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  • Writer's pictureThe Football Notebook

Freddy Adu - the Story of the Failed Prodigy

America's Pélé. Seen as a generational player. Millionaire at 16. Consumed by the overwhelming media attention.

Freddy Adu, perhaps the greatest talent to have ever failed in football history.

Few players can draw the attention of the entire footballing world like the Ghana-born Freddy Adu - from the moment he made his debut for DC United at just 14 years of age. Such blistering pace, physicality and raw talent had never been seen before in the American continent. A player of this calibre at 14, the midfielder was the most coveted player in the world between 2004 and 2006. And his highly anticipated move away from the US came ever so close when a trial with Manchester United in the November of 2006 only fell through because of a failure to gain a work permit.

But Manchester United was not the only club willing to pay an arm and a leg to secure the signature of the American prodigy.

Goliaths in the sports industry, such as Nike, reached a brand deal which would make Adu a millionaire at only 16. Everything was looking great for the player, who interestingly only arrived in America on a green card lottery. But the American Pele was ultimately unable to reach the heights he was widely expected to go to.

Despite the seemingly infinite suitors, Freddy Adu left DC United for what would be a short spell at fellow MLS side Real Salt Lake. More notably, he captained the US Men’s U-20 national team in the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup during his time in RSL. His impressive display had Portuguese giants Benfica paying 2 million USD to bring him to their club - but this is widely recognized as the catalyst of Freddy Adu’s downfall. The media attention and interest from clubs can have a lot of weight for a teenager and eventually got the better of Adu. An uninspiring spell at The Eagles led to a loan spell at French club AS Monaco with an option to buy. It was not exercised, and the player was slowly falling out of the footballing scene.

Once the subject of interest of every individual associated with the game of football, Freddy Adu had disappeared, and barely anyone noticed.

He then returned to Benfica, before he was offloaded(on loan again) to Portuguese minnows Belenenses for the 2009-10 season. Embarrassingly, his loan there was cut short and a couple of loans later – amounting to four total loans at Benfica – Adu returned to the USA to play for Philadelphia Union, arguably the last notable team he would ever play for.

His career would be perfectly summarized by the word nomadic.

Norway, Serbia, Finland, he’d experienced all of it and was unsuccessful wherever he went.

As of 2020, he last played for Las Vegas Lights FC, where he was released at the end of the 17-18 season. Such a shame.

Freddy Adu was ready to take the footballing world by storm when he first arrived in the MLS. Whilst his failure can be accredited to the overwhelming media pressure, too much for a fourteen-year-old, it begs the question whether this was the only factor in his collapse. This bears great significance in more recent footballing careers.

An example, Martin Odegaard was signed by Real Madrid when he was 16. After initially struggling at the Spanish outfit, his most recent loan to Real Sociedad has rejuvenated the player and he looks well and truly on his way to becoming a world-beater given his current form.

Despite gaining a lot of media attention for his initial move, perhaps Odegaard’s success story shows that it takes more than just pressure to fail to reach the heights expected as Freddy Adu did.

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