Freddy Adu: Compared to Pele at a young age, where is the American now?

Freddy Adu and Pele

The video game simulation Football Manager is a celebrated title. A host of professional clubs use it to scout players and it's enjoyed by plenty around the globe.

It often has a funny habit of predicting the stars of tomorrow but in some cases, it gets things completely wrong.

Cast your minds back to the days of Carlos Fierro and Yayo Sanogo and you'll remember a long line of cult heroes born out of a game you play on your computer. 

It's remarkable how far we've come, with stars like Martin Odegaard and Ruben Neves among the latest wonderkids to emerge from Sports Interactive's famous game. 

Even Eduardo Camavinga, a 17-year-old who recently earnt his senior debut for France, has been inducted into the unofficial FM haul of fame.

But, there is one name we're missing here, someone who in the virtual world took his teams to Champions League glory and scored a bucket load of goals. No, we're not talking about Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi.

Instead, our story focus on the peculiar tale of a certain Freddy Adu. 

Freddy Adu in 2004

Whether you're familiar with the intricate details of football or not, you've probably heard his name somewhere down the line. Though, for all the virtual goals, he failed to replicate his fictional success in the real world.

A footballer's peak is traditionally in their late 20s, but in Adu's instance, it was when he was a teenager. 

The American burst onto the scene aged 14 when he scored four goals during the U17 FIFA World Cup in 2003 and then a year later, achieved something quite remarkable.

Still 14, Adu became the youngest American in history to sign a major league professional contract in any team sport.

He was chosen by DC United as the number one overall pick in the 2004 MLS SuperDraft but his incredible story was to get better. 

Freddy Adu signing for DC United

Three months after the draft, in April 2004, he made his MLS debut against San Jose Earthquakes, making him the youngest individual to appear on the professional sporting scene in the United States.

A fortnight later, Adu scored his first MLS goal against MetroStars to unsurprisingly become the youngest goalscorer in the competition's history.

Achieving all of this at such a ripe age was remarkable. It defied belief and sparked hysteria as the young American drew comparisons to Pele, someone he later appeared in a commercial alongside. 

By the end of his first MLS season, he'd scored five times, and by the time he left DC, he'd played 87 league matches before even becoming an adult. 

He left the club in 2006 following a trial with Manchester United, but after failing in his pursuit of signing for Sir Alex Ferguson's side, his club career began to escape him. 

That was despite becoming the youngest debutant for the United States when he took to the field on the international stage at the age of 16 years and 234 days. 

A move to Real Salt Lake followed before his dream of playing in Europe became a reality, signing for Benfica. 

However, after playing just 11 times for them, he was loaned out to AS Monaco, Aris in Greece, Belenenses in Portugal and Turkish outfit Çaykur Rizespor. At this point, 2011, Adu was just about still in the national team, but for a player who promised so much, his career was stagnating.

Freddy Adu at Benfica

Adu admitted that by the age of 25, he wanted to be playing in Spain or England. "I'm 22 this year [2011]. In three years' time, I see myself playing in one of those leagues." 

Unfortunately, that prophecy never came true. He fell out of favour with the national team and returned to MLS. The once-celebrated teen netted eight goals in 28 for Philadelphia Union before his career fell off a cliff.

Adu signed for Brazilian club Bahia on a six-month contract in 2013 and has since played for Jogadina in Serbia, KuPS and KuFu-98 in Finland, Tampa Bay Rowdies and Las Vegas Lights.

For someone who landed a deal with Nike and appeared on the cover of TIME magazine, you'd be forgiven for thinking he was a saviour, a talent who would go onto win some of the biggest prizes around.

Freddy Adu and Owen Hargreaves

As we all know, it didn't happen. Adu fell out of love with the game and after two years away from playing professionally, he has finally found himself a new club.

The attacking midfielder is now 31 and after years of becoming a journeyman and a vagabond, he's found a home at Swedish third division side Osterlen FF. 

Adu told his Twitter followers that teaching kids to play had reignited his love for the game, revealing this week: "I skipped a lot of steps in the past but now I get a chance to do it right. I’m excited and never been more ready." 

You can sense the excitement in his words. Adu had huge dreams when he was younger but he will be one of the first to tell you how quickly things can change

Freddy Adu in action for Las Vegas Lights

He has always had the talent but arguably not the right people around him. Osterlen FF have taken a gamble and they seem to have found a player who has their tail firmly between their legs. 

Adu is not what he once was, but this is the time to reinvent himself, to reinvigorate a career that promised so much as a teenager. 

At the age of 31, he is no spring chicken, but he still has plenty left in the tank. 

"[I] missed this sport so much and just happy to have the opportunity to be playing again. One step at a time," he tweeted this week. 

Coincidentally, Adu has spent the last few years coaching 14-year-olds. It's dumbfounding that at the same age, the American was setting out on his professional journey, but it appears as though that's what's made him appreciate the finer things in life a little more.

Freddy Adu coaching

Arnold Tarzy, the man to discover Adu when he was just eight, told ESPN last year: "He never had the work rate. He never had to. Things always came easy."

And there lies the truth about the 31-year-old's failure. Everything was handed to him on a plate and perhaps now that he's seen how hard a young footballer has to work, he realises how good he had things.

Having not played at the top level for the best part of seven years, it'll take him a while to get up to speed in Sweden, but no one deserves a proper shot at forging a career again than Adu.

Freddy Adu coaching

Ultimately, the American was thrust onto the professional scene when he had no right. He is now more mature, and if his words are anything to go by, is in the best headspace he's ever been in. 

There have been years of debate surrounding Adu. Words on a screen or on paper have dominated his career but now has the opportunity to let his football do the talking again.

Over to you, Freddy. 

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