The Lost Boy
Watching the United States against England last night ,I was struck by the thought that for all their possession, for all of their pace in wide areas, for all of Altidore's play as the target man, the final piece in the jigsaw was lacking.
To be among the real contenders for the final stages they need what the Italians call the "fantasista", that elusive player of quality who may not be seen for much of the game, but can provide killer passes or make telling incursions into the opposition penalty area.
The kind of player who may not always conform to the coach's disciplined, tactical team structure, but who by taking risks and adding"" fantasy may bring greater rewards than the more prosaic approach of his teammates.
Argentina have Messi , England could have had Joe Cole but chose to leave him on the bench against the Americans, Germany appear to have unearthed one in Mesut Ozil , the Italians have one in Cassano but left him at home (proving that coaches may be distrustful of the maverick quality of the "Number 10"). For Brazil, it is Kaka, for the U.S.A. might it have been Freddy Adu, had his career not run to a standstill on the periphery of European football?
Adu , anointed at the age of 14 as the once and future King of American football , was born in Ghana, but left Africa for the United States aged eight and six years later had the world of football at his feet, when he became the youngest player ever to play in Major League Soccer .
He had already caught the eye of European giants Internazionale when, aged ten, he was top scorer in an Under 14 competition.
With a million dollar contract from Nike and suitors such as Manchester United and Barcelona , the future looked bright and after only three years in Major League Soccer he joined Portuguese giants Benfica in 2007.
He may have been better advised staying in Salt Lake City and developing both physically and tactically as his career has been on a downwards spiral ever since setting foot in the Old World.
One season with only fleeting appearances in Lisbon was followed by a season at French league side Monaco, with only ten appearances and no goals to his name . Loan spells at provincial Portuguese side Belenenses and Greek middle of the table Aris Thessaloniki have failed to rekindle the spark.
Freddy was not included in the U.S.A.'s provisional squad for this World Cup as his star continues to fade.
Who knows, had he been allowed to develop away from the hype , the expectation and publicity he may have become the first US footballing superstar many thought was his destiny.
Coming of age just as this years World Cup started, this tournament could have been the moment for him to announce himself on the world stage. How Bob Bradley would have loved to have had a fully developed Adu at his disposal and how relieved England must be that someone of that quality was not lining up against them, struggle as they did against the eleven Americans who did get the call.
Adu may yet reach the heights his prodigious talents once promised, but the sneaking suspicion must be that he has missed the boat and will join a long list of European and South American players who were unable to fulfil the huge early potential.
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