April 3rd 2004, D.C United are playing the San Jose Earthquakes in an MLS game when a young 14 year old is brought on as a substitute. His introduction was supposed to send seismic shockwaves through world football. He was heralded as the next Pel├®, a lofty reputation for one so young to bear. And yet he did show early promise and the fans and media alike were excited. But alas, what we witnessed instead was a supernova. His star shone too soon and too early and may have now died a very premature death. The player in question is none other than Freddy Adu.
An American soccer prodigy Adu grew up in Ghana and moved to the US when his mother won a Green card lottery. He excelled in soccer in schoolÔÇÖs varsity team as an attacking midfielder. Having played against men three times his age back home in Ghana the youngster was not fazed by opposition. During an Under-14 tournament where he led his team to ultimate victory his skills were noted by famous Italian clubs like Inter Milan who wanted to offer him a deal. His mother intervened and blocked any potential deal which in hindsight may have been a mistake; honing his skills in the environs of European football may have been just what the youngster needed. As it turned out he enrolled in the IMG academy, a full time residency program conducted by the U.S Soccer Federation.
He was drafted to D.C United in the 2004 MLS SuperDraft and made history by becoming the youngest person ever to sign a professional contract in the U.S. His time at D.C United was fruitful and brought him much fame. But did this fame get to him? Maybe; he was suspended for a game when he complained to the media that he wasnÔÇÖt getting much playing time. However his skills had caught the eye of some European heavyweights including Manchester United who took him on loan for 2 weeks in 2006, he wasnÔÇÖt able to play any competitive fixtures there and just trained with several other youth players. His stock continued to rise in the MLS and in 2005 he was nominated for FIFPRO Young player of the year.
In 2006 he was traded to Real Salt Lake. During this time he was also captain of the U.S Under-20 World Cup squad. He did so well in the tournament that Benfica decided to buy his rights from the MLS and bring the youngster across the proverbial ÔÇÿpondÔÇÖ to Europe. Benfica was where his star could really shine. This was the club that the legendary Eusebio had played for. The heir to PeleÔÇÖs throne could now fulfill his potential. This was not to be. This would instead be the start of his era as a journeyman in world football. He would go on loan to clubs in France, Greece and Turkey and would eventually be sent back to the MLS in 2011. He would play for the Philadelphia Union for two years as a designated player before he was sold to Bahia of Brazil. Come November 7th of last year and he was released by the club due to ÔÇÿtechnical deficienciesÔÇÖ.
It is always hard for youngsters in world football, especially in Europe where the Darwinian theory of ÔÇÿSurvival of the fittestÔÇÖ is in full swing. Commentators often did comment that Adu was too young to cut it in the game. They said he needed to develop physically as well as mentally to stand up to the rigours of the game. Maybe they were right. At 14, kids are just entering middle school. They do their homework and watch Cartoon Network and go to school the next day and the cycle continues. Not Adu though, he was playing professional football against men, men who had years of training on him, men who had attained a level of maturity that must have been lost on a 14 year old. ItÔÇÖs amazing when you put things in perspective; Adu has been around for nearly a decade in the game and is only 24. He may yet still live up to some of his early potential. But without a club he is now in football wilderness. Only time will tell whether the boy dubbed the next Pele will ever get back to competitive football and lives up to his billing. Miracles are possible.
Article by – Lanre Banjoko