So the American soccer whizzkid Freddy Adu is finally coming to England, for a two-week trial with the mighty Manchester United beginning on the 18th of November.
The phony war surrounding press speculation on Adu & English clubs was ended on the 9th of this month when United confirmed Adu was coming for a trial, a day after denying news that was plainly around the town in American soccer circles. Unlike Madonna, United failed to adopt an African youngster when Chelsea snatched Jon Obi Mikkel from their clutches so second time around they are in no mood to be gazumped again.
So, ‘Is Adu any good?’ is the next question. The jury is out is my answer. Freddy debuted in MLS aged 14 in 2004, the youngest professional American sportsman of all time. But in much of West Africa, from where he hails, births are often not officially recorded for some time (remember Roger Milla?) and there was much talk that Adu is actually two to three years older than his mother claims.
Adu is 17 now and has 87 appearances and 11 goals for DC United under his belt. He has played one friendly for the US national team, which means he can still switch allegiances to Ghana, the land of his birth, should he so desire. Given that he is a US citizen and has been brought through the various US youth Toto Sgp teams, I would say it is only a matter of time before he gains his first full cap and ends the Ghana/USA debate.
Freddy also attended the US Soccer Academy in Bradenton, Florida, whose alumni include Bobby Convey, DaMarcus Beasley and Jonathan Spector, now plying their trade in the Premiership, the league Adu dreams of playing in.
Freddy is doing exceptionally well for his age, has very good technique and balance, is fast though not supersonic, and strong but not powerful. He likes to dribble, attack defenders and is not afraid to shoot. He is in conclusion one of America’s most talented 17 year olds, but is he good enough to get into Manchester United’s 1st XI? Not yet, I would say.
He was not deemed good enough for the US team that exited the first round of the 2006 World Cup either. At a press conference in Kaiserslautern during the build-up to the tournament, a German journalist asked coach Bruce Arena, “What about Freddy Adu? Is he going to the World Cup?” to which Arena sarcastically, and typically, replied, “I don’t know, I’ll have to ask him.”
MLS is not the Premier League and Freddy is not yet the finished product in many ways. On the other hand, only by coming to Europe might we really find out what he is truly capable of. As someone who mixes in the US Soccer community, I can honestly say there is no consensus about whether Adu is America’s soccer messiah. Off the record, someone who works with him told me he thought he wasn’t ‘a 90-minute player’ yet.
True, Freddy is young and cannot short-cut the experience that will endow him with intimate knowledge of the nuances and phases of the game at the highest level. For that reason alone we should be patient and give him time in my opinion and stop trying to jump the gun on football in America, which is a long work in progress, an oak tree, not a cypress leylandii. Adu is still only 17 for goodness’ sake. We also never seem to learn that players peak at different ages.
All those drunk on the dream of Adu becoming a superstar would do well to remember Nii Lamptey, a 16 year-old starter for Anderlecht who was touted as the new Pele and played for PSV before moving to Aston Villa, where he started a gradual decline which saw him hawking his boots around clubs in 11 different countries, wondering what might have been while the rest of the football world quickly forgot about him.
I last watched Adu in the flesh last month playing for DC United against New England Revolution at RFK Stadium in Washington DC. He certainly stood out as one of the liveliest and most inventive players on the field, but seemed lacking in experience as he often over-dribbled or ran into avoidable danger.
There was a more impressive American on the field that night, a 23 year-old who is desperate to come to Europe and unlike Adu, can boast a CV with 23 international caps and 6 goals, including one in a World Cup Finals. European clubs, I give you Clint Dempsey, a fiery right-sided attacking midfielder. Buy him and stop worrying about whether Freddy Adu can become the ‘American Pele.’