Freddy Adu has contantly been criticised in his short career so far.

Bursting onto the scene in 2004 as a 14-year-old, Adu became the youngest ever American athlete to sign a professional contract in any team sport, signing for MLS outfit D.C. United, before becoming the youngest sportsman ever to play in American sports in over 100 years. Quick, agile, illusive, skilful - just a few of the many positive characteristics this young kid had attributed to him whilst he should've still been focusing on his homework and wondering what his mum had planned for dinner.

Adu had other plans.

Despite a shaky first season, which saw some critics give the D.C. United manager stick for playing him so much at such a young age, the hype regarding Adu was in full flow. Many still believed that this young lad could follow in the footsteps of one of the greatest players this world has ever seen - the Brazilian maestro himself, Pele.

A big ask for a player who was still only 15 - and had the extra pressure of a $1 million Nike contract looming over him. And to add to Adu's ambition, Sir Alex Ferguson even brought him to Old Trafford for a week to keep an eye on him. Adu had made a world-wide impact, and had quickly escalated to be one of the hottest properties on the transfer market, with teams all over Europe scouting out the young American.

Finally, after months of speculation, Adu was snapped up by Portuguese giants Benfica: a real European powerhouse, and a team who believed they had achieved one of the greatest transfer coups of all time - Adu only cost them $2 million.

Not a bad price tag for a young Pele.

It was at around this time when Adu's critics raised their voices. Adu was sent off on loan to various clubs all over Europe - AS Monaco in France, Portuguese side Belenenses, Greek outfit Aris and then finally Turkish second division team Caykur Rizespor. Loans are very common for a young player; they build experience, helps a player gain confidence, and turns them into an established footballer by the time they're ready to take on the best in the world at their parent club.

It was just Adu was expected to walk into the first team at Benfica straight away. This pressure ultimately resulted in his "downfall".

Adu is currently on loan again at Brazilian club Bahia, after being sold back to the MLS in 2011. But despite not achieving the ridiculously high standards set for him at such a young and inexperienced age, Adu should still be pleased with himself.

There are not many players in world football who can claim they took the world by storm at just 14-years-old. Similarly, the majority of the best players in the world are deemed unworthy of a scouting from Sir Alex - another tick Adu can put on his career checklist. 

True enough, Adu never quite cut it at Benfica - but his time here enabled him to play football all over Europe, and still as a teenager. What an unbelievable opportunity to experience the sport you love in so many different countries, even when your critics are on your back.

Now on loan at Bahia, Adu can add South American football to his CV, playing alongside greats such as Ronaldinho, Luis Fabiano, Ze Roberto, Dida, Seedorf - the list goes on.

Oh, and by the way, he's only 23. Let's not forget that the majority of players don't reach the peak of their powers until they're 27 or 28. So believe it or not Adu has time on his side.

If we didn't place such pressure on young shoulders, Adu could still be plying his trade at D.C. United, slowly making his way up the footballing ladder before bursting onto the world scene in a year or two. Instead, we are looking at how things could've been. Measuring Adu up to Pele was unreasonable and unrealistic, especially considering his age.

Adu should be proud of what he has done so far - and may still have an opportunity to prove himself as world class before too long.

 

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