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Sport and Fitness

What Happened to Freddy Adu?

Words by Nathan Irvine

From "the next Pelé" to being dumped by a Finnish third division side - Freddy Adu has had a career of fleeting highs and crushing lows.

I have got a curious fascination with the career of Fredua Koranteng “Freddy” Adu. The teenage football sensation had the world at his feet when he burst onto the scene in 2004.

Everybody who was anybody in the world of sport was quick to shower him in praise. “The next Pelé” moniker was slapped on the back of the precocious Ghanaian-born, American teenager who had the world at his feet.

However, as quickly as Adu’s star rose, it burned out in double-quick time.

Don’t Believe the Hype

Freddy Adu just might be the highest profile name in football to fall foul of the hype machine. His extreme highs and crushing lows serve as a lesson to all that follow – from Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford to Kylian Mbappé of PSG.

But where did it all go wrong for Adu?

Well, he certainly had the talent. At 13 (13!) he became the youngest person to play in Major League Soccer. At D.C. United you could see the raw talent – that deft touch, close control – on display.

He played with maturity of a seasoned veteran and Adu quickly had the attention of Europe’s elite clubs.

A purported $1m contract with Nike quickly followed. And soon Adu was on every billboard and ad campaign for the sports giant. The world had bought the hype – Freddy Adu was indeed the next big thing.

Freddy Adu

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But as young Freddy continued his MLS career, cracks started to appear both on and off the field.

Those pundits that were once singing his praises were soon questioning his maturity to handle the pressures of professional football at such a tender age. And it wasn’t like Adu was doing himself any favours at the time either.

In 2006, Adu’s second ever season, he complained about his lack of playing time in the media. Convinced this cost him his place in Team USA’s World Cup squad, the 15 year old was suddenly questioning his team’s decision to ease him into pro football.

Adu knew best, not his manager – he needed more game time to fulfil his potential. D.C. United responded by suspending him for one match.

This was the first sign that Adu and his advisors had maybe bought into his hype a little too much. Their heads turned, perhaps, by the noises coming from the more illustrious teams in Europe.

However, a two-week trial with Manchester United amounted to nothing more than some photo album memories for Adu who was unable to secure a work permit.

The Long Journey Down

D.C. United traded Adu to Real Salt Lake in 2006. He went on to score a handful of goals and create a few assists, both for his new club side and USA’s Under-20 international side.

And then his European dream was realised as Portuguese giants Benfica took the plunge and bought the rights to him for $2m.

The fact he decided not to play in a Real Salt Lake fixture and instead jet to Lisbon to sign with them provided an acrimonious end to his MLS spell.

Adu had done it. He was in the big leagues and surely the sky was the limit for his potential. But, well, it’d didn’t quite go as planned.

Loan Star

Benfica was the beginning of the end of his top-flight career. Adu only played eleven games in four years at the club.

He was loaned out to French side Monaco, Portugal’s Belenenses, Aris from Greece and Turkish Super Liga team, Çaykur Rizespor. Across all these teams he only accumulated 28 appearances and four goals – the shine of USA’s golden boy had well and truly worn off.

Despite a somewhat successful stint with Philadelphia Union between 2011 and 2013, there was no Rocky style comeback for Adu’s career.

The deftness of touch and silky moves were seen in flashes, but Freddy was now wearing the road weariness of a journeyman. And his travels were only just about to start.

Freddy Adu Manchester United

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Sources Freddy Adu (right) during his trial at Manchester United in 2006

On the Road Again

Numerous trials and short stints at clubs from Norway to Brazil, Netherlands to the Finnish third division, Adu has clocked up more air miles than he has professional appearances across his career.

Despite many one-on-one interviews with curious sports papers and websites, Freddy Adu is still yet to reveal the reasons why his playing days went off the rails. The only consistent theme is blaming himself.

“As a fourteen-, fifteen-, sixteen-year-old, you’re young, you’re immature, and you kind of get caught up in that a little bit . . . and maybe I wasn’t training as hard as I should have. And it hurt me.” Adu told The New Yorker.

There are a lot of ifs and buts. It’s clear that Freddy Adu wanted to support his single mother with the riches a pro career could offer.

But there’s an element of mystery that surrounds his decision-making – or at least who was making them for him. At such a young age, the advice must’ve been coming from an outside source.

Not Done Yet

As it is, Adu is currently a free agent having been released by Las Vegas Lights, which we’re assured, is a football team, and not a Nevada nightclub. Before this he was shilling vacuum cleaners on Twitter.

It’s a shame because he’s still only 29 and should be at the peak of his powers. In terms of hype, he should be challenging Messi and Ronaldo yearly for the Ballon D’or, but it was not to be.

I’ll keep my eye on the career of Fredua Koranteng “Freddy” Adu, mind. “Next Pelé” or not, it’s hard to ignore his roller coaster of a story that’s surely bound for Hollywood when it’s over.

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