Adriano struggling to find suitors after Roma departure
When Roma signed Brazilian striker Adriano last year, the club directors may as well have lit their cigars with high denomination banknotes or poured their money down a rathole. They were quite happy to tear up his contract earlier this month and received no money in return.
This, though, is not the story of a player unable to adapt to life in a foreign country.
For a good five years, Adriano was a top-class striker in Italian football, a giant centre forward with a howitzer left foot that was also capable of surprising subtlety. And yet, at 29 and theoretically at his peak, he seems unlikely to play in Europe again. Only a very brave or foolhardy European club would give yet another chance to a player who has been wasting them for the last five years.
Adriano is an extreme example of one of the striking features of contemporary football - inconsistency at the top level of the game.
Adriano failed to make an impact at Roma after signing for the club amid much fanfare
His life story shows how great the gap has become from being a successful professional to relative anonymity. A poor kid from Rio's notorious Vila Cruzeiro favela, Adriano has earned fabulous sums of money through his skill on the football field, but this process has left him walking a tightrope that keeps getting narrower.
On the one hand, the rewards for playing top-class football are greater than ever before, meaning that so too are the temptations. On the other hand, with the physical development of the game, the sacrifices needed in order to shine are also at unprecedented levels.
For years Adriano was prepared to make those sacrifices and he paid a high price for his desire to break into the Brazil side. He played in the Confederations Cup in 2003 and '05, the 2004 Copa America and then the World Cup two years later. It is hard to think of many European players who would be willing to do the same, especially as in between these tournaments there were long flights home for World Cup qualifiers.
All of these tournaments ate into his time for rest and relaxation. It may seem an unlikely comparison, but Adriano was like a butterfly broken on the wheel of an over-crowded fixture calendar.
For all his physical strength, there is something of the lost, sweet-eyed child in Adriano. It became apparent after the premature loss of his father, whose death was hastened by the fact that he had a bullet lodged in his skull after being caught in the middle of a shoot-out.
Adriano has confessed that he was terrified by the thought of becoming the man of the family. And there was something else: his great motivations to play football were to make his father happy and, of course, to make money. Now, with his father gone and his bank balance bulging, what was the point?
The sacrifices of the life of an athlete, once part of his routine, were now an unbearable limitation. Why bother with training when he could drink, either to mourn the loss of his dad or to celebrate the fact that he could buy all the drink that he wanted.
Alex Ferguson says that, for a top-class player, every game is a statement of his own worth. It is a magnificent quote and, especially for the mentally fragile, a stressful way of life. Forced to put themselves on the line twice a week in front of an audience of millions, it is not hard to imagine why most players enjoyed the game more before they were professional - or why some choose to measure their worth in other ways, such as their nocturnal activities.
The tragedy, of course, is that their talent has a sell-by date. In a decade's time, someone like Adriano will be able to go where he likes, with whoever he likes to wherever he likes. But he will surely feel better about himself if he can legitimately believe that he took his footballing talent as far as it could go.
He has surely come to the end of the road in Europe, but that does not mean that Adriano will not be handed yet another opportunity to redeem himself. Things have not gone as he would have liked after he effectively forced his way out of Roma.
He expected that Flamengo of Rio would welcome him back with open arms - he came up through the ranks with the club, and came back in 2009 to help them to the domestic title.
Last year, though, before joining Roma, it was felt that he led the squad astray. Now they have a big time idol in Ronaldinho, and a coach (Vanderlei Luxemburgo) who is very reluctant to have his boat rocked.
Three years ago Adriano spent some time on loan with Sao Paulo FC, but that door seems closed since the club have signed World Cup striker Luis Fabiano. Cruzeiro have been looking for a centre forward - but have just agreed a loan deal with Brandao of Marseilles.
Maybe Adriano made a simple miscalculation. Several years ago Brazilian football was so short of big names that he could dictate his terms. That is no longer the case. The economic boom and the strength of the currency are bringing some stars back across the Atlantic. Adriano has not been able to waltz back in to a major club.
Plenty could have changed, though, by the time the national championship kicks off in two month's time. Flamengo, for instance, could do with a target man, and at the weekend a group of supporters staged a demonstration in favour of Adriano.
If not them, some other big Brazilian club will find themselves under pressure for results and will go looking for Adriano - hoping against hope that they are signing the proven goalscorer, and not the proven troublemaker.
Please leave comments on the piece in the space provided. Send your questions on South American football to firstname.lastname@example.org, and I'll pick out a couple for next week.
From last week's postbag:
Q) Just wondering if you could shed any light on a rumour I heard from an Argentinian friend on Riquelme's situation with Boca? He told me he had been sacked from the club for constantly being unfit. Is there any truth in this? He is a River Plate fan and perhaps it is just wishful thinking. How well is he playing in Argentina since his move back?
A) I think we can destroy that rumour, since Riquelme played on Sunday, back after his latest injury. Boca lost again, though, 2-0 at home, and their situation is not good at all. Riquelme has indeed struggled for fitness for a while, but now he is back it is going to be fascinating to see how he gets on with latest coach Falcioni, who is not known for his use of number 10 playmakers.
Much as I enjoy watching him, I was never convinced by the decision to bring Riquelme back on a definitive basis in 2008 - it brought to an end a model which had worked very well for Boca for a decade.