In May 2003, Nike placed two very strong bets on two sportsmen from two different sports: LeBron James, in basketball; Freddy Adu, in football. The signing of the contract with the clothing and footwear brand was worth one million euros. Freddy was 13 years old.
In 2004, at Madison Square Garden, “football LeBron”, as Reuters called it, signed for six seasons with DC United. His salary would be half a million dollars, a luxury for MLS. And Adu was only 14 years old but had dazzled at the U17 World Cup in Finland, scoring three goals in a game against South Korea, reaching the quarter-finals with the American team. The great hope of “soccer” was a Ghanaian who moved with his family to the United States at the age of eight, and gained nationality in a lottery in which his mother played.
DC United was one of the best teams in the MLS. In addition, it was the team from the state where Adu grew up, Maryland. It was there that he began to attract the attention of the football world with his impossible dribbles. In a U14 tournament that he played with the state team, he left clubs like Lazio or Juventus on the way. “What I saw was beyond reality,” admitted Arnold Tarzy, his coach at the time.
He made his professional debut at the age of 14 years and 320 days. In 2006, he was an undisputed international by the USA. A year later, he moved to Europe, with his eyes on England. He did some training at Manchester United but it was Benfica who bet on him. In 2007, for a million euros, Freddy Adu landed in Luz. Expectations were huge, the “new Pelé” tag was a monstrous weight. Interestingly, Pelé and Adu had a good relationship and even recorded an ad for a soft drink brand together.
At Benfica, Adu fulfilled his dream of playing in the Champions League, even though it was only half an hour against AC Milan and Celtic. He played 14 games and scored two goals with the red jersey. After that, loans began, first to Monaco, then to Belenenses, Aris of Thessaloniki and Rizespor.
After an unsuccessful European experience, Adu returned to the United States in 2011 to play for the Philadelphia Union. The return made little noise but the still very young player got to be two weeks in tests at Rayo Vallecano. He went to Bahía, in Brazil, without success. At 24, Adu was left without a club. “I was not elected to be the new Pelé,” he then confessed.
It was at a Serbian second division club that Freddy Adu returned. Six months later, he hadn’t played for Jagodina. Finland’s KuPS followed, where they played five games. He returned to the USA to play for Tampa Bay Rowdies and Las Vegas Lights. In 2017 he still tested at the humble Sandecja Nowy Scz, from Poland, but he was refused. He stopped playing football in December 2018.
Victim of too high expectations, Adu remains attached to the king sport, but now through a collaboration with a solidarity organization from Baltimore that helps young people in difficulties. One of your responsibilities is to record personalized congratulations videos. In your account profile you can read: “The youngest football player to sign for MLS”. A reminder of what the name Freddy Adu once meant.