Freddy Adu: What happened to the American wonderkid?

Freddy Adu waves to the fans

Freddy Adu turns 33 years old today.

That’s one way to make you all feel old, isn’t it?

The American was destined for greatness, signing his first professional contract as a 14-year-old. He was a household name – and a Championship Manager legend.

Nineteen years on, things haven’t gone to plan for Adu.

Instead of representing some of Europe’s biggest clubs as was predicted, he hasn’t played a top-flight match in any country for almost seven years. His CV reads spells in Finland, Brazil and Turkey as well as the lower tiers in the United States.

When a 14-year-old Adu signed an MLS contract, it received worldwide coverage.

“This is the biggest signing in the history of the league,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said, as per the New York Times. “Freddy is one of the top young players in the world and his decision to play in his country and for his league will motivate other youngsters to look to MLS.”

Freddy Adu waves to the fans

Adu started playing for DC United in the MLS at the age of 14 and, by the age of 16, had been capped by USA.

He was surely destined for greatness and had captured the attention of Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United who invited him for a trial in 2006.

But it wasn’t Man Utd who Adu signed for. Instead, a series of bad moves saw him leave DC United for Real Salt Lake and then Benfica, he opted to join Monaco on loan. The decision to join Monaco was described as the worst mistake of his career.

“The biggest mistake I made in my career was leaving Benfica on loan to Monaco,’ Adu told The Blue Wire Podcast in 2020, as reported by The Mail. “I say it from the heart. It was one of those decisions that, if I could take it again, I wouldn’t make it.

“I had three coaches in a year in Benfica. The club was in such a dysfunctional moment that I just wanted to get out of there and go the other way as soon as possible, but it turned out to be the worst decision.

“I joined the club at the same time as Di María. In the first year, I was better than him. I played better than him, but I decided to leave for Monaco on loan. And Di María stayed at Benfica. And guess what? He had the chance to play with a coach who later came and became a starter.”

Benfica v Celtic - UEFA Champions League

But when he returned to Benfica, he wasn’t wanted and was shipped out on loan another three times to teams in Portugal, Greece and Turkey.

None of these worked and Adu’s world tour was now in full swing.

A two-year stint back in MLS with Philadelphia Union was about as good as it got for him as he bounced from Brazil to Serbia to Finland.

He was still just 25 when he returned to America with the Tampa Bay Rowdies – outside of the MLS.

A move to Las Vegas followed with Las Vegas Lights.

The final club of his sorry career saw him sign for Osterlen in the third-tier of the Swedish league. He left without playing a single minute.

“We had an agreement with him that he would have the chance to show himself,” vice-chairman Filip Lindgren said, as reported by AS. “But from what we have seen, we have a hard time seeing that he will be able to compete. He has a lot of football in him, but th physical and the mental are missing.

“He was clearly disappointed. He’s a really nice guy in every way, and I’m convinced he would have been a great football player. But he lacks the physicality required. We were actually a little surprised at how unprepared he was when he came here.”

He left the club in February 2021.

So, what’s Adu up to these days?

A glance at his social media accounts suggests he’s hung up his boots and taken up coaching as he looks to help players fulfil their talent – something he was unfortunately unable to do.

A lot of pressure and expectation was heaped onto Adu at the age of just 14 and there aren’t many people who would have thrived in that situation. It all proved too much for him but we shouldn’t forget that he still enjoyed a career that most of us can only dream of. After all, he was capped by the United States on 17 occasions.

It takes so much more than just talent to achieve greatness in professional football. You need luck and incredible mental strength to even get close.

It wasn’t to be for Adu.

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