Freddy Adu the Wünderkid
By all accounts, Freddy Adu has had a strange career. Calling it “strange” might be an understatement.
When he was 14 years old, Freddy Adu was given a gift and a curse. He was called “The next Pele.”
Now, at 27, his career and his promise look as forgotten as a broken toy in the attic. To some, he is washed up.
The Ghana-born American came to the United States with his family at a young age in search of the same dream every immigrant comes to the country with – for opportunity, for a chance, for a better life.
He tasted it all before he was 17.
Too Much Too Soon?
The iconic British ska band The Specials once sang: “Too little and now your coming unglued / Too much too soon / Too late and now it sucks to be you.”
At 14 years old — the year after a boy’s voice cracks, he grows hair in unexpected places and acne breaks out – Freddy Adu was a professional soccer player.
He was the youngest athlete ever to sign a professional sports contract when D.C. United selected him in 2004 for the MLS Superdraft. A few months later, he made his MLS debut and that same year he became the youngest person ever to score in Major League Soccer when he put one in the net against New York Metrostars (Now Red Bulls).
Adu’s future looked bright. The way the media fawns over young Christian Pulisic, they did 10-fold over Adu. He was even hailed as “the next Pele” by the media and the icon himself. American soccer fans were joyful to know they had a good future with the young lad.
By 2007, three years after he signed with D.C. United, he was considered washed up. He went to fellow MLS club Real Salt Lake and lasted 11 games, scoring just once. That same year, he ended up in Portugal playing for Benfica, it is there his career took the strangest turns.
In the four-year contract he had with Benfica, he only played for them 11 times and scored twice. The team loaned him out to Monaco for a season where he played nine games with zero goals. Adu was also loaned out to fellow Portuguese club Belenenses where he only played three times, again no goals. In 2010 he went to Greek side Aris, played three games, and you guessed it, no goals. In 2011, he went to Turkish second division side Çaykur Rizespor and scored for the first time in four years. He only lasted 11 games with the team.
Maybe it is because he made headlines following a four-year goal scoring drought, but MLS expansion team Philadelphia Union picked him up in 2011 following his games — we can’t even call it a season — in Turkey and signed him to a three year deal.
Things looked promising but in 35 matches and only producing seven goals, by 2013 he was told he could leave.
In 2013, he went to Brazil and played for Bahia and lasted a season before taking trials with other clubs around the world for nearly a year.
By 2014, Freddy Adu was playing in Serbia for Jagodina, he hardly lasted six months before they released him. In 2015, he went to Finnish side KuPS, the team loaned him out to their third division side and it proved to be his most serious fall from grace.
Last year, he returned to America to play for the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the NASL. The club released him in December.
Freddy Adu is Still Kicking After All These Years
Following the release of his contract from the Rowdies, he told Goal: “I’m only 26. Yes, I’ve had some tough times in my career. I’ve had some great times as well. In the end, I can’t control what people say. It wasn’t my choice or decision to be compared to Pele when I came into the league.”
While too much was put on his shoulders at a young age, his career has altered so much that maybe he was like a firecracker — it burns bright for a short period of time but then quickly fades.
It’s been different for others at this stage. At 27, Serie A star Gianluca Lapadula, has had the opposite of Adu’s career, playing in a quagmire of smaller clubs and lesser leagues around Europe — but now as a starter for A.C. Milan and one of the fan favorites.
Hell, Jamie Vardy was 29 when Leicester City made their historic run, at Adu’s age he was working in a coal mine. Anything can happen.
Soccer is a rough sport no matter what anyone tries to tell you. It is also unforgiving. However, if you are good to it and good at it, it is great back to you.
The man who was once boasted about as the “future of American soccer” never represented the country in a World Cup. He played for the youth national team and represented the States at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
At his still relatively young age, should he find himself in good shape again, a call-up under new manager Bruce Arena could be possible but time is really of the essence.
While he looks for a new club, again, he has admitted that he has “wasted years” and has made mistakes in his career, according to his interview with Goal. While his resume looks less than impressive, what can be said about Adu is that he is a fighter.
In January, MLS’ Portland Timbers gave him a tryout for a spot on their team before the season starts. Following the end of his trial in early February, the MLS side opted not to sign him.
As of press time, he is currently a free agent.
After playing for 12 teams in 13 years, Adu’s spirit clearly has not been broken by the game. If he is looking to continue playing, he must make his heart and mind work with one another.