Finding his feet

Freddy Adu, the much-vaunted teenage prodigy, is now trying to further his career with Portuguese giants Benfica after failing to live up to expectations in the United States. By Andy Hampson.

Freddy Adu was hailed as the next big thing when he signed professional forms at the age of just 14. He went on to become the United States’ youngest international, but did not develop at the anticipated rate and missed the 2006 World Cup. After stints with Major League Soccer clubs, DC United and Real Salt Lake, he decided to try his luck in Europe.

Adu was born and raised in the port city of Tema in Ghana. It was there that his love for football was founded and he regularly played against boys much older than him. His life was to change dramatically at the age of eight when his mother won a Diversity Immigrant Visa to move to the US. The family moved with her and Adu himself was awarded US citizenship in 2003.

They settled in Washington DC and Adu caught the eye playing football at school. He was soon in the US representative system and earned a place at the IMG Soccer Academy — which looks after the country’s top prospects — in Florida in 2002. Such was his progress that only two years later he was thought ready to join the professional ranks and was chosen by DC United in the MLS Super Draft.

Adu made his United debut as a substitute in the first game of the 2004 MLS season against San Jose, becoming the youngest player in professional American sports since 1887. He scored his first goal a fortnight later and eventually finished with five for the season as United won the MLS Cup. There was plenty of criticism, however, of United for playing him so young and Adu’s performances were heavily scrutinised. He did not set the world alight and it was not until the 2006 season that he earned a regular starting role.

He was briefly brought into the US national set-up but the World Cup came too soon. United decided to trade him to Real Salt Lake in December 2006 but, again, he did not make much of an impact.

The European clubs, however, had tracked him for some time. Inter Milan were reportedly interested some years ago and Manchester United invited him to train with them last year. After all the headlines and pressure heaped on him in the US, Adu decided to seek a move abroad. Benfica were to prove the best suitors, and he moved to Lisbon in a $2million deal in July 2007. He has since made cameo, sometimes goal-scoring, appearances in the Portuguese SuperLiga and the Champions League.

Adu is a regular USA Under-20 international and recently regained his place in the senior side.

Adu has previously dated American actress and singer JoJo, who at 16 is already rated as one of the best rising talents in both Hollywood and on the music scene. They were together for around a year but JoJo revealed they split amicably because they were “both consumed in their own worlds”.

After so much positive press before he made his debut, Adu must have thought he had the world at his feet. Life in the top ranks, however, has been far from straightforward and the footballing public at large is still to see just why he was hailed as such a phenomenon.

Adu also gave indication that he was struggling to deal with an unexpected downturn in fortunes in 2005 when he was suspended by DC United for a game after complaining about his lack of game time.

Most of Adu’s moves since turning pro have been followed in the media and obtaining his first car was no exception. USA Today reported him as “practically giddy” as he watched a BMW 330i roll out of the showroom. The $44,000 black sedan was given to him as part of an endorsement deal even though he was still just a learner at the time.

FACTFILE Name: Position: Club: DOB: USA caps: USA goals: USA debut: Moment to remember Moment to forget

"We did not play well. I think that was one of the worst games we've played since I've been a part of DC United," Adu said after a 1-1 draw with New York Red Bulls in October 2006, in which he was substituted after 81 minutes. United were lambasted for their performance in the press. Adu was traded to Real Salt Lake two months later

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