What went wrong with Adu

[MY VIEW] A couple of years before YouTube, when watching a video on one's computer was a new experience, a highlight clip of Freddy Adu hit the Internet and presented a fuzzy image of what looked like a little Pele in a U.S. youth national team jersey delightfully tricking his way past opponents and scoring goals. Fast-forward eight years: the player who became a millionaire at age 13 has left us wondering what went wrong.

Adu turned 21 this summer and recently had an unsuccessful trial with FC Sion, a  Swiss club that averages smaller crowds than MLS teams.

Those early images of Adu’s brilliant skills had American fans hopeful that he would become a true U.S. soccer superstar. Certainly MLS embraced the notion, making him the league’s highest-paid player when he signed in 2004 at age 14.

MLS -- then with only 10 teams -- hyped up Adu when it desperately needed attention and the boy was a media hit, appearing in commercials (with Pele, no less), on MTV, on the “Late Show With David Letterman.”

His MLS colleagues bitterly resented the fame and fortune the boy had achieved before proving himself on the field. And although Freddymania drew crowds for a while, Adu's play would fall well short of expectations.

In 98 games, he scored 12 goals and made 19 assists in three and a half MLS seasons. He played a small role in D.C. United’s 2004 title win. He moved to Real Salt Lake in 2007 but left halfway through the season for Portugal’s Benfica, which paid MLS a $2 million transfer fee.

Adu played 11 games for Benfica, which then loaned him out to Monaco (9 games), Belenenses (3) and Aris (9). Adu scored three league goals in those three years. He's still under contract with Benfica, but not wanted there.

The good fortune that smiled upon Adu for so long has faded.

Born in Ghana, he came the USA thanks to his family’s luck in the Diversity Immigrant Visa Lottery Program, which randomly picks winners of 50,000 green cards (permanent residence visas) every year from about 10 million applicants.

Adu’s family settled in Maryland, and for the first time in his life he played soccer with cleats on. The skills he acquired playing barefoot pickup games in Africa were witnessed by the area’s youth soccer coaches – leading to the youth national team program and big money from a shoe company.

Adu’s greatest performances came at the youth world championships for the USA. He played in five: one U-17, three U-20s, and the U-23 Olympic tournament.

At the 2007 U-20 World Cup, he scored a hat trick against Poland and assisted in a 2-1 win over Brazil. His performance at that tournament is what attracted Benfica and reignited hopes that Adu was on the verge of breaking through.

When his playing time in Europe diminished, the national team stopped calling. Adu wasn’t even close to being a candidate for the USA’s 2010 World Cup team. And now he's searching for a club.

Was early fame and fortune detrimental to Adu’s development? Is MLS to blame for using a boy to market its league?

Did all the coaches, journalists and fans who hailed him misjudge Adu’s talent?

No, it’s not really so complicated nor surprising that Adu hasn’t met the expectations.

There just isn’t a science to predicting how a young player will progress from the teen years to professional soccer. Some prodigies keep improving and are able to excel at the highest level. Many more don’t and they quietly fade away, forgotten before they were well known.

But it’s impossible to forget the excitement of those early glimpses of Adu and what we thought it would mean for American soccer if he could perform such skills in MLS and for the full U.S. national team.

So we keep watching Adu, still thinking maybe his next move will work out. He’s too young to give up on. Getting another shot in MLS isn’t too much to ask for.

24 comments about "What went wrong with Adu".
  1. kunnie soccerwatch, August 6, 2010 at 10:17 p.m.

    in my view the one mistake freddy adu is doing is traveling to much to go to places where he think he will get playing time. rather than go on a traveling journey around europe freddy should stay at benfica and train their everyday and improve. and fact is if the boss sees a bit of improvement he will most def. play adu in a game. even if he isnt part of the coaches plans he should stay and practice to improve to be part of his plans next season and so on. freddy moved to benfica when he was 18 right he should have stayed rather than joining belenses or monaco or aris to get a chance at the first team. in europe its rare to see an 18 year old normal on the first team in some case a 21 year old. how did kiko macheda get his call up he trained and pratice and got better that is what adu should do. he should pratice with benfica and how knows they might play him. he is a young guy he should be worried about playing time when he turns 24 or 25 and stuff right now based on how much error he made he needs to have the stability.stay at benfica till ur contract expires and if they dont resign you come back to MLS DC United can really use you. and if you impress benfica enough to get a new contract obiviously he is going to be in coaches plan to an extent. basicaly what im saying is FREDDY STOP TOURING EUROPE AND STAY AT BENFICA

  2. Javier Padilla, August 9, 2010 at 8:33 a.m.

    I've previously on read various sites online the problem with Adu was that he didn't want to listen to his coaches. It seems coaches would line him up where they wanted him to play but he was constantly drifting into the middle where he could get the ball and attack the goal because he thought that was his best position. I've also read he simply didn't want to put forth the effort and train very hard in practice.

    From what I've read in the past he also seemed to have an attitude of entitlement to start possibly because of the way MLS treated him, or possibly because of arrogance.

    Didn't he also get into a fight with one of his team mates in a U.S. national team camp?

    I think he's a flashy player and fun to watch when he's on the field, but maybe he just needs to train harder, set the ego aside, and listen to his coaches. Is it time for him to come back to MLS and if so will any team in MLS take him? Or has he simply tarnished his own reputation so bad that nobody wants him?

  3. I w Nowozeniuk, August 9, 2010 at 10:17 a.m.

    Rossi (14) went to Parma Academy and Messi (16) went to Barcas Academy...two goal oriented futbollers who received guidence and mentors...Freddy needs to a mentor too in order to reinvent himself before he sees a brighter future.

  4. Paul Lorinczi, August 9, 2010 at 10:34 a.m.

    Freddy had a mentor in Peter Nowak. He did not listen to him.

    Javier - where did you read these reports? A lot has been said, but I have never seen the sources for these claims against Freddy. Most have been comments made by people on boards with no reference to the material.

  5. Mike Gaynes, August 9, 2010 at 10:44 a.m.

    The title of the article is "What went wrong with Adu"... but the article doesn't answer the question. Woitalla must have spent about ten minutes researching this piece, and if he has an opinion on the reasons for Adu's failures, he doesn't bother to express it. The article is an Adu-like effort -- much hyped but very disappointing.

  6. Kyr-Roger St.-Denis, August 9, 2010 at 10:45 a.m.

    Mike, your article's title should have a question mark at the end. Since you left it off, I assumed you were going to write about what went wrong; instead, you just reviewed Adu's career and then said, in essence, sometimes things don't work out.

    I disagree w/ Paul Lorinczi when he says that Adu didn't listen to Nowak. I suspect he did, but that the team organization in place there didn't do enough to develop the raw talent that Adu had. Adu, though, patiently stayed with the team, when he might easily, even then, have taken more lucrative offers in larger leagues. In that sense, he sacrificed his development for MLS, as its poster boy. Not intentionally, I'm sure: he probably thought at the time that he was being given the coaching that a truly successful player needs. Turns out not.

    I w Nowozeniuk is right to compare Adu's development with that of Rossi and Messi. Adu may not have ever risen to their level, but he certainly had the early skills to take him far beyond where he's ended up.

    On the few occasions when I've gotten to see him play for the USMNT, Freddy Adu has still dazzled in his rare touches. He still has brought a level of intensity to the US's attack that it often lacks, and even with his sad flameout in league football, I still think Bob Bradley would do well to select -- and USE -- Adu for national team matches.

  7. Juan R, August 9, 2010 at 10:58 a.m.

    Adu needs to put the ego down and just train hard. His ego was propped up by MLS and hopeful Americans, and he couldn't humbly take it in. It's hard for any American kids to do so, as kids are so coddled here and have everything they need plus so many other luxuries. It's good that he is struggling now, at least he is young enough to still be a bit player in some professional league and earn a living. I hope he didn't waste too much of his money.

  8. Joe Grady, August 9, 2010 at 11:38 a.m.

    Hey Mike...so what DID go wrong with Adu? Are you the victim of bad headline writers? or do you really think this article answers that question? I want those 5 minutes of my life back.

  9. Edward Purcell, August 9, 2010 at 2 p.m.

    I knew Freddy Adu would never amount to a big-time player immediately after I saw Freddy appear as a second half substitute for D.C. United a few years ago, playing for Coach Nowak.

    After many media reports of Freddy grumbling about Coach Nowak not giving him enough playing time, Freddy finally came on as a second half substitue. On the first play after the second half kick-off, D.C. United attacked promisingly down the left flank. But where was Freddy when the D.C. United player deep on the left wing was looking for support? You had to look way back to the middle of the field. Freddy was just walking, pouting?, maybe thinking about his next soft drink commercial? Freddy was not running up to support the attack, like any player with half a brain would do. Right then you knew Freddy had no heart, no brain for big-time professional futbol.

    After watching little Freddy on TV being bumped off many balls, not hustle a bit on defense, not be hungry for the ball, just wait around for the ball to be passed to him so he could go off and dribble, I'll grant you maybe get by the first defender and take a good left-footed shot, but right then and there at that D.C. United game I knew Freddy would never amount to anything as a big-time professional football player.

    But at least I picked up a collectible Freddy Adu bobble head figure. It's probably worth more than Freddy's transfer fee now.

    Dr. Colombes
    Stadium 1
    Node 1

    "In matters football, almost infallible."

  10. Jacki Rizzo, August 9, 2010 at 2:11 p.m.

    I took my Granddaughter to get Freddy's autograph his first year with DC United. She was his last fan. He never looked at her, never spoke to her, never made eye contact with her because he was too busy promoting himself to whoever he was on the phone with.

    He earned where he's at. He promotes only himself and wouldn't listen to Coach Nowak.

  11. DEXTER LEWIS, August 9, 2010 at 2:13 p.m.

    This was quite an interesting article for me since I wondered what had happened to Freddy. I presently have a young son who is 10 years old from Port St Lucie in Florida and he is an exceptionally rare talent for his age (currently plays U13), this article has opened my eyes to help me avoid the mistakes made by Freddy's parents and greedy agents who seeks self interest first rather than long term development. I truly feel sorry for Freddy because he is truly a special talent, hopefully he realizes that, and since he is still young he can still dedicate his time and effort in becoming a true world class player that he was destined to become.

  12. Bruce Gowan, August 9, 2010 at 2:20 p.m.

    I knew that Adu was all hype and limited performance when I saw him play as a U17 Nat team resident playing against a PDL team at Cocoa Expo. In the first half Adu was playing outside mid and was matched up against a college freshman player who was only 5'5" and 145 lbs but was faster and stronger than Adu. During that half Adu did nothing. And gave up trying under strong defensive pressure. Adu makes a good show of dancing on the ball but he is slow and very weak. Every time I have seen him play he has the same problems. He does not have breakaway quickness or speed and he falls down very easily.

  13. Timothy Mayo, August 9, 2010 at 4:09 p.m.

    Frankly it is rumored that many of the African and other international players who appear to be vastly better than the kids their age are older by as much as 3 years. In developing country they don't keep accurate records of births so when the children come to the US they provide an age that affords them several years to adapt to the culture. How is it that every kid from other countries that play soccer is bigger, faster and frankly more mature physically than than all the other children in their age group? Many of the other children in the US have excellent diets, access to solid academy training and skilled international coaching but the documented US kids are always two years behind in soccer talent. The easy answer is that the international kids come from soccer culture but that still does not explain the "huge" physicalability gap for one can learn soccer skills. Net/Net if you are not accurately matched up with your true age group and you are 2-3 years olders than you really are then you appear to be physically better than your true age group. This is my ohnest opinion of what occured with Freddy Adu....he cam to the US (2-3) years older than the children he was playing with then when those same kids reached puberty and caught up with his physical abilities his soccer acumen could not carry him to reach the level of his hype. Contraversial but in my observation I believe this occurs a great deal with foreign born Futbol players who come her around 10 years of age....they dominate every league and it is not simply because soccer is their culture they have a secret... age advantage! They are not more talented or more explosive than the Charlie Davies or the Landon Donavan's but you give them several year age advantage and they will appear to be...that is until puberty kicks in then they become slightly better than average like Freddy Adu. They do not dominate any other sport globally (not baseball,basketball or track) but they all appear in youth soccer. ???

  14. DEXTER LEWIS, August 9, 2010 at 4:50 p.m.

    I have to differ with Timothy's comment since my son is 10 years old 4feet 4inches tall (considered small for his age) born in the US and plays 3 years up with kids at least 6-10 inches taller but his skill level and explosivness has nothing to do with where he was born but the type of training he has received at a tender age. Soccer like any other sport needs discipline from an early age in order to develop into a world class player and the physical nature of a player has nothing to do with his temparement or skill level on the field. Freddy has been misdirected, and that has nothing to do with his physical attributes and so are many young players that have the same natural talents but are not harnessed properly therfore are lost in the crowd.

  15. Kevin Leahy, August 9, 2010 at 8:19 p.m.

    No one can speak for what goes on behind the scenes with Freddy. I will say that in the Olympics he was the only U.S. player that could break anyone down off the dribble. He is also the type of player that Bradley shuns. I would like to see him find regular playing time anywhere and come back in with the national team, but I don't hold out much hope. Europe is not the be all and end all. As long as the U.S. is coached by the likes of Bradley, creativity will not be very evident.

  16. Aaron Evans, August 9, 2010 at 9:45 p.m.

    Adu was hypes beyond belief but never was developed at a young age. He never pushed himself to get better and work on his overall game. His passing is sub-par. His field vision lacking. And he lacks confidence.

  17. Paul Bryant, August 9, 2010 at 10:05 p.m.

    Again Ric, you are the voice of reason. I remember quite well Nowak's statement about not wanting Adu on the team. Quite frankly at the time, I agreed with him. My own son is 6 months younger than Adu, and I would not dream of him playing with and against grown men, no matter how talened he is. Someone mentioned Rossi and Messi attending club academys. Unfortunately, should have went this route. His lack of playing time early in his professional career has hurt his development. Technically, I believe he is has better ability than most players currently on the USMNT. Tactically, mentally, and emotionally, it appears he has some growing to do.

  18. Paul Bryant, August 9, 2010 at 10:26 p.m.

    D. Lewis, I could not agree with you more. My own son was a late bloomer. He had the opposite problem. He was always the tallest player on the team, but lacked technical abitlity. He has worked himself into decent D1 player. Size in soccer matters little. Skill, desire, mental and emotional toughness are paramount. Over the years I have seen too many young talented players being misdirected and become disillusioned as you have said. It sounds like you have a level head. Good luck with your son.

  19. Frank Cebul, August 9, 2010 at 11:29 p.m.

    Several writers have noted Adu's apparent lack of heart and poor work ethic. Perhaps he would gain something by playing in an African league--maybe in his native Ghana. Ghana certainly trains her players to play with heart--Ghana have beaten USMNT twice in the past 4 yrs in important World Cup Final games. Maybe if he plays along side and against Africans who have not been as privileged as he has been, he will gain insight in his search for who he is and what he wants to do with his many blessings and opportunities. It is one thing to be playing the bench behind a multimillionaire European and quite another to be shown up by a poor African. Adu will not improve until he is ready to make the effort to improve.

  20. Robert Kiernan, August 10, 2010 at 5:05 a.m.

    Well much has been said both good and bad about ADU, but when he was playing with Bobby Convey and Jozy Altidore on the u-20 team at the youth World Cup...he was still a dominant player, then on the Olympic team he looked less sure of himself... and ever since he turned 18 was thus able to play for a European professional team's first team...his game has just gone down...he now seems always to be prone to hugging the turf at the slightest challenge and THAT more than anything else is, I believe the major reason he hasn't been seeing the field regularly for ANY team... clearly he wasn't going to step into Benfica's first team and NEVER should have been surprised about this fact, it was evident that although there was a loan arrangement with Monaco, their coach WASN'T at all pleased by this fact and really didn't want him there... that ADU failed at Belenensis was far more troubling, he really should have been able to establish himself in a mid table team of this sort...but for whatever reason he simply DIDN'T... and with that failure he pretty much ended what likely chance he had of seeing playing time with Bob Bradley's version of the National team as well. ...being loaned out a THIRD time, this time to a mid table Greek league team, ARIS...again SHOULD have given him a real chance to play, but he seems for whatever reason not to be able to establish himself in a squad, and because of all the hype and money thrown his way, he can't go quietly and just "play"...no he can't stay with BENFICA...and if loaned out yet again it will be his FOURTH team...you just start to get a reputation as being tarnished after a while...at this point he needs to get out of his contract with the big club and find a MUCH lower profile team and try to actually become a professional player...but where ever he goes now, it's a case of the circus coming as well and I'm afraid that isn't going to gain him many offers... even back in MLS. He he may only be 21, but the hype surrounding him is likely to make him seem a whole lot older than that.

  21. Timothy Mayo, August 10, 2010 at 12:20 p.m.

    Dexter, I too have a 10 year old son with great gifts and extremly fast and is/has played up but I have always kept him near his age group to assure that he developes other qualities like leadership skills and the ability to make his team mates better players around him ("supporting role").In fact my son in competive games would give up his offensive role to play defense and mark the best player on the field in an attempt to shut the offensive threat down. I am also close to many international players (as well as gone and seen soccer in Africa and Latin America) with whom I have supported and I was simply ofering this as a possible explanation..and of course Adu was set up to fail in my opinion. Soccer is not the only sport where youth enter a man's sport..it has occured many times in Baseball and especailly basketball with the likes of Moses Malone, Koby Bryant, Garnet and others. What is most important is the support and total development (tactical, physical and psychological) that must suround any developing talent be it accademics or sports. The other ingredient is humility and the ability to be coached which I truly believe is one of the factors that negatively empacted Adu. So I too have a talented youth with whom I shelter from many aspects of sport explotation for coaches benefits and unfortunately Adu did not have that kind of shelter that could have avoided many of his problems. Frankly, I still believe he is older than the age he is documented at but again I agree with the larger issue of him being in many ways exploited and underdeveloped. Quote: "a shining star must be supported by the stratusphere surrounding it and must know that is is a star and not a planet!"

  22. Karl Ortmertl, August 11, 2010 at 12:43 a.m.

    Adu is small, not strong and slow. He can't physically compete with most of his opponents who are much bigger than he is and he isn't fast enough to run away from these bigger opponents. In other words, he physically doesn't belong out there.
    He's got ball skills, but hasn't figured out how to set up plays or put himself in the right spots to score on feeds from others. He lacks soccer smarts and a player with his lack of physical skills, but with great ball skills would need a brilliant soccer mind.
    Attitude problems make it even worse.
    No one knew at the age of fourteen that he wouldn't grow or get faster, wouldn't figure out that he needs to work twice as hard as every one else instead of half as hard, and wouldn't have a clue out on the pitch.
    Adu, IMHO, is doomed.

  23. Aldo Baietti, August 11, 2010 at 5 a.m.

    Frankly I am genuinely perplexed at the Adu situation. When I've seen him play I saw lots of creativity and ball skills and yes he may be short and slow as an adult but that has not stopped others from being successful in the field. Perhaps he needs a total makeover, but it would certainly be worth a lot to our youth to better understand what makes a complete player. A good account of the Adu story would really help in this regard.

  24. Hal Hilger, August 19, 2011 at 11:09 a.m.

    In the US everyone is a STAR, and it shows. Starting with ADU, because he played a couple of good games with the youth National Teams he was made something special and offered a contract with a professional team. This was plain stupidity and nothing more than greed. Here in Europe, we develope players in youth teams until 18, select them according to their ability and give those players who are good enough a chance in amateur to compete in Amateur leagues working their way up to become eventually players who are able to complete in the highest leagues, which is not a given to any player. The US will never be a world power in Soccer if they are not willing to establish a youth system like in Europe. College player will never make them A WORLD CHAMPION.

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