Back in 2003, stories spread across the football world of an American soccer prodigy with dazzling footwork, a wicked shot and divine dribbling skills; soon a video was found of the said prodigy and quickly published across the World on the internet, and so the legend of fourteen year old Freddy Adu was born. He soon became one of the most talked about figures in football, despite his age and total lack of professional experience. Adu seemed certain to become the figure that would revolutionise American soccer and turn the MLS into the next big league.
The MLS certainly saw this opportunity and quickly began to market their new internet sensation; just as Biebermania encapsulated the World last year, Adu had a similar affect over the soccer world. He appeared in adverts with Pele as if some sort of divine descendant and did the rounds on the US late night chat shows; all at the age of 14. In 2004, he was taken as the number one pick of the MLS Draft by D.C United, and swiftly signed a professional contract. The MLS even changed the order of the Draft, by compensating the Dallas Burn who should have had the number one pick, in order to allow Adu to play closer to home; after all, he was still only 14. He became the youngest person to sign a professional sports contract in all of the major American sports and would go on to become the youngest MLS player ever when he made his debut for D.C United as a fourteen year old.
And so, why does the name Freddy Adu mean very little to the football fans these days? Adu is a distant memory now, if anything at all. Since that first season in 2004, Adu played in the MLS until 2007. His name attracted many fans to games, but soon his legend began to wear out. He was too small and young to play with grown men; his massive fame had caused him to become arrogant and he fell out with coaches, who saw past the money making scheme of the MLS. He initiated in 2007 his own move out of the MLS and to Benefica for a sum of two million pounds; a measly amount for a player who was once wanted by every team from Chelsea to Real Madrid.
This begun the wandering phase of Freddy Adu’s career. Not getting enough playing time at Benefica, he spent a season on loan at Monaco and planned to stay there permanently but they didn’t want so sent him back to Benefica. Now 20, Adu was moved again on loan to Belenenses in Portugal (No, I hadn’t heard of them either), again lasting the season, but again being sent back unwanted. Another loan to Aris (again who?) followed, but they soon begun to phase him out of their squad and, knowing he was unwanted, Adu tried to find a move back to the MLS. In this latest January transfer window, Adu’s sorry fate has continued, sent on loan to Turkish second division minnows Rizespor. He’s fallen out of favour with the USA side, and was never even considered for their World Cup squad, six years after being the future hope of American soccer.
So what happened to Freddy Adu? He was the victim of a greedy and desperate league, needing of a star. His development was handled in the worst possible way, thrusting him into an environment he was not ready for and expecting too much. He was not the first soccer prodigy and will certainly not be the last, but the way MLS treated him should act as the benchmark of exactly how not to raise a young player. Not only did the MLS screw up their chance to become a league of note, but Adu was ruined himself, becoming disillusioned in his own worth and too believing in his own undeveloped talent. He needs to return to the MLS, work on the fundamentals of his game, work his way back into the US national side and become, now at the right age, the star of the USA soccer world. Get Adu to show the glimpses of what made him so popular, and maybe the falling star can re-ignite the MLS.