The Curious Case (and Age) of Freddy Adu

Freddy Adu and PeléIf Pelé deserves the title of King for being the greatest footballer of all time, then Freddy Adu, once labeled the next Pelé, is the rightful King among players who never fulfilled their promise.

Plenty of young talents are hyped up every season as the next big thing, only to never meet the gigantic expectations the world creates for them. But Freddy Adu wasn’t viewed as just another big talent. At age 14 he was already a professional footballer, hailed as the soon-to-be greatest player in the world. Ten years later, he hasn’t just failed to make true on that promise. He hasn’t even improved a bit it seems.

What happened?

Freddy Adu’s passport has him born on June 2 1989, in the seaport town of Tema, Ghana. He moved to the US eight years later. From that moment on, Adu’s story is one of ever increasing success. He did incredibly well in school, skipping seventh grade and breezing through eighth grade. According to a story in Sports Illustrated, Adu showed remarkable talent in every sport he played. Choosing football, he lead his youth team to victory in several tournaments, prompting Internazionale to make an offer for him – which he rejected.

Just prior to his 14th birthday, Adu signed a $1 million dollar contract with Nike. His future, it seemed, would be one of glory, fame and success. Shortly later he signed for DC United in the MLS, becoming the youngest professional athlete in an American team sport in a hundred years. His salary also made him the best paid professional player in MLS. That same season, he won the league with DC United. Two years later he made his debut for the US National Team. While not impressing in the MLS, a fact explained away by his young age and the incredible pressure on his shoulders, Benfica signed him as soon as he turned 18. Europe was waiting for the American wonder kid.

Freddy Adu Bahia Age older passportBut here story of Freddy Adu takes a radical turn. It becomes a tale of repeated failure. Adu made a poor impression at Benfica, and was subsequently loaned out to clubs of ever diminishing stature. First Monaco, then Belenenses, then Aris, and finally to Çaykur Rizespor – a club in Turkey’s second division. None of the clubs showed any interested in prolonging Adu’s stay. And with every successive failure, the excuses (pressure, having to adapt to Europe, not being fit yet, coaches not making adequate use of his services, etc.) started to sound less convincing. Benfica lost faith in their American star. As soon as his contract was over, with no club in Europe interested in his services, Freddy Adu, after four years of failure in Europe, moved back to the US. To the MLS. The league where it had all started. The only league where he had been somewhat successful. Surely there he could revive his career?

But his two seasons at Philadelphia Union were again a disappointment. He simply didn’t seem to be very good. Adu has now been loaned out to Bahia in Brazil, where he spends most of his time on the bench.

So what’s the explanation for this remarkable tale? How can a player of such enormous talent fail to even succeed in the Turkish second division?

Perhaps because he never was that talented in the first place.

Consider the following facts. In a Sports Illustrated story from 2003, Adu was described as 5’8″ tall, weighing 140 pounds. He was 13 then. His current size? 5’8″. Apparently, he stopped growing at 13.

Or, perhaps more likely, he didn’t stop growing at 13. He’s just a couple of years older than he says he is.

It’s common knowledge that many players born in West-Africa are older than their passport states. By convincing the world that they are younger than they really are, such players increase their chance of  being considered a big talent, which in turn increases their chance of a foreign club giving them a contract. The ‘real’ age of African players is an issue that looms over every FIFA youth tournament.

The fact that Adu skipped one or two grades in school suggests he was indeed “wise beyond his years”, or rather, older and more developed than his classmates. Let’s say he was 15, playing football against 12 year olds and sitting in class with 12 year olds. Is it any wonder that he breezed through school and defenses alike? Yet that advantage disappeared as soon as he faced mature opponents, hence his current problems in even the lowest of leagues.

Both his early ‘talent’ and his sudden failure to ‘develop’ his talent are perfectly explained by Adu being older than he says he is. Indeed, in a SI story from 2003, Adu says that even when he was 9 years old, people questioned his age. “When I was 9 or 10 years old, it used to bother me a lot, but now it’s just like I don’t care about that stuff anymore”.

Of course he no longer “cares”. He may not have made turned into the American Pelé, but he’s still a millionaire because of his lies.

9 thoughts on “The Curious Case (and Age) of Freddy Adu”

  1. While there is certainly evidence to suggest this is the case, it’s still quite the accusation to be making. I suspect the greater reason for his lack of development is due to being put into the DC United first team so early on, where the emphasis is placed more on winning rather than developing, which is detrimental during the early years of a player’s career. I’m sure Adu would be a much different, and better, player had he accepted the offer to Inter’s academy.

  2. Freddy may be on a path to ending up one of the biggest busts in U.S. sports history, sadly, but it’s very unlikely his age was faked. Don’t be so lazy. Look up the known facts.

    He came to the U.S. at age 8 with his mom when she won a green card lottery. You’re saying she faked his age on his immigration papers at that point (because he was actually 11) in anticipation of his pro soccer career? Gimme a break.

  3. That logic is just plain false, far fetched and ridiculous (but I guess everyone is entitled to their opinion)….you don’t pass up chances with inter and other big clubs that are interested in you if time is not on your side. If you are blowing by students in school does that make you older or the other kids dummer? A lack of development should be more like bad decisions…..Donovan had to leave Germany, Eddie Johnson had to leave Europe (almost walked away from soccer)…so there are other failure stories too. And a subject of growth….really? When was the last time you measured or weighted Adu? This is ridiculous……

  4. “Of course he no longer “cares”. He may not have made turned into the American Pelé, but he’s still a millionaire because of his lies.”

    I doubt Adu cooked up his own age and passport at that age! Hence the above comment needs revising.

  5. i wouldn´t say these are “his” lies alone.
    what on earth is pelé doing here? i´ve seen footage of a teenage ronaldinho and he didn´t appear to say that his fellow countryman was kicking ass like himself back in the day.
    i remember adu being on the news with pelé as his prophet. i was puzzled by the article because there wasn´t any footage of adu actually playing.
    adu became and millionaire and this killed his motivation, just like young moviestars who don´t know what to do next.

    people are always looking for heroes, idols and gods, especially in football. for this, a lot of money was made but not just by adu.

  6. “So what’s the explanation for this remarkable tale? How can a player of such enormous talent fail to even succeed in the Turkish second division?”

    This is incorrect, he was dominant in the Turkish second division, for what that’s worth. He was being man marked routinely. It was a loan, and he demanded more money than the club could afford after the loan, he also probably wasn’t interested in the league. One of many career mistakes.

  7. I have met several people from Ghana on my travels, some of them footballers themselves. It is well known in Ghana that aspiring players often cook up their own birthdates to make them seem younger than they are. The reason is precisely because they have a better chance (even if slim) that a big European team will pick them up. Many have nothing to lose anyways really..
    How is this so easy? It was explained to me that its not necessary to register birth of newborns right away, its often done while the child is older. Footballers with any promise at an early age strategically make up their birth year, age isnt given as much importance in Ghanian society as it is here.

    The most recent Ghanian I met is a footballer himself, claimed he was semi-pro. He said he knows for a fact that Muntari is closer to 36 than his stated 29, he . Just look at the guy! Makes sense, No shot he is 29. Drogba 36? probably around 40. He said this is common practice and well known in Ghana and other countries like Nigeria (who have had so much success at youth age, with no success at the senior level). He said its also why most African players(save for Etoo and Drogba) fizzle at a relatively early age.

    The fact everyone on this forum is so naive into the possibility is laughable. Clearly this is unimaginable in the USA, but in West Africa this is common practice. How else do you explain his complete lack of development!?

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