first thing I said to the president was 'I demand [Adriano] to stay because he is the player I want to play with' because, the way he was, he was an animal. He could shoot from every angle. Nobody could tackle him, nobody could take the ball, he was a pure animal. 

"50 per cent of everything you do is the mental part. If you don't have it in your head, it's difficult. In his case, I enjoyed playing with him, I saw him, I was happy that I played with him and against him...

"It's a shame that it lasted such a short time."