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Freddy Adu

Freddy Adu is one of the most famous young players in the world – it seems as though there is nobody who has not heard of the young DC United star. Since a young age he has been hyped up as the next ‘big thing’ in world football, but is he as good as all the hype that surrounds him? Or is he a prime example of the hyperbole that surrounds all things American?

Adu burst onto the scene at the tender age of 14 when he became the youngest professional athlete in the States. Commercial exposure soon followed - starring in adverts alongside the Brazilian legend Pele. Adu was linked with every major football club in Europe - he was to be the boy that would finally give ‘soccer’ a widespread appeal in the States.

Adu is in all senses the great American tale - a poor boy from Ghana who learned his skills barefooted on the streets before his mother won an immigration lottery and the chance of a new life for her family in America. With his ability and the story behind his meteoric rise, Adu is perfect for corporations to advertise their products - in short, it is a fairytale.

To understand how Adu got to where he is now you have to look at how he arrived at stardom in America.

American scouts were fully aware of his potential and he was given the chance in 2002 to join the U.S. U-17 residency programme in Bradenton, Florida. At the age of 13, Adu finished the season as one of the top scorers - netting 22 goals. This followed with Adu gaining U.S. citizenship in 2003 and he started to become one of the most talked about players in America.

His form during the U-17 residency programme prompted a call up to the U-17 national side. During the FIFA U-17 World Cup, he opened the tournament with a spectacular performance, scoring a hat trick in the teams 6-1 defeat of South Korea. In the next match he scored the winning goal in Americas 2-1 defeat of Sierra Leone, taking the U.S. into the quarter finals (where they fell at the hands of Brazil).

His form for the U-17’s earned him promotion to the U-20 squad, who were about to travel to the United Arab Emirates, to take part in the FIFA World Youth Championships. Adu participated in all five matches and helped the U.S. to a fifth place finish.

Adu’s performances in youth tournaments for the U.S alerted the likes of Manchester United and Inernazionale to his undoubted potential. Due to employment legislation, which states a player can not sign a professional contract until the age of 17 (in countries like Britain), none of Europe’s heavy weights made a move.

On 16th January, 2004, D.C United selected Adu as their first player in the 2004 MLS draft. The stage was set for the new American ‘wonder boy’ to set the MLS alight. On 3rd April, Adu came on for United as a substitute against San Jose Earthquakes, making him the youngest ever player to appear in any United States professional sport since 1887 (at 14 years, 306 days). A short time later, on 17th April, he became the youngest player ever to score a goal in the MLS (at 14 years, 320 days), when he scored a 75th minutes goal in a 3-2 loss against Metrostars.

In his first full season, Adu went on to star in 30 league games for D.C, scoring 5 goals, creating three assists and being named in the commissioner's pick for the 2004 Sierra Mist All-Star Game.

Despite his early success as a professional, he came under criticism from many pundits. Some commentators suggested that he was too young to be playing professional football, and that he needed time to develop with the youth teams. He was also criticised for not scoring enough goals and not taking his form from the U-17 & U-20 teams into the MLS.

Rumours were also rife that the ‘wonder boy’ was in fact much older than his reported age on is birth certificate, and that is had been doctored.

In Adu’s second season he was moved into midfield. Questions were raised as to why he was moved into a new position. Some people have argued that Adu has been moved deeper to incorporate him in DC United’s side as he hasn’t produced enough goals when playing upfront.

Despite playing deeper in midfield, Adu has carried on showing flashes of brilliance, scoring three winning goals and also being named the Honda MLS Player of the Week on two different occasions. In 25 games (9 as substitute), he has scored four goals and provided six assists, from a deep midfield position.

Over the years a lot of young players have been hailed as the next ‘big thing’ in the football world, only to be snapped up by a big European club and disappear into obscurity. Freddy Adu is the next ‘big thing’ in world football and he has to be careful he does not suffer the same fate as others before him.

If you look at Adu’s record for America’s U-17 and U-20 international teams, then you will see that he made a good impression at an early age. People forget that when he played for the U-17’s he was only 14 (and he was the same age when he played for the U-20’s)! How many other teenagers (past and present) in world football can claim the same?

He also has two full seasons of MLS under his belt at the age of 16. How many other players (past and present) in world football can claim the same? People will argue that for a forward he has poor goals to game ratio in the MLS. You have to remember though that he is not an out and out forward, but more of a support striker, a player who links up play between midfield and attack. Is Wayne Rooney a poor player because he has poor goals to game ratio?

One thing that does not help Adu is all the hype that surrounds him, as this leads to people from outside America expecting great things from him on a weekly basis. Various corporations that have signed sponsorship deals with Adu, like Nike for $1 million, are promoting him around the world as a new ‘boy wonder’ and this will only add to the pressure that is already on his young shoulders.

It remains to be seen whether Adu will ever make it as a top player in Europe. He will no doubt continue to be promoted by his many sponsors, but big European sides will see beyond the hype - and decide whether he has the ability to make it as a World Class footballer or not. At the moment though, the jury is still out.

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