By Ridge Mahoney
John Hackworth doesn't strike one as a gambler.John Hackworth doesn't strike one as a gambler.
The Philadelphia Union head coach is thoughtful, insightful, level-headed, in many ways the antithesis of his predecessor: the brash, brazen, brutally opinionated Peter Nowak. They are men of very different personalities and philosophies, yet bound by a common
Neither could figure out the enigma that is Freddy Adu, whose latest ironic twist in his career does indeed send him to Brazil, but not -- as many predicted -- as a member of the U.S. 2014 World Cup team.
Instead, he's been transferred to Brazilian club Bahia, with former international Kleberson arriving in exchange on loan.
Adu's career had hit a dead end in Philly -- Hackworth proclaimed at the start of the preseason that he wasn't in the team's plans for 2013 and wouldn't be present at training camp -- and he's long been gone from the national team, yet this represents a considerable risk by Hackworth.
Rightly or wrongly, a contingent of Union fans are diehard Adu supporters, and for him to be banished to Brazil in exchange for a player 10 years older and on the downhill slide isn't going to sit well unless he and the team get it rolling.
In justifying the move, Hackworth cited Kleberson's excellent play on Brazil's 2002 World Cup championship team, and on that point I can wholeheartedly concur. At the same age (22) as Adu was when he came to the Union in 2011, Kleberson meshed impeccably with the likes of Rivaldo, Cafu, Roberto Carlos, Ronaldo and Co. once he'd been inserted into the lineup by coach Luiz Felipe Scolari for a quarterfinal against England. Wonderful on the ball, as are most elite Brazilian players, he also brought a tenacity and toughness his national team sometimes lacked. It might be a stretch to say he supplied the missing component, as Brazil had done quite well up to that point, but he kept his place in the lineup and set up one of Brazil's goals in the final (a 2-0 defeat of Germany).
Kleberson's World Cup play contributed to a transfer from Atletico Paranaense to Manchester United, but he couldn't gain a solid footing in the Premier League. He played just 20 games in two seasons, and moved on to Turkish club Besiktas, where he lasted two more seasons (45 games) before returning to Brazil with Flamengo, which loaned him to Paranaense, and gave him a handful of games last year before releasing him. He signed with Bahia last July.
Kleberson did make the 2010 World Cup team. Coach Dunga, a former midfield hard man who saw something of himself in Kleberson, took him to South Africa but limited his participation to nine minutes. Yet like Adu, Kleberson can revive his career in a new setting.
The Adu apologists have continued to beat the drum in his behalf. Long before the Kleberson move -- first reported by Brazilian outlets March 11 -- surfaced, a compilation of Union scoring chances set up by Adu and squandered by his teammates popped up on YouTube. Sad to say, but the finishing didn't look all that much different than the MLS norm, a few players excepted. And the compilation covered only a small portion of the Union's games, and contrasted sharply with matches during which Adu's skill and audacity seldom appeared.
Bemoaning the finishing is a rite practiced by fans of many MLS teams, and plenty more around the world. In Philly's case, to defend Adu by saying his stats would be better if he played with Robbie Keane, the reply would be, "Well, duh!"
Those Union fans happy to see Adu depart would also cite his reluctance to take the shot himself, and hit the bleepin' target. In 1,468 minutes of play last year, he hit only 13 shots on-frame, which averages out to less than one per 90-minute game -- and two of those were penalty kicks. Yes, he may consider himself primarily a setup guy, but no attacking player can shirk the responsibility -- and inevitable blame in case of a miss -- of going for goal if the opportunity is there.
The fate of the Union won't ride on Kleberson, but his performance will likely be a flashpoint. Hackworth has lots of issues to address as a demanding fan base anxiously awaits. He didn't respond well to direct, justifiable questions from reporters a month ago when a pair of 2013 draft picks were released.
Along with revamping his team, Hackworth needs to know he's working in a city that rides its sports teams hard and demands answers when they falter.