MLS: Is Freddy Adu Another Tale of Wasted Talent?

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MLS: Is Freddy Adu Another Tale of Wasted Talent?
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Smile while your heart is breaking: Freddy Adu

Who knows the club side Fredua Koranteng Adu earns his living playing for these days?

About 80 percent of soccer enthusiasts do not know; the remaining 20 percent simply do not care.

The answer is the Philadelphia Union of Major League Soccer.

Adu pitched camp with the MLS outfit via Benfica, AS Monaco and the likes of Belenenses, Aris and Caykur Rizespor. At the age of 22, Adu is a veteran of the European game, having played in Portugal, France, Greece and Turkey. And like all veterans, he is nearing the twilight of his career.

Adu was the quintessence of soccer prodigyhood. In early 2004, the D.C. United selected Adu with the top pick in the MLS draft. His four-year contract made him the highest-paid player in the league—at age 14. That is record may never be broken—at least not in Adu’s lifetime.

This brings to mind a certain 15-year-old son of a factory worker who laced up for the Argentinos Juniors club of Buenos Aires in 1976; and of another 15-year-old who took the field to score for Brazilian club Santos in September 1956.

The similarity between these three greatest soccer prodigies produced in the Americas is glaring—they had enormous potential to raise the world standard of the game (indeed the New York Cosmos brought Pele to the United States to do just that—to raise the image of the sport and make it appealing to NLF-mad Americans). Pele and Diego Maradona have been jointly crowned the greatest players of the game ever—the former by FIFA; the latter by a general consensus of the hardcore fans of the game.

What about Adu? Where does the greatest soccer prodigy from North America stand in the scheme of things vis-à-vis his legendary fellows of the New World further south? Adu’s career seems over at the age of 22. It's about the same age that Maradona was being crowned South American Footballer of the Year en route to captaining La Albiceleste to the world title; then single-handedly leading the little known Napoli to the Scudetto; and then going on to be the most revered soccer icon of his generation; and on and on and on.

Pele was holding aloft his second World Cup title at age 22. Another South American soccer prodigy from the favelas of Brazil by the name Ronaldo was being crowned FIFA World Best Player at the age of 20, en route to winning that same award twice more as well as the Ballon D’Or twice.

What accounts for the dramatic extinguishing of a flame so bright before it even had the chance to flare?

The obvious reason is that the United States is not a soccer nation—any soccer prodigy born there would find himself in a fish out of water situation. Playing with below-average footballers provides hardly enough challenge for one to reach his full potential. Adu should have moved immediately to Europe, not making himself available for the MLS pick. It's as simple as that.

Your mum is obviously not the best person to advise you on your soccer prospects, as the frustrated Adu has come to rue. His mum only had the financial interest of the family she had to provide for as the basis for her rejecting the myriad of offers from European clubs that Adu was inundated with—virtually coercing him to stay put and make himself available for the MLS draft. While this decision made a lot of financial sense, the most popular team sport of the world has been robbed of an outstanding talent who could have raised the game to new heights. Adu has no individual awards to buttress his claim to greatness—he is a pauper among his fellow New World prodigies who at his age could boast cabinetfuls of awards and accolades.

Bob Levey/Getty Images

Adu’s predicament is very akin to another soccer prodigy from his country of birth, the West African country of Ghana—one Nii Odartey Lamptey. That’s not just because both were born in the same city—the industrial Tema—but because both were spectacular failures whose flame extinguished just too early.

Lamptey was touted the next big thing in world soccer by Pele himself, after his exploits at the 1991 World Under-17 Championships in which he led Ghana to the title. He also captured the FIFA Best Player Of the tournament Award in a tournament that had the likes of Juan Sebastian Veron and Alessandro del Piero featuring.

While Lamptey would fall prey to unscrupulous soccer agents who bandied him around the world like a slave, in the case of Adu, it is difficult to put the blame on anyone else but his mother. She saw her son as her cash cow and cared nothing about developing his budding talent better; in which instance a move to Europe would have been better.

Adu can only lick his wounds. His is a case of another talent wasted.

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