Sad tale of Freddy Adu, from 'next Pele' aged 14 and training at Man Utd to 15 different clubs and Swedish third tier

FORMER wonderkid Freddy Adu is now 32 years old, without a club, and staring at the last knockings of a career full of 'what might have beens'.

The original golden child the American exploded onto the scene when he was just 14 when he was signed by MLS giants DC United.

Then, at the same age, he became the youngest scorer in US professional football with a goal against New Jersey MetroStars, who later became the New York Red Bulls.

That prompted Nike to snap Adu up on a $1million (£730,000) sponsorship deal, while ESPN said he was a better sporting prospect than Lebron James.

Even Brazilian legend Pele compared the prodigy to Mozart for displaying such an incredible ability at such a young age.

However, Adu's career soon became a thing of disappointment – with the pressure of being America's great hope too much and expectation becoming a burden.

After a failed trial at Man Utd, spells in Portugal with Benfica and Monte Carlo with Monaco, Adu ended up back in his homeland trying to pick up the pieces of a life that should have been.

Today, he's without a club after playing for Swedish third tier side Osterlen FF.


Hype can be a dangerous thing for any youngster playing the game, and Adu's story is a cautionary tale of much too much, much too young.

In 2004, he became the youngest ever athlete to sign a professional contract with a sports club when DC United offered him a deal.

Within three months, he made his debut to become the youngest ever MLS star.

Two weeks later, he netted his first goal – a tap-in in a 3-2 loss to MetroStars.

America went wild for their new son, who had arrived on their shores from Ghana when he was eight in 1997.

He appeared in adverts for soft-drink giants Sierra Mist, alongside three-time World Cup winner Pele, who was mightily impressed.

"Mozart started when he was five years old," Pele said.

"If you are good, you are good. God gave Freddy the gift to play soccer."


In 2004, at the age of 16, Adu landed a trial with Premier League giants Manchester United.

Sir Alex Ferguson must've been a fan of the Football Manager video game series, which predicted Freddy would become a global superstar in years to come. Fans of the game, in fact, still talk about him fondly as the greatest wonderkid you could sign.

But the reality was far different. Although he impressed, work permit problems got in the way of any prospective United deal.

“Freddy has done all right. He is a talented boy," Fergie said at the time.

"He’ll go back to the US and we’ll keep a check on him. When he is 18, we will have to assess what we can do next."


But by 2006, DC United coaches began to lose faith in him.

In terms of goals and assists, Adu's numbers just weren't good enough.

Off the field distractions and the pressure of having to be a success affected his form.

"My family was really poor," Adu told BBC Sport back in 2012.

"My mum was working two or three jobs to take care of my brother and me. So if Nike come to you and say they want to give you a million-dollar contract and the MLS wants to make you the highest-paid player at 14, you can't say no. You just can't.

"I said yes to everything that was asked of me and ended up doing a lot of appearances, a lot of promotion, a lot of interviews and it took away from the football on the field. People saw me more as a marketing tool."

Because of his lack of development, Adu was released to Real Salt Lake in 2007, where it all began to unravel.


Astonishingly, Adu has played for 15 different sides in his life.

It appeared that things might've been on track when he signed for Benfica after his stint at Real Salt Lake, but he only managed to play 17 games in four years.

He was sent on loan to clubs including Monaco, Belenenses, Aris Thessaloniki and Caykur Rizespor, but failed to set the world alight.

Adu then returned to the MLS with Philadelphia Union in 2011, where he enjoyed a decent spell before flopping at Bahia in Brazil, Serbian side Jagodina, and even a Finish team, KuPS.

There was also a failed trial with Blackpool in 2015, so he returned to the States to play in the semi-professional USL Championship for Tampa Bay Rowdies and later Las Vegas Lights.

Even then, Adu was still getting commercial work – strangely from Hoover.

He shared a sponsored tweet of a picture of himself vacuuming his home in a pair of joggers.

Yet, in 2019, Adu maintained his desire in an ESPN interview that he was still determined to be a success.

"I’m still plenty young. I’m not ready to give it up," he explained.

"Things haven’t gone the way that I would have wanted them to, obviously. But I love the sport too much to say I’m ready to give it up."

Last year, the attacking midfielder had an ill-fated spell with Swedish third-tier side Osterlen.

However, they accused him of lacking the fitness and mental strength to return to his best and cancelled his contract within a month.

Perhaps, it was all much Adu about nothing.

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