As long as ten years ago, the World Cup in 2014 was ordained as the time Freddie Adu would prove himself to be a truly global star. Way back in 2004, the Ghanian-born American signed a professional contract with MLS club DC United at just 14 years of age. Adu had been playing against opponents twice, or even three times his age for years, drawing flattering comparisons with Brazilian legend, Pele. In the land of hype and the home of celebrity, the youngster was primed to be America’s first superstar soccer player – and 2014, when he would be 24 – was to be his coming out party. Well, that was the theory anyway. Although the USA team certainly enhanced its reputation during the Brazil tournament, Adu was not there; the ghost at his own party.
Even a couple of years before, after a few setbacks, it had seemed that things were back on track for Adu. Playing in the MLS following a $2million transfer to Benfica back in 2007, wherein he was loaned out to clubs in France, Portugal, Greece and Turkey for largely unsuccessful periods, he had returned to America and signed for Philadelphia Union. Although not wildly successful, he had still netted a respectable seven times in 35 appearances for the City of Brotherly Love. His form had led to the captaincy of the USA Olympic team, seemingly on its way to the games in London.
The Americans had seemed primed to qualify. Then, facing a crucial qualifier against El Salvador however, goalkeeper Sean Johnson allowed an injury time equaliser to slip past him, and the Olympic dream was over. Despite the player’s Twitter backgrounds image carrying a picture of him in the USA strip, the result apparently left Adu in tears, declaring, “This is probably the worst feeling I’ve ever felt in my life so far as a pro athlete. This is going to be hard to get over.”
As last Christmas drew near, the depth of Adu’s fall from grace was put into stark perspective as the Serbian club, FK Jagodina, who he had been with for six months, ended the arrangement. Reports differ as to whether he actually kicked a ball for them in his time in the former Yugoslav republic. Some say he made a single substitute appearance, whilst others dispute that. Whichever is true, it was hardly an auspicious period of his career. Despite this, after a break of three months or so, Adu returned to Twitter to reassure his 400,000-odd followers that all was well. Just three days before Christmas, he used the social media platform to declare:
“Easy guys I signed a 6 month contract. And it’s done now. I didn’t get “released”. Knew I was leaving a few months ago. #truth.”
He followed up 20 minutes or so later by saying:
“Thank God for Twitter. There are a lot of false information out there. I signed a 6 MONTH deal and it’s done now. Simple as that. #truth”
That may be the case, but what is also true is that since the end of the 2012 MLS season, Adu has played a mere 59 minutes competitive football at best. His absence from the American squad in Brazil was therefore hardly a surprise. Despite a career apparently in decline however, Adu still appears to have the financial wherewithal to lead a celebrity lifestyle. The midfielder’s Instagram account certainly gives that impression anyway, featuring images of him at a string of parties, with glamorous blondes on one arm and a diamond wristwatch adorning the other. So where is Adu heading now?
After leaving Philadelphia, he had a short period in Brazil with Bahia in 2013. It amounted however to a mere two apearances before he moved on. There followed a series of unsuccessful trials around various clubs in Europe, and in February of last year he was training with Championship club Blackpool. Speaking on ‘Tangerines TV, the American remarked that “I’m really not in a rush to get anything done right this second but I need to make the right decision for my career.I haven’t always made the right decisions as far as choices of teams I’ve gone to in the past. That’s why when I heard of this opportunity I wanted to come here check it out, see if it fits, see how it is.” If he was hoping that decision would be a sojourn by the seaside however, he was to be disappointed. There was no offer of a contract though and although he continued to train with the club, Adu was forced to look elsewhere for gainful employment. Former USA national coach Bob Bradley then offered him the chance to impress his Norwgian club Stabaek, but that too ended in disappointment. The same thing happened in Holland with Alkmaar. It was then that the move to Serbia arose, which has now ended.
There is talk that a move back to America with New York Cosmos is on the cards, but there must be doubt in the minds of the club’s paymasters as to the potential value for money he would offer after so many failed ventures elsewhere. At 24, there probably remains a decade of football left in Freddy Adu, but the level at which he can perform is now much less than the hype of ten years ago.
Adu is reported as once remarking that “I think everything happens for a reason and all the things that happened to me – good, bad – I’m glad they did. It’s made me ready for life, for adulthood.” It may be a wise philosophy. The label of being the ‘new Pele’ has long been discarded. The question is whether there is the possibility of rediscovering the ‘old Adu.’ The jury is still out on that one.
(This All Blue Daze article was originally produced for the ‘offsiderulepodcast’ website).