Loving Leeds: Fans’ favourite Adryan tells Phil Hay he is a big fan of English football and he would be happy to stay at Leeds United for the long-term.
The circumstances which brought Adryan and Massimo Cellino together were typical of Leeds United’s owner.
In short, Cellino went to Brazil with the intention of signing a proven goalkeeper. He arrived back in Italy with a teenage midfielder as young in looks as he was in age.
The first thing that caught Cellino’s eye when he saw Adryan in Flamengo’s colours was the number on his back – 17, which might as well be the number of the beast as far as Cellino is concerned. But he gave more heed to the talent in his feet and a deal was hatched to take the 19-year-old on loan to Cagliari last January.
Adryan has become something of a personal project for Cellino.
In Leeds’ most recent summer transfer window, there was no outfield player who fixated him more. He spent days and weeks negotiating the termination of the loan he’d arranged as owner of Cagliari and tempting Flamengo to send Adryan to Leeds.
Adryan says he took no persuading; that England felt like an obvious destination.
“He (Cellino) went to Brazil to watch a goalkeeper play at Flamengo,” Adryan recalls. “I was playing in that game and he saw me with the number 17. He hates this number. Hates, hates this number! But he spoke with my agent and I went with him to Italy.
“All the time he told me to show to the fans, to always take the ball and go in behind the defence. So I always did. He looked after me and I played eight games at Cagliari before I injured a knee. Then the owner came and bought this club so I came to England with him.
“It’s a dream for me playing in England.
“When I was a child I saw all my idols here – Frank Lampard, people like that. Now I can play here myself.”
Lampard, despite his stellar domestic career, is not the idol of choice for many Brazilians. In certain parts of Rio de Janeiro, that decision is made for you.
Followers of Flamengo admire and revere Zico, the finest player the club ever produced. Flamengo’s youth-team graduates traditionally face that comparison.
Adryan, himself a number 10, found that out as soon as he broke through, touted as ‘the next Zico’ from the age of 16.
He made his senior debut in July 2012 but in the opinion of everyone, the midfielder included, the months that followed were difficult.
His move to Cagliari at the start of this year was seen as the admission of a stalled career and a transfer to the English Championship in August did not strike the Brazilian public as a huge step forward, regardless of the club he was joining.
What most people agree on is the scale of his talent and the fact that he is only 20. He has been capped by Brazil at numerous age levels, including the Under-20s.
“I’m happy with where I am and where I’ve got to,” he says. “I’ll play my best football in England I think.
“When I played in Brazil, I tried to play my best football. I played with my heart and my all, every game. I don’t know what happened but sometimes it didn’t work. It wasn’t always easy, not always the way I wanted the games to be.
“Younger players in Brazil, they have big pressure on them. For me at Flamengo I was playing for a team with 80 million fans in Brazil. That’s a little bit difficult.
“I started so well over there, just a boy, and my football at Flamengo was good but then I went through games where it was good, bad, good, bad; always like this.
“People say things and some people don’t think so much of you. But I that’s how it is for a young player. You are not always (perfect).
“Maybe it is easier somewhere else, I don’t know. I just feel happy here, happy at this club.”
Leeds have used Adryan as nature and Brazilian football intended.
Signed on August 30, the club delayed his debut until the middle of October to allow him to acclimatise and his fitness to improve but there was never any suggestion that Adryan would be anything other than an outright number 10.
His appearances so far have answered two doubts about him: firstly, whether his natural ability was as striking as many in Brazil suggested, and secondly the issue of how he’d cope in the Championship. Adryan is slight, light and has the face of a schoolboy.
Teams in the division have so far found him unexpectedly difficult to bully.
“I like number 10, it’s good,” he says. “I played in the national team with that number. It’s my best position.
“When I’m on the pitch, I don’t think about what I do. When I look and get the ball, in that situation I don’t know how it happens. I just do it. I feel the moment and do what I do.
“The coach here (Neil Redfearn) is brilliant. He likes to work with young players and he has patience with them. I’m happy here and my family are with me in Leeds now, my wife and my daughter, so there is something for me to go home to. And this team is good. It’s getting better. We just have the problem that when we play at home, we play so well. When we play away we always lose. I don’t know why.
“When we play away we start by (leading) 1-0. After that something happens. But we are strong at Elland Road. We have to win all of our games there.”
So much about Adryan’s game is eye-catching – the pirouettes on the ball, his movement into space, his bizarre simulation during a 2-0 win over Derby County last month, videos of which went viral across the Internet. At 20 he has the type of potential which Leeds are presently banking on. Cellino sweated over his signature in the summer. “This player I want,” he said at the start of August. “He is difficult to sign but we must make it happen.”
Leeds have the option to sign Adryan permanently next summer, for a fee of around £3m. Adryan, a Flamengo boy and a native of Rio, says he would be happy to stay.
“It’s a long way from Brazil but my family is here,” he said. “That means everything is okay, that I have no reason not to play my best.
“I can’t say what will happen but I want to stay here. I would be happy to be here, to be in the team for a long time.”