On April 3rd 2004 at the RFK Stadium in Washington, USA, Major League Soccer team D.C United set the scene for the highly anticipated debut of their huge prospect Freddy Adu,
The 14-year-old was embarking on a career promised to be filled with success, silverware and fame by becoming the youngest athlete ever to sign a professional contract.
One touted by many as the next Pele, Adu is now playing in the Finnish division so where did it all go wrong?
Where It Began
Born June 2nd 1989 in Ghana, Adu was raised in the city of Tema, where he reportedly played soccer against men three times his age. At the age of 8 his mother won the green card lottery and the family moved to Rockville, Maryland, U.S.A.
After father Maxwell abandoned his family, Freddy's mother Emilia took on two jobs working more than 70 hours a week to support her two boys.
The young prospect carried on his love affair with soccer playing in school playgrounds, witnessed by many of his friends, they invited him to an organised soccer tournament which left spectators amazed when they saw Adu's natural talent.
A short period after the competition Arnold Tarzy, a potomac soccer association coach, signed the youngster for his team, the Cougars.
At just ten years of age Adu travelled to Italy with the U.S Olympic development team to play in a competition for under 14's. The U.S won the tournament with Adu scoring the most goals and being awarded as the most valuable player in the contest.
After his impressive performances against older European players, some of the world's elite clubs came knocking on the door with Inter Milan wanting to keep him in Italy.
The Elite Come Knocking
Companies such as Adidas were also chasing the youngster down in an attempt to promote their brand but Emilia warned off all investors saying her son was too young explaining the importance that Freddy gets an education first.
The talent couldn't go unnoticed much longer though where in 2001 the U.S under-17 coach John Ellinger approached Adu to train at their federations soccer academy, an elite training ground for athletes of all sports where only 30 of the country's best can be invited to attend.
Emilia was happy with the offer and let her 12 year old son move to Florida becoming the youngest player of the under-17 American team.
In youth competitions Adu shone where he scored frequently and helped his team qualify for the 2003 under-17 FIFA world championships in Finland becoming a U.S citizen shortly after.
The tournament saw the newly turned 14-year-old showcase his ability where nations such as Brazil, Argentina and Spain featured. The winners Brazil topped their group and went on to beat Spain in the final but the world witnessed the skills of Adu who had a fantastic campaign scoring four goals helping America get to the quarter finals only to lose to the eventual winners.
Adu was the joint fourth top goalscorer with good company in Cesc Fabregas pipping the trophy as joint top scorer with five.
English giants Manchester United reportedly offered $3 million to get his signature but the promising talent turned them down having just signed a $1 million deal with Nike to endorse their products with the idea of promoting soccer in America.
In January 2004 D.C. United signed Adu to a professional deal with a yearly salary of $500,000, perhaps the chinks in the armour had already set in with a 14-year-old earning almost twice the average of a professional MLS player.
The Start Of The Downfall
The much promoted debut of Adu began when he came on as a substitute against San Jose Earthquakes, two weeks later history was made as he became the youngest goalscorer in the MLS scoring against MetroStars.
Criticism towards the U.S citizen started to take place with many commentators suggesting he was just too young to be playing in such a physically demanding league and needed time to develop with players his own age.
Adu finished his first professional season, regularly coming on as a substitute, with five goals. In 2005 Adu was nominated for FIFPRO young player of the year and continued to shine for the U.S youth sides where for the under-20's he scored 16 goals in 33 appearances.
The following season D.C. United suspended their prospect for one game after Adu complained to the media about his lack of playing time and on December 11, 2006 the Washington based team traded their youngest signing to Real Salt Lake compiling an end to the teenagers 11 goals in 87 appearances with the club.
The Soccer Journeyman
A short lived career with Real Salt Lake, Adu only featured 11 times scoring once although his displays at the Under-20 FIFA world Cup impressed Portuguese giants Benfica who signed the forward for a fee in the region of $2 million.
This was an opportunity for Adu to grow as a player with one of Europe's elite clubs. Eleven appearances for Benfica resulted in a European tour for Adu where he found himself loaned out to French Ligue 1 side AS Monaco, Portuguese team Belenses, Greek club Aris F.C and Turkish second division team Caykur Rizespor.
Despite the culture and experience gained from Adu, he still only found himself playing a combined 28 times with the four teams.
In 2011 the 22 year old frustrated with his lack of appearances and obvious reluctance in trust from his clubs returned back to MLS where he signed with Philadelphia Union, a reunion with former under-23 national coach Piotr Nowak intrigued fans with the idea that Adu may be able to perform the wonders he displayed in the U.S youth team onto the big stage. The trust was bestowed on Adu where he played 35 times scoring seven goals in two seasons at the club.
The journeyman shipped off again though in part of a swap deal with saw former Manchester United player Kleberson join the MLS team with Adu joining Brazilian team Bahia where he spent 7 months featuring only twice.
The startlet was now struggling to find a team that would require his services, as a teenager Adu was beating elite teams off with a stick in the hope they could get his signature, but failed trial spells at Blackpool and Dutch club AZ Alkmaar left his career as a soccer player in jeopardy.
The dedication of the still young Adu managed to get a contract with Serbian side FK Jagodina who featured once before being released in December 2014. This year the 25 year old has found himself a club with Finland's premier division side Kuopion Pallosuera signing Adu in March 2015.
Talent in Finland
A career spanning 11 clubs, across seven countries, no one could have foreseen the dramatic downfall in a soccer player who was lauded as the next Pele.
The Brazilian legend himself dismissed that the compliments he gave the 14-year-old Adu were endorsement motivated, admitting there was bright potential in Adu where he even tried to bring him to Brazilian side Santos.
The lack of commitment from other clubs, the fame and riches at 14 where Adu was not able to develop physically and mentally through a youth system must be part of the slide.
The MLS and D.C United were happy to profile their signing and set a huge promotion towards Soccer in the states but how much time did they help in training and educating the young teenager?
The global profile of Adu was huge when he first started as a professional. I even remember playing the EA sports computer game FIFA 2005 where in manager mode if you purchased Freddy Adu from D.C United and trained him up, by the age of 27 he becomes the best player in the game.
All the pressure where no real time was allowed for Adu to settle and because there wasn't instant success, the prospect has unfortunately turned into a journeyman. A $1 million contract with Nike compared to the multi-million deal Lionel Messi has with Adidas is down to FC Barcelona investing in Messi and training him through their youth system developing the Argentine into one of the best players in the world, something unfortunately Adu didn't experience.
The youth tournaments where Adu shined with the likes of Cesc Fabregas shows that the talent was there and maybe now playing in Finland where he enjoyed his best spell at the under 17 world championships in 2003, with the pressure off Adu can still showcase some of his skills.