The Fall of the Next Ronaldo
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A Brazilian star named Adriano Ribeiro was born on February 17, 1982 in Rio de Janeiro. Nicknamed “The Emperor,” he had the potential to become one of the greatest strikers in soccer history. The Brazilian had everything necessary to make it to the top, with his deadly left-footed long-range shots, frightening speed, terrific strength, and fantastic technical ability. However, his career took a sudden turn when a family tragedy changed his life forever.
Growing up as a street kid in a low-income household made Ribeiro’s childhood difficult, but his skill with the ball was evident from an early age. His passion for soccer led him to join Flamengo’s youth team in 1999, where he developed his talent. Over time, many top European clubs began to notice him, and the Brazilian signed a contract with Italian giant Inter Milan at only age 19. His incredible and fast-paced growth impressed the coaches at the club, and he quickly claimed the starting striker spot on the lineup.
Ribeiro was at the peak of his career during the 2004-2005 season, when he scored 42 goals across all competitions for Inter Milan. He also represented the Brazilian national team on several occasions, impressing fans for every minute he was on the field. The Inter striker was called up for the 2004 Copa America and the 2006 World Cup, where he played alongside Brazilian greats Ronaldo “Ronaldinho” de Assis Moreira, Ricardo “Kaká” Izecson dos Santos Leite, and Ronaldo Nazário. Ribeiro’s physicality, skill with the ball, and constant goal output drew frequent comparisons to Nazário, who is one of Brazil’s all-time highest scorers and considered one of the best strikers to ever live. Many thought Ribeiro to be the rightful heir to Nazário’s title as the next great center forward.
Unfortunately, one fateful event would lead to his downfall. Ribeiro received a phone call from Brazil in August of 2004, informing him that his dad had died of a heart attack earlier that month. This incident had an immediate impact on the young striker’s mind and created a hole in his heart that took a very long time to heal. Ribeiro’s teammates still remember the incident. “He got a phone call from Brazil: ‘Adi, dad is dead.’ [...] I saw him in his room. He threw the phone and started screaming. You couldn’t imagine that kind of scream. I get goosebumps even to this day,” Inter Milan captain Javier Zanetti said to Sports Illustrated in August 2017. “Since that phone call, nothing was the same. [Inter teammate] Iván Córdoba spent one night with him and said, ‘Adi, you’re a mix of [Nazário] and [Zlatan] Ibrahimović. Are you aware that you could become [the] best player ever?’ We did not succeed [in] pulling him out of depression.”
Unfortunately, Ribeiro would never be the same again. He had been very close with his dad, and the loss etched a scar into his heart. He began to stray from the hard work and discipline required to play at his high level, which resulted in a drop in his fitness. The Brazilian relied on alcohol to help him recover from his depression and became inconsistent with his performance. Soon, partying became a big part of his social life, and Ribeiro didn’t show up to practice on time on certain occasions, still recovering from the effects of late night parties. The Inter striker couldn’t keep up with regular practice due to his poor condition, and he had to spend time in the medical wing while the rest of the team trained. The club was forced to explain to the media that his absences were only due to muscle problems, trying to hide his decline from the rest of the world.
“The Emperor” lost his touch on the ball and missed goal-scoring opportunities. His physicality dropped, and he put on weight, forcing the coaches at the club to bench him. The Brazilian national team did not call Ribeiro for the 2008 Copa América or the 2010 World Cup, and his final few appearances for his country in a couple of friendlies ended in disappointments.
Inter Milan sent Ribeiro back to São Paulo, Brazil for rehabilitation in 2007. However, even at home, the Brazilian’s harmful lifestyle caught up to him. Drugs, alcohol, clubbing, and gang activity all led to his further downfall. Eventually, he got in trouble with the law regarding illegal drug use and spent time in jail. After 10 years, the media visited Ribeiro’s story once again, with recent pictures frequently showing him with gang and mafia members. “The Emperor” had lost the mental and physical strength that once made him such a fierce player, and though gifted, his dream was short-lived.
While Ribeiro’s hidden potential remained unexplored due to unfortunate events that led his career through a downward spiral, his story will always remind us of the fact that skill and talent alone are never enough to succeed. Ribeiro undoubtedly had the potential to become one of the greatest players of all time, but his life took a sudden turn, and he was changed forever. After his dad’s death, Ribeiro couldn’t mentally or physically stay fit and strong to continue performing at the high level, which proves that elements off the field play a big role.
Hard work and continued effort are what get you to the top and are reasons why one-of-a-kind players like Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have become legends in the soccer world. They, like Ribeiro, carried immense potential at the start of their respective careers. However, Ronaldo and Messi continue focusing on their own growth and development everyday, spending hours training to improve their game, and they eventually bloomed into amazing athletes. Ribeiro’s example shows us that success, not just in soccer but also anywhere else, requires an extreme level of self-motivation, determination, and mental fortitude that will persevere even through the toughest of times.