The next Pelé?
College Contributor Network
Dubbed "the next Pelé" at the tender age of 14, Freddy Adu had a lot to live up to. In the next 12 years, Adu would play for 11 different clubs, most recently joining Finnish side Kuopion Palloseura. Americans craved a superstar-caliber player, and Adu seemed to fit the bill. The teenage sensation had all the promise in the world, but the intense pressure probably led to his downfall. From signing crazy endorsement deals to dating high-profile women, Adu was always in the spotlight, and many people believe that he didn't have the right mentality to succeed in a sport where talent can get you only so far.
Adu's technical ability was beyond his years, and although he was small, listed at five-foot-eight, he had the physical strength to make up for his lack of size. His mental fortitude left something to be desired, but nobody expected him to be perfect because he was still so young. It was just a matter of time, or so everyone thought. Adu, who moved from Ghana to Maryland as a child, was drafted first overall by D.C. United in the 2004 MLS SuperDraft. United didn't originally have the first overall pick, but the MLS wanted Adu to stay close to home, so they worked out a deal with the then-Dallas Burn, now called F.C. Dallas, to move United up.
Adu was, and still is, the youngest player in MLS history to sign a contract, but he got off to a shaky start. Adu was never looked at as a complete player because he never honed his skills on defense. He was never a full-time starter as a result. Adu made it clear that he was not happy with his playing time, and many believe that's why United traded Adu to Real Salt Lake in 2006. Adu didn't make his mark with this club either, but when the under-20 World Cup rolled around, Adu opened a lot of eyes, captaining a side that included current senior team stars such as midfielder Michael Bradley and striker Jozy Altidore.
Following the tournament, Adu was signed by Portuguese powerhouse Benfica. During his time with Benfica, Adu was loaned four times, winding up in the Turkish Second Division. Despite playing for a low-level club, Adu was able to get people's hopes up once again, as he impressed in his appearances in the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup, a regional soccer tournament held every two years. After all the loan spells were said and done, Adu's time with Benfica was a failure and he would end up back in MLS in 2011 with the Philadelphia Union.
By April of 2013, Adu had moved on to Brazil, but was released by his club only seven months later. His ego was bruised and his career was said to be over by many pundits. The U.S. was hyping a newer crop of teen phenoms and Adu was being pushed aside. Adu would end up leaving for Europe, going on trial with teams from England, Norway and the Netherlands. None of those teams signed him, and so Adu signed with Serbian side Jagodina. Adu was released after only six months. This was hardly surprising but it was still disappointing to see how far Adu had fallen from grace. Adu was berated by the media after being let go by Jagodina because he was still partying, getting paid to make nightclub appearances, and showing that even after all he had been through, he hadn't changed.
Adu recently signed with club number 11. This is probably just another stopping point in his peripatetic career. Even so, he is still only 25! Did Adu peak in his early 20's? (Or, according to many internet "experts," his late 20's and early 30's, implying that he was lying about his age.) Adu should show some humility. He has passed up the opportunity to play for lower division teams in the U.S. because he considers himself above them and doesn't want to sacrifice his paycheck in order to further develop and maybe salvage what's left of his career.
Maybe it isn't Adu's fault, though. Maybe it's our fault. The fault of U.S. soccer fans, putting the future of U.S. soccer on the shoulders of a little 14-year-old who was making more money in one year than many soccer players make in their entire careers. Adu's rise and fall should be a cautionary tale. As we see today with young stars like Gedion Zelalem and Julian Green who are considered the future of American soccer, putting super-talented youngsters in the spotlight doesn't help anybody.
Sure, that's what happens when an average soccer nation gets hold of big talents, but hyping them up to unrealistic levels will most likely lead to one thing: failure, a.k.a, Freddy Adu.
Adam Curtis is a freshman at American University. Growing up, he played soccer and tennis and is a die-hard D.C. sports fan. Follow him on Twitter: @actennis96