In 2003, you could barely move to mention Freddy Adu. The child prodigy had signed his first professional contract at the age of 14 and looked set to become a real star of the game.
At the time, if you were asked to guess what Adu would be doing on his 33rd birthday, your answer might be rather mundane.
He would probably enjoy a little respite at the end of a successful season for which top side he had inevitably joined as he prepared for a World Cup with the United States. You certainly didn’t think he would end seven years without a top game in any country.
Some of Adu’s peers have enjoyed that kind of career. His first major international tournament – the Under-17 World Cup in 2003 – also featured David Silva, Joao Moutinho and Mikel John Obi, while two years later he went to the FIFA World Youth Championships, taking on Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero among others. .
But fast forward to 2022, and he hasn’t enjoyed the career paths of those who came on the scene at the same time. Instead, he played in different countries, as diverse as Finland, Brazil and Turkey, spending time on different levels of the United States football pyramid.
In November 2003, Adu’s deal with Major League Soccer was big enough news to be featured by the New York Times. That was a big deal at the time, with football not nearly as popular in the United States as it is today, but his age and profile meant it shouldn’t have come as a surprise.
“This is the greatest acquisition in the history of the league,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said. “Freddy is one of the best young players in the world and his decision to play in his country and for his league will motivate other youngsters to watch MLS.”
Given his age, there may have been a temptation to help Adu into the life of a professional footballer. Instead, however, he played regularly for his local team DC United before his 15th birthday, scoring his first goal as a professional in April 2004.
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Adu would continue to be part of the first-team draft in DC, also earning his first senior call-up in the United States in early 2006 at the age of 16. He won his first cap in a team that also included Landon Donovan. and Josh Wolff – both of whom would represent Bruce Arena’s side at the World Cup later that year – but Adu himself would not travel to Germany in the summer.
Still, 2006 brought what felt like a big breakthrough in the form of a trial with Manchester United. He trained mainly with the under-23s, rather than Sir Alex Ferguson’s seniors, but did have the opportunity to work with future Champions League winners, including Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney.
†[Ferguson] would have been more than perfect for me,” Adu said in 2021. “As a young player you don’t see it the same way when you’re younger, you just see it like ‘I’m a good footballer and I’m ready to play now ‘, you don’t think about your development, but the adults or coaches in the room, they are the ones who are very important.
“I had some coaches who weren’t up to giving young players a chance. I didn’t go to stations where I could just develop and not have that ‘pressure’ to be ‘the next Pele’ and not immediately contribute have to deliver.”
As Adu himself has realized, the wrong moves can really hinder a young player’s development. His misstep came – at least in his own mind – in 2008 when, after leaving DC United for Real Salt Lake and then Benfica, he chose to move to Monaco on loan.
“The biggest mistake I made in my career was to loan Benfica to Monaco,” Adu told The Blue Wire Podcast in 2020, as reported by The Mail. “I say it from the heart. It was one of those decisions that if I could do it again, I wouldn’t make it.
“I had three coaches in a year in Benfica. The club was in such a dysfunctional moment that I wanted to get out of there and go the other way as soon as possible, but it turned out to be the worst decision.”
“I joined the club at the same time as Di María. In the first year I was better than him. I played better than him, but I decided to leave for Monaco on loan. And Di María stayed with Benfica. And guess what “He got the chance to play with a coach who came later and became a starter.”
The move to Monaco was one of four loan spells during Adu’s time at Benfica, and none were a roaring success. It was then that the American embarked on what amounted to a world tour, with his only real reprieve in the form of a two-year return to the MLS at Philadelphia Union.
The move reunited him with Peter Nowak, his manager for most of his time in Washington, and the former Polish international gave Adu a semblance of stability. But that too would end when Nowak gave way to John Hackworth and the youngster’s world tour resumed.
Relocations to Brazil, Serbia and Finland followed, but none really clicked. Adu was only 25 when he returned to the States and joined Tampa Bay Rowdies, but the fact that he was now playing outside of MLS felt significant.
However, Tampa brought a reunion with former United States Under-20s coach Thomas Rongen, providing an opportunity to take stock. While Adu himself has spoken of the wisdom of certain decisions, Rongen himself — a man also known for his work on the American Samoa national team — had his own theories.
“I don’t think he was willing to meet the strict requirements of a professional club where it’s dirty, where players are constantly competing for places and where, unfortunately, Americans are still not considered a great football nation,” said the in the Netherlands. born, the manager told The Guardian in 2015. “You have to prove yourself every day – and physically it is very tough.
“Maybe they knocked him down where he went so far that they killed Freddy’s game. There needs to be some understanding, and the rest of the group needs to understand that we’re going to have to work a little harder to cover Freddy’s shortcomings defensively, but man, if we’re moving forward, we’re damn good. Because this boy can play.”
Though Adu was only in his mid-twenties, career and expectations had taken their toll. He failed to maintain a regular starting spot, not even in the North American Soccer League.
He was soon ousted in Florida by another man who was showered with accolades as a youngster nearing the end of his career. A talent from a more traditional football nation, however, former England international Joe Cole thrived where his predecessor couldn’t.
Adu’s next move took him to Las Vegas, the site of what remains his most recent professional goal. He also scored the first-ever official goal of the Las Vegas Lights, which was also the first ever goal by a professional team in the city of Nevada.
But even then I felt that his impact in the locker room was just as valuable as his performances on the field, which were good enough for minutes in the USL, but perhaps not at the level some expected him to be in his late 20s.
“Being able to play with him, but not only that, have a friendship off the field,” teammate Zak Drake told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “A little bit of his guidance because he’s also traveled the world and has all this knowledge.”
There was still time for another move, but the sounds from Sweden – where Adu was in Osterlen’s books for a short period – suggest that his future may lie in coaching rather than playing. He agreed to a one-year contract with the third-grader, but left without playing a minute.
“We had agreed with him that he would get the chance to show himself,” said Vice-President Filip Lindgren, AS reports. “But from what we’ve seen, it’s hard to see that he will be able to compete. He has a lot of football in him, but the physical and the mental are missing,” he said.
“He was clearly disappointed. He’s a really nice guy in every way and I’m sure he would have been a great footballer. But he lacks the physical requirement. We were actually a bit surprised at how unprepared he was when he came .” here.”
A look at Adu’s social media points to a man who is far from falling for the love of football as a sport. He still offers coaching sessions and enjoys the success of the players he has taken under his wing.
It’s a role that perhaps distills what allowed him to build such a high reputation, but also what kept him from living up to it. This was someone who thrived as a youngster, when it was possible to get away with a relative lack of physicality if you were technically good enough, but who suffered when it became clear that there wasn’t that much margin for error in the professional game, both on and off the field.
For some, Freddy Adu’s career will serve as a cautionary tale – too much, too young a tale. However, at 33 years old, he is still writing a new chapter… albeit not on the field.