At 13 he was already playing for USA U-17s. At 13 he signed a $1m sponsorship deal with Nike. At 14 he made his MLS debut. At 14 he scored his first professional goal. At 14 he won the MLS Cup with DC United and by the time he was 16 he had become the MLS’ most highly paid player. Now 6 years on at the ripe old age of 22, Freddy Adu has just signed on a free transfer for Philadelphia Union. So what happened to the once described “prodigy of American football”?
Much controversy, awe, shock and disappointment surrounds Ghanaian born Freddy Adu’s blighted career. At 18, he secured the move that many thought would be the beginning of his rise to superstardom. Surely a move into European Football would confirm his arrival onto the big stage and in joining Benfica Adu would have that chance, competing in the UEFA Champions League.
It wasn’t to be though and following his first season at the Portuguese club, that only reaped him 11 appearances, mostly as substitutes, Adu began what would lead to 4 consecutive season long loans. Firstly Monaco took Adu on loan with the option to buy – which was politely turned down and this was to be the end of Adu’s shambolic time in the top-flights of European football. He was then shipped off for three successive seasons to lesser known European clubs; Belenenses, Aris and finally Caykur Rizespor – which was where it seemed Adu had eventually discovered his level/feet – depending on how sceptical you are of his “talent”.
Rizespor did secure the twice MLS All Star player some glory. In 11 games he found the back of the net 4 times and gained a handful of assists helping the Turkish team finish 6th in a league of 18. Whether it was his wage demands or that he was simply not desired, that led to Adu not staying longer than his month loan spell at Rizespor is unknown, and following his release from Benfica Adu returned home to the U.S.A signing for Philly team Union on August 11th 2011.
At the age of 22 Adu has already played for 8 different teams in 5 different countries, notching up 20 goals in 142 appearances (the majority of them coming from the bench), and it seems, rightly so in my view, that he has admitted defeat in returning to the MLS. Most transfers into the MLS seem to be for aging players from Europe looking for their last pay packet, or to “join a promising progressing league with real intent” as some have put it. Well having already played in this league and only being 22, Adu cannot claim this is his reasoning though, can he?
Does this exactly look like a 14 year old boy?
Well yes he can, but I doubt his agent would advise it. Ever since Adu’s arrival onto the World stage there has been much murmuring over his “actual” age. Nothing much is ever broadcast about this taboo topic in football, but it is one that is a rife problem amongst players of African descent. Questions were raised over Adu’s age when he made his debut in the MLS at 14, with many surprised by his athletic build of a man much older than early adolescence and subsequently his ability to compete with professionals much older than himself.
Freddy isn’t the first to be subject to controversy over his age. Obafemi Martins at one point had two documented ages, one making him 6 years older than then Inter bosses were led to believe. Fellow Nigerians Yakubu and Kanu have also been tormented by similar claims throughout their much more successful careers.
Pictured: Martins, Yakubu and Kanu. Tanzania officials have labelled Nigeria as “notoroious age cheats”
The problem lays in the Football Associations of the countries in question, which have, repeatedly, produced false documentations allowing players to take part in the U-21 and U-17 competitions and enjoy success for their country. Nigeria are just one of many African countries which have entered players of ages 24+ in the youth tournaments passing them off as youngsters, and then when the European scouts show interest in the players and multimillion pound fees are being flung about for their services, the Football Association aren’t going to fess up and miss out on the money that a country saturated with poverty greatly need.
It seems to be much of a taboo subject in the footballing World and one that FIFA don’t seem to show much interest in. It might be that small steps and making examples of certain breaches is the way forward for the concerned footballing federations or that it is a vicious self-harming circle that will prevent these countries from ever developing in the football world and thus FIFA don’t deem action necessary.
This may be one explanation as to why Freddy Adu has never fulfilled his much hyped potential; but again it maybe that he just had too much pressure at such an early age. It seems we shall never quite know what happened to his evident talent he once had, and as a football fan I hope he does regain it at some point, because if he really is 22, it is no age to end what once was such a promising career.