At 14, Freddy Adu put pen to paper on a sponsorship deal with Nike worth more than $700,000, after he became the youngest athlete ever to sign a professional contract in the United States, when he was selected by the team in the 2004 MLS SuperDraft on January 16, 2004. Even by that stage, he had already declined multiple offers from Europe’s biggest clubs and was touted as “the next Pele”.
Born in June 1989, in Tema, Ghana. His family moved to the U.S. when he was eight after his mother won a Green Card Lottery. Growing up in Maryland, he showed exceptional promise from a very early age and came to the attention of European scouts during a youth tournament in Italy in 1999. At 11, he was offered a lucrative contract by Inter Milan, but his mother turned it down as she wanted her son to develop organically.
However, his talents couldn’t be kept under wraps for long, at 14 he went from prodigious wide-eyed hopeful to full professional. He became the youngest ever full-time sportsperson in America when he was the first pick from the MLS SuperDraft in 2004, allocated to DC United to keep him as close to home as possible. The records kept tumbling during his first season with the Washington-based club, just after he became the youngest MLS player of all time , he become its youngest ever goalscorer. He played in all 30 of DC United’s regular season games that season and finished with five goals and an assist.
His breakout season landed him amid an unprecedented media recognition and the trappings of fame soon got to the teenager’s head. He openly complained to the media about his lack of playing time with DC United, which didn’t went well with coach Peter Nowak. He even appeared in a soft drinks commercial with Pele, with whom he was ludicrously compared by the media.
According to PunditFeed.com, he trained with Manchester United at the age of 16 but couldn’t gain a work permit to play for the English club. Upon his return he was traded to Real Salt Lake where he only spent a half season. Just before his 19th birthday, Adu made his long-awaited move to a famous European club. On July 31, 2007, he signed a contract with Benfica and started training with the first team in Lisbon. Adu cost the Portuguese club $2 million. On August 14, 2007, Adu made his european debut with Benfica against Copenhagen in a UEFA Champions League qualifying match, coming into the game in the 37th minute as a substitute.
However, this move turned out to be the start of decline for the USA international. Having struggled to gain regular first-team football with Benfica, he underwent a series of loan spells for the reminder of his contract. He first went to French side AS Monaco for a year, then moved to Portuguese club Belenenses, from there he was acquired by Greek side Aris and finally in the last year of his contract he played for Turkish side Çaykur Rizespor. This loan spells didn’t help in his development as he received very little game time due to injuries.
In August 2011, Adu returned to Major League Soccer, signing with Philadelphia Union. He played a single full seasons for the club, but it was obvious that he has failed to reach his potential.
Following his time at Philadelphia, he became a journeyman. Over the next half-decade, he went on to make appearances for a further six clubs in four countries. These included Brazil, Serbia, Finland, and the United States. During the same period, Adu also underwent unsuccessful trials at clubs in England (Blackpool FC), Holland and Norway. Freddy Adu was last seen playing for Las Vegas Lights FC in the 2018 USL season and was released by the club at the end of the season.
At 29, it is safe to say that his career has not turned out the way it was anticipated. Maybe, there is still a chance for Adu to revamp his career. It’s hard to tell what went wrong, perhaps it is a case of a player’s talents, skills and potential simply not developing as foreseen at the start of the career.