Adriano started his career in 1999 on Flamengo's youth squad and earned promotion to the senior squad one year later. He made his team debut on February 2, 2000, a Torneio Rio-São Paulo match against Botafogo. He scored a goal against São Paulo in the same competition 4 days later.
Despite signing a two-year contract with Flamengo in June 2000, he secured a move to Inter Milan for the 2001–02 season. Inter sold another half of Vampeta to PSG (ultimately to Flamengo from PSG for undisclosed fee) for €9.757 million in exchange for Adriano who was valued €13.189 million.
Adriano scored his first goal with the club against Real Madrid in a friendly match as a substitute.
Adriano was loaned to Fiorentina for the 2001–02 season, after which a two-year co-ownership deal with Parma was agreed, for €8.8 million, in order to acquire Fabio Cannavaro which also included another half of Matteo Ferrari for €5.7 million He formed an impressive striking duo with Adrian Mutu, scoring 22 goals in 36 appearances. He missed the month of November 2003 due to injury.
Adriano returned to the San Siro in January 2004 on a 4½-year contract, for about €23.4 million and scored a total of 12 goals in the rest of 2003–04 season. From July 11, 2004 through June 29, 2005, Adriano was in peak form, scoring an impressive total of 42 goals in both domestic and international competitions. In September 2005, Inter rewarded him for his efforts with an improved contract running until June 30, 2010.
Following the signing of the new deal, Adriano's future at Inter suffered due to poor performances, fueled by questions and speculation regarding his work ethic, which was called into question when he was twice caught partying at nightclubs during the 2006–07 campaign. Brazilian coach Dunga did not call Adriano up for a friendly against Ecuador on October 10, 2006, and called for him to "change his behavior" and "focus on football". On February 18, 2007, Adriano skipped a team practice due to effects from a lengthy celebration of his birthday the night before, which led to Inter manager Roberto Mancini benching him for the team's Champions League match against Valencia and subsequent Serie A fixture against Catania.
On 16 November 2007, Inter owner Massimo Moratti sent Adriano on unpaid leave to his native Brazil for the second time in eighteen months, where he attended São Paulo's training center, due to his poor physical condition and a past battle with alcoholism. Though his agent denied Adriano's desire to return to Brazilian club football, Adriano claimed he was willing to leave Inter in the January transfer window in search of regular playing time, with the Italian press stating interest from West Ham United and Manchester City. In December 2007, Manchester City owner Thaksin Shinawatra expressed interest in bringing Adriano to the club during the January transfer window, commenting, "Adriano was a top player, but he lost form when his father died, and he put on weight." Moratti, however, stated that Adriano would remain with Inter. "I would like him back here in January, as strong and as good as he was." On December 10, Inter technical director Marco Branca said that Adriano was expected to rejoin the team at the start of the new year. "[The] news has been good. We intend to leave him in peace until the end of the programme and then he will be treated like the other players."
Inter finalized a deal on December 19 to loan Adriano to São Paulo for the remainder of the 2007–08 season in order to allow him to compete in the 2008 Copa Libertadores. São Paulo fans were soon seen standing in long lines to buy his new number 10 jersey at the team's official merchandise retailer after Adriano was introduced and his shirt was unveiled at a team press conference. Adriano celebrated his competitive debut with São Paulo by scoring both goals in their 2–1 victory over Guaratinguetá on the opening day of the 2008 Paulista tournament.
He was sent off after headbutting Santos fullback Domingos on February 10, 2008, and was suspended for two matches after initially risking a suspension of eighteen months. He was fined by São Paulo on February 29 for arriving 30 minutes late for training, then leaving early and exchanging words with a photographer. According to team sporting director Marco Aurélio Cunha, Adriano "left the training ground because he wanted to. The team does not miss him. If he is not happy at São Paulo, he is free to go."
São Paulo sporting director Carlos Augusto de Barros e Silva announced on 17 June that Adriano was returning to Inter ahead of schedule. "We have a balanced squad and it was better for Adriano to go back, given that we won't be able to count on him for the rest of the campaign."
Adriano was a regular goalscorer in the early stages of the Serie A 2008–09 campaign, reaching a combined total of 100 domestic goals in the Italian Serie A and the Brazilian Série A. On 22 October 2008, Adriano scored the winner in a 1–0 win over Anorthosis Famagusta, and, with this goal, Adriano scored his 18th Champions League goal, and 70th for the club.
In December, Inter Milan allowed him special dispensation to return to Brazil over the winter break earlier than planned. Inter confirmed on April 4 that Adriano had not returned from international duty with Brazil and had signed no contract with the club. On April 24, Adriano finally rescinded his contract with Inter.
Adriano signed a one-year contract for Brazilian club Flamengo on May 6, 2009, the club with which he started his career. On his debut after returning to Flamengo, played on May 31, 2009, he scored a goal against Atlético Paranaense. On June 21, 2009, he scored his first hat-trick for Flamengo in the 4–0 win over Internacional in the Brazilian Série A., his performances would be instrumental to lead Flamengo to their first Brazilian Serie A title since 1992.
On 31 January 2010, Adriano scored his second hat-trick since his return, this time in a 5–3 comeback win in the Fla-Flu derby against rivals Fluminense in the 2010 Rio de Janeiro State League.
On 8 June 2010, Italian Serie A club Roma announced that Adriano had signed a three-year contract with the club, effective on 1 July, earning a gross annual salary of €5M. He was then presented to the press with the no. 8 shirt. Roma terminated the contract on March 8, 2011, after seven months in the Italian capital.
On 25 March 2011, he signed a one-year deal with Corinthians. Adriano ruptured his Achilles tendon on April 19, while he was training, after the surgery he spent six months recovering. After recovering, he played his first game for Corinthians on October 9, 2011, when his club beat Atlético Goianiense 3-0. His first goal for Corinthians came on October 20 in the home game versus Atlético Mineiro, and was the winning goal that made the game 2-1 and gave Corinthians a two-point lead in the Championship with only two games remaining.
On 12 March 2012, Adriano was released by Corinthians, after his irregular appearances and lack of interest.
On 29 January 2016, Adriano signed a contract with Miami United of the National Premier Soccer League.
Adriano made his first international appearance for Brazil in a World Cup qualifier against Colombia on November 15, 2000 at the age of 18. He was often considered as the long-term successor to Ronaldo. He scored his first international goal on June 11, 2003 in a friendly match against Nigeria. Later that month, he was included in Brazil team for 2003 FIFA Confederations Cup. He led Brazil's attack alongside Ronaldinho in the absence of Ronaldo. He appeared in all three matches and scored two goals as Brazil was eliminated in the group stage. He missed the 2004 CONMEBOL Men Pre-Olympic Tournament due to injuries.
The following year, he was included in Brazil team for Copa América 2004. Brazil won the cup and Adriano won the Golden Boot as the competition's leading scorer with seven goals. In the final match against Argentina, Adriano dramatically scored the equalizer in the 93rd minute. The match went on to penalties and Brazil finally won 4–2. After the match, coach Carlos Alberto Parreira singled out Adriano as a very important factor in winning the title.
In 2005, Adriano once again had an impressive tournament with Brazil, this time in the 2005 FIFA Confederations Cup. Adriano was named Player of the Tournament and received the Golden Boot Award as the competition's leading scorer with five goals. In the final, he steered Brazil to victory, scoring two goals in a 4–1 victory over Argentina.
Adriano was called up for the 2006 FIFA World Cup, scoring his first goal on June 18, 2006 in a 2–0 win against Australia and his second in a 3–0 victory against Ghana. Despite his two goals, Adriano's World Cup campaign was considered a disappointment, as he managed only five shots all tournament, while Brazil as a whole were unable to find the right mix between defence and attack, ultimately being eliminated in the quarter-finals by France.
After the disappointing World Cup, Adriano's international career declined due to a series of poor club performances and personal problems. Adriano has featured once for Brazil under Dunga's regime since the conclusion of the World Cup, as a halftime substitute during a 2–0 friendly loss to Portugal on February 6, 2007. In 2008, Adriano finally regained his form during his stint at São Paulo FC and earned a recall to the national team. On October 10, 2008, Adriano scored his first international goal in two years in a World Cup qualifier against Venezuela. He was a regular member of Brazil squad during World Cup qualification, and was brought for the team's last friendly prior to the 2010 FIFA World Cup against Republic of Ireland. However, Adriano was one of the two players dropped from the final 23-men squad by coach Dunga, along with Carlos Eduardo (who had replaced an injured Elano against Ireland). The backup of injured Luís Fabiano on the Ireland game, Grafite, instead occupied Adriano's place. Adriano was also left out of the backup player list.
Adriano was a well-rounded, versatile, and modern striker, who combined power with excellent technical ability; due to his dominance, power, and skill, he was given the nickname "l'Imperatore" ("The Emperor") during his time in Italy. Adriano was a left-footed player, who was gifted with excellent ball control, skilful dribbling ability, and creativity. He was also a strong forward with an eye for goal, and an immensely powerful striker of the ball with his strong left foot, who was an accurate free-kick taker; he was also effective in the air. Despite his natural talent, Adriano's consistency, character, fitness, and work-rate were often brought into question throughout his career, and due to his inconsistency in later years, he was widely known for failing to live up to his initial potential.
FlamengoCopa dos Campeões: 2001
Campeonato Brasileiro Série A: 2009
Inter MilanItalian Serie A: 2005–06, 2006–07, 2007–08, 2008–09
Coppa Italia: 2005, 2006
Supercoppa Italiana: 2005, 2006
CorinthiansCampeonato Brasileiro Série A: 2011
BrazilCopa América: 2004
FIFA Confederations Cup: 2005
FIFA U-17 World Cup: 1999
South American Youth Championship: 2001
South American U-20 Championship: 2001 – Golden Shoe for Top Scorer
FIFA World Youth Championship: 2001 – Silver Shoe for Second Top Scorer
Copa América: 2004 – Golden Ball for The Best Player of the Tournament
Copa América: 2004 – Golden Shoe for Top Scorer
FIFA Confederations Cup: 2005 – Golden Ball for The Best Player of the Tournament
FIFA Confederations Cup: 2005 – Golden Shoe for Top Scorer
IFFHS World's Top Goal Scorer of the Year: 2005
Bola de Prata: 2009 – Brazilian Série A Top Scorer
Bola de Prata: 2009 – Brazilian Série A Best Striker
Bola de Ouro: 2009 – Brazilian Série A Best Player
Prêmio Craque do Brasileirão: 2009 – Brazilian Série A Team of the Year
As of 1 August 2015
Other – State League & Super Cup
In November 2014, a judge in Rio de Janeiro cleared Adriano of charges of drug trafficking which had first been alleged in 2010, citing a lack of sufficient evidence.