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What happened to Freddy Adu?

At the age of 14, Freddy Adu generated unprecedented expectations, signing a million-dollar contract with Nike.

Freddy Adu.
Getty Images

Endrick joining Real Madrid at the age of 16 has brought to mind other young talents who emerged very early. The name Freddy Adu springs to mind. The American, now 33, was destined to become a future star at a very young age. In the United States, he became the next big thing. At 16 years, 7 months and 20 days, he became the youngest player in the history of the national team, and played in a friendly match against Canada. At the age of 14, he was selected in the MLS draft by DC United. A year earlier he had lit up the 2003 U17 World Cup with three goals against South Korea and another against Sierra Leone.

Shortly afterwards, he made his MLS debut at the age of 14, and the hype around him was at an all-time high. The highest paid player in the North American league and with a million-dollar contract with the Nike sports brand. In his third game, he scored his first goal, to the delight of the American fans. He scored five goals that season. “Being the highest paid had its responsibilities. I had to go to the games beforehand to sign and say hello. It was tough. At the end of the day at that age you have to play and my teammates were twice my age and I didn’t have much in common with them,” Adu told Sportbible a few weeks ago. In DC United he didn’t get off to a good start and after his third season he left for Real Salt Lake City to play until he turned 18 and be able to go to Europe, but he didn’t stand out in Utah either.

Move to Europe and Alex Ferguson

At Benfica, he started off well but soon began to fade. He failed to show all the quality and expectations he had generated. The Eagles had paid €1.5m. Before that, as a 17-year-old, he had a two-week trial with Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United. “I think we would be interested, he’s young but we’ve known him for a long time. We tried to bring him here a few years ago, but he signed for DC United and that stopped us progressing to keep an eye on him,” Ferguson said at the time. After his bad experience at Benfica, he decided it was better to leave Portugal for another league. So he moved to Monaco, but he barely played. “I made a mistake leaving Benfica. I was better than [Ángel] Di María, but there were a lot of distractions at Monaco and I played badly.” Another disappointment when he was just 20. He then went on a series of obscure loans: Belenenses, Aris Thessaloniki, Rizespor (Turkey).

Freddy Adu, during his time at Benfica.
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Freddy Adu, during his time at Benfica.JOSE MANUEL RIBEIROREUTERS

Released from Benfica, Adu returned to the USA. Two seasons with the Philadelphia Union franchise saw a better player, no longer a striker, but more of an attacker on the left. Without so much pressure after a good year, he made another questionable decision in his professional career. He left MLS to go to Brazil, to Bahia. “My style of play is always compared to a Brazilian. I finally have the opportunity to do that. I’m very excited.” It was an experience that barely lasted nine months due to “technical deficiencies”. The truth is that he barely played. At the height of the Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo boom, nobody remembered Freddy Adu.

But he did not give up. He tried out for several teams: Stabaek in Norway, AZ Alkmaar, coached by Marco van Basten. Nobody would give him a chance. His career was becoming difficult to revive. The other options he had were: Jagodina (Serbia), KuPS (Finland), TB Rowdies (USA), Las Vegas (USA) and Österlen (Sweden). These were teams with little to no prominence and far removed from what was expected of Adu when he broke onto the scene in 2003.

Adu was overwhelmed by the pressure he had to carry at such a young age. He was a kid treated like the best player on the planet. And that cost him a successful career. Fourteen professional clubs and now, at the age of 33, no teams and no offers. Adu tells Sportbible that technically he has not retired. “I took a few years off after losing my love for football. Believe it or not, I’m thinking about getting back out there and playing. I’m still young enough”.


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