There is nothing sadder in world football than a child prodigy who fails to hit the heights predicted. In fact, Pele’s endorsement seems to be less of a compliment than a curse these days. One player who suffers from both of these heavy burdens is young talent Freddy Adu. Some are probably incredulous at referring to Adu as ‘young.’ It’s an easy mistake to make, he has been around for 10 years now. The surprising part is that 10 years ago he made an impact as a 14-year-old.
The young American in 2004 became the youngest US athlete to sign a professional contract as he was selected by DC United in the 2004 MLS SuperDraft. In April of that year, he became the youngest MLS player as he came off the bench in a game against the San Jose Earthquakes. Two weeks later, he became the youngest ever goalscorer, as he scored against the New York Metrostars, now the New York Red Bulls. At the end of the year, the young American could look back on five goals and three assists in 30 games. One hell of a feat.
It was safe to say that in 2004, he was set for a meteoric rise to become the “next Pele.” Hell, at the age of ten, a six figure bid from AC Milan was turned down on the advice of his parents. However, at the end of his first season, there were criticisms that were to become a blight on his career. His professionalism was to come into question as he sounded off to the media about a lack of playing time. To be fair to Adu, he worked hard on the defensive side of his game to slot into the midfield role at DC United.
A trade to Real Salt Lake and a subsequent move to Benfica was the beginning of a downturn in Adu’s fortunes. He was sold to the Portuguese club for a fee of $2 million, however the move was a mistake. He was neglected and sent on loan to various clubs: Monaco in France; Belenenses in Portugal where his loan was cancelled promptly; Aris in Greece; and Çaykur Rizespor in Turkey. In 2011, the fallen star Adu returned to Philadelphia Union with hopes high of a revival of his form last time in MLS.
However, it wasn’t to be. Adu’s time in Philadelphia was ripped apart by the Philly Soccer Page. He was described as “not getting better,” and his single strength being that he is only 23. Hardly a glowing endorsement. Delve deeper, and the issues with management were too much for Adu. Speaking as he left, he felt he had been betrayed:
“I was told essentially that I was going to be given the keys to the car and in my opinion that really hasn’t been the case. When I came, I thought I was going to have more of a central role with the team, and I’ve been playing on the [outside midfield] ever since I’ve came here. I don’t mind it, it’s just not what I was told.”
Just as he did in his youth, Adu spoke out against management in the press. Adu hadn’t learnt. His repercussions came, as he was dropped for the last two games, described as a ‘coach’s decision.’ It was clear that Adu’s time was to be short lived in Philadelphia. On the 25th March 2013, it officially came to a close. In the club statement, the club expressed their gratitude:
“We would like to thank Freddy Adu for his service to the Union over the past two years and wish him the best of luck as he continues his career in Brazil,” said Hackworth in a statement released by the club.
What they are thankful for exactly, is anyone’s guess. Adu was a bitter disappointment. He moved on to Bahia in Brazil in yet another attempt to move his career forward. As he headed south, the Union brought in fading star Kleberson. It wouldn’t be surprising if Adu looked over his shoulder with envy at his success that continues to elude Adu.
In 2014, Adu finds himself clubless, and has recently appeared at Blackpool, training with the club without a contract. When asked about his future at the club, he said: “I haven’t always made the right decisions as far as choices of teams I’ve gone to in the past. That’s why when I heard of this opportunity I wanted to come here check it out, see if it fits, see how it is.”
Adu was surprisingly reflective for someone who was so full of himself, adding: “I’m only 24 now and it’s actually 10 years in March when I made my debut. I’ve learned a lot through that journey, there’s been good times and there’s been bad times. I’m glad that I experienced that at such a young age that, being 24 now, I’m still young enough to correct a lot of the mistakes I made. It was a lot of pressure, it really was.
“As a 14, 15, 16-year-old you’re young, you’re immature, you kind of get caught up in that a little bit. Thankfully I had my family and my friends and I had the right people around me to steer me in the right direction because there was a point when I did get caught up in it. Maybe I wasn’t training as hard as I should have. It hurt me, it hurt my development. What most people don’t know is that I decided to go professional because my family was real poor. At that point my mum, she was a single mother working two jobs, three jobs and what am I going to do? Say no to millions of dollars at that age while my family struggles? No.”
Adu waking up from his delusion could be the first step on righting the downwards spiral he finds himself on. Those in US Soccer, DC and Philadelphia though, have heard it all before.