2006 was a landmark year for pop culture: Twitter was created, the Arctic Monkeys dropped their debut album Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, Daniel Craig was first introduced as James Bond and Konami released Pro Evolution Soccer 6 onto PlayStation 2 and Xbox 360.
- READ MORE: ’10 cheap beasts to spice up your FUT team’
Back then, PES vs FIFA battle was the biggest rivalry in gaming – the former being the aficionado’s choice and FIFA the pick for those favouring style over substance, not to mention FIFA having official team badges and licensed league names. Although what truly cemented PES 6 (the last great game of the Pro Evo dynasty) as that year’s winner was one player and one player alone, who can make grownups giddy with excitement over 15 years on.
That man was Adriano Leite Ribeiro, whose robustly elegant playing style and nuclear-powered rocket of a left foot lit up his Inter Milan team and made the game an instant cult classic. He also happened to be the game’s cover star alongside Chelsea legend and NFT grifter John Terry, although nothing could have quite prepared fans of the series for how explosive he would be once they’d entered the disc.
In real life, Adriano had been hailed as the next great Brazilian striker, Ronaldo 2.0, with 29 goals in 60 games for Inter in the two seasons before the launch of PES 6. The developers, alongside a rumoured Inter Milan-supporting producer supercharged the Brazilian no end, giving him game-breaking attributes that turned him into a near cheat-code and created a legend.
There were a number of reasons why ‘The Emperor’ was so unstoppable in his pomp. Firstly, his team. That year Inter had cherrypicked Juventus’ best players following relegation of their rivals, partnering Adriano with the biggest ego in the game, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, another PES heavyweight who proved perfect foil for his Brazilian teammate by holding the ball up and feeding him at will.
In behind these two hitmen lurked Dejan Stanković and Luis Figo who duly provided the ammo, while Esteban Cambiasso played an important role at the base of the midfield, winning the ball back and pushing the play forward. Conceding goals was never an option either, as the likes of Maicon, Ivan Cordoba and Walter Samuel kept shop at the back in a perfect blend of speed, brute strength and defensive nous.
If one word embodies Adriano it’s power. Sheer, unadulterated power. Towering over opponents at 6”2 you knew he’d be strong, but the developers’ decision to make his balance a nigh-impossible 97 out of 99 created a monster, a crossbar-rattling Frankenstein with freakishly good control. The opposition would try and tackle Adriano, but it wouldn’t work – like two matching poles on a magnet he’d repel them every time and continued, unflustered, on his path to goal. There was only one way to stop him but that meant giving away a penalty or a freekick, which would only open you up even more to the savagery of his left boot.
From Lionel Messi to Diego Maradona, there’s always been something about the lefties, a majestic quality to a player with a wand of a left peg. Adriano was no different, only instead of a paintbrush his was a cannon. Once PES players cut onto that thunder-bastard generator it was game over no matter where you found yourself on the pitch. Like skidding on ice, you knew the outcome but were incapable of slowing down and stopping it. With 99 out of 99 on power, 86 shot accuracy and 89 shot technique there was no mercy. In the box? SHOOT. Free kick? SHOOT? 30 yards out? SHOOT. Getting the ball on the halfway line? SHOOT.
And this was just on regular form. If you got the attacker in his best form and fully charged then anything was possible. ‘Adriano on a red up’ might sound like a jumble of words to the uninformed, but to anybody who played PES 6 it’s a warning siren that somebody’s goal is about to be decimated.
In reality, the striker was far from slow, yet the developers had seemingly been watching his clips on 1.5 speed. This unrivalled in-game pace and incredible strength was akin to blessing Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson with the pace of Usain Bolt and the footballing brain of Pelé. He just wasn’t the same as other players in the game, there was no level playing field, even against the best teams.
Everyone you faced knew your plan but was powerless to stop it. Receive the ball from Stanković, play a one-two with Zlatan, slide the ball to Adriano’s left to create space, then sit back and watch the fireworks as the ball explodes into the back of the net. Pea rollers from 40 yards, volleys breaking the stanchion of the goal, nothing was impossible.
The real world wasn’t quite so kind to Adriano. Wracked by personal demons and extended absences as a result, his Inter career eventually went off the rails and in the following decade after PES 6’s release he played just 81 club games for seven clubs on three continents. The all-conquering, unstoppable Adriano we know and love on PES serves as both a video game memorial of the player he could have become and a warning of lost potential.
Likewise, the once-great rivalry between PES and FIFA barely exists in 2022. PES, much like that other great football institution from the time, Manchester United, grew complacent. FIFA, meanwhile, went on the attack, copying the best aspects of the franchise and moving their focus from aesthetics to gameplay and innovation, drawing in many of the ‘grassroots gamers’ who had stuck by PES for so long. Sales of the Pro Evolution Soccer franchise dried up and a name change to eFootball in 2021 has done nothing to bring gamers back. Today FIFA, much like Man Utd’s noisy neighbours Man City, are now dominating the landscape, an unbeatable behemoth who have long surpassed their former rivals.
The world may well have moved on from PES but nobody who ever played it will ever forget Adriano, one of the greatest cult video game heroes of all time.
eFootball is out now, PES 6 is available now, providing you can find a copy and the machine to play it on.