It’s one of football’s universal truths: the quality of a goal is directly proportional to the ferocity with which it leaves the scorer’s boot. We all know this, right? See Koeman, Yeboah, Roberto Carlos, Hitzlsperger, Graham Alexander from 12 yards. Since the turn of the century, one man has been the undisputed master of hitting the ball very, very hard, and very in the goal. Pro Evo loved him so much that they gave him the honour of a 99 shot power rating in 2006. That is, of course, Adriano Leite Ribeiro. L’Imperatore. The Emperor. It’s his birthday today, and the fact he’s only turning 36, eight years on from the last of his 48 Brazil caps, shows how quickly his career went off the boil. For a time, however, he was arguably the most feared striker in Europe.
To celebrate the big day, here’s five of the best from the man who patented the net-burster. Feliz Aniversário.
14.08.01—Real Madrid 1–2 Inter
It’s 1–1 with a minute to go in the Trofeo Santiago Bernabéu pre-season tournament and Inter win a free kick on the edge. 80,000 are in attendance but from visual evidence alone, a 19-year-old Adriano doesn’t appear to have noticed. The then-spindly legs get whirring and crash—in off the bar. Casillas nowhere to be seen. The entire Inter bench—featuring Messrs Seedorf, Vieri, and Recoba—are off their feet in disbelief. Adriano appears comparatively nonplussed, unaware that this is anything out of the ordinary. Can’t you all do this, lads?
09.05.04—Inter 1–0 Parma
The most impressive part of this one is not actually how hard the ball’s been hit—although the stanchion may beg to differ. No, instead look out for Parma’s number 10, Domenico Morfeo. Lining up in the wall is a no-one’s favourite task at the best of times, but with the most lethal left peg in football coming in off six paces, it’s probably best to stay as inconspicuous as possible. Not for Morfeo, who charges straight into the oncoming thunderbolt. His life is thankfully spared by the low trajectory, which sees the ball arrow past a forlorn Sebastién Frey.
11.09.04—Chievo 2–2 Inter
Look how much Adriano has had enough of Chievo here. The audacity of these upstarts to be leading Inter at half-time on the opening day. It’s pissed him right off. Latching onto a Vieri lay-off, he catches the ball so cleanly that by the time the keeper’s seen it, Adriano is already wheeling away, slapping his chest. He’s the main man at Inter now.
22.09.04—Atalanta 2–3 Inter
By this point, Football Italia is just an Adriano highlight reel, on his way to a career-best 28 goals in 2004–05. Here he comes again, still fresh-legged in the 87th minute at 2–2. Atalanta’s Cesare Natali is skinned and then tossed aside for good measure. He checks inside, looks up, and gives the ball a swipe. Looks like the keeper has it covered but it dips into the turf so violently that it jags up, over, and in. This has all the hallmarks of another electric Brazilian forward, and the early-career comparisons to Ó Fenómeno are finally coming to fruition.
17.01.08—Guaratinguetá 1–2 São Paulo
Loaned back to the homeland for a year, Adriano marks his debut with a trademark wallop. Even in this grainy footage you can pinpoint the exact moment the three defenders closing him down decide to get the hell out of the way, while the keeper’s attempts amount to little more than fulfilling his contract as he fades down and away from the ball. Both advisable decisions with this strike threatening to break the sound barrier. Bags an under-the-wall free kick from 30 yards later on in this match, too.
It’s good watching someone absolutely leather the ball. Really good. We write about people leathering balls in our quarterly magazine, which you can subscribe to here. Issue 13 is coming out very, very soon—and you can pre-order that here. See you around.