In 2003, at the age of just 14, American wonderkid Freddy Adu made history when he signed for D.C. United, becoming the youngest individual ever to pen a professional contract for a major league sports franchise. The playmaker's considerable talents, though, attracted attention in Europe as well, ultimately leading to a trial with Manchester United three years later.
Despite his much-heralded potential early on, Adu never did manage to carve out a successful career at the highest level of European football. Stints at Benfica and Monaco - which amounted to a combined 23 appearances - marked his most high-profile accomplishments on this side of the Atlantic.
While it may not have led to the superstardom he may have envisaged, Adu still has very fond memories of the fortnight he spent in Manchester under the watchful eye of Sir Alex Ferguson in 2006.
Speaking to BritishGambler.co.uk, the now 32-year-old Adu admitted his time at United's Carrington training complex was among the "coolest" experiences of his football journey.
"At that point, that was the coolest moment of my career when I went to Manchester United, I was only 16 years old at the time. I was there for almost a month and I got to meet everybody like Wayne Rooney – and it was when Manchester United were at the peak of their powers. Cristiano Ronaldo was there at the time and it was when he was becoming the best player in the world. [Paul] Scholes was still there, [Ryan] Giggs was still there – it was amazing!"
Freddy Adu pays tribute to "amazing person" Ronaldo
Adu confirmed, though, that out of all the world-class players he had rubbed shoulders with, it was Portuguese superstar Ronaldo who had left the greatest impression on him.
"Everybody is always talking about Ronaldo is arrogant, he is this and that, but let me tell you that out of all of the players that were there – he was the one person out of all of them that made it a point to come to me, to talk to me, offered to take me to dinner," Adu recalled.
"I mean, he was an amazing person. Of course, I already had huge respect for Ronaldo, but after that, I had so much respect for him and he literally became my favourite player just because of the kind of person that he was and what I witnessed.
"We had a little bit of a talk – I mostly trained with the U23s when I was there as I was only 16 years old at the time, but I did get a couple of training sessions in with the first team and it was awesome. We actually played against the first team and I played really well during that game as I was so amped up! It was amazing to be around there, to see the levels they were at."
Freddy Adu on Sir Alex Ferguson
Work permit issues meant that extending his stay with the Red Devils was never a realistic possibility at the time. In sharing his memories of working alongside legendary United boss Ferguson, however, Adu revealed that he regrets not having the chance to play under the Scotsman.
"Oh, he would have been more than perfect for me," said Adu when asked if Ferguson could have helped him cope with the weight of the expectation placed on him as a youngster.
"Being a young player, you don't see it that same way when you're younger, you just see it as 'I'm a good football player and I'm ready to play right now'.
"The adults or coaches in the room, they are the ones that are very important. I had some coaches that were not into giving young players a chance. I did not go where I could just develop and not have that ‘pressure’ of being ‘the next Pele’ and not have to contribute right away."
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Curiously, even though he clearly had a great couple of weeks at United, Adu is actually a long-time Manchester City fan - thanks to former US international Claudio's Reyna's spell with the club between 2003 and 2007.
"Nobody can say I hopped on the bandwagon because I liked City when they were terrible," he joked.
While his real-life football career may not have panned out as planned, Adu's virtual equivalent has fared rather better. Recently voted Football Manager's 'ultimate wonderkid', Adu has achieved cult status with players of the popular management sim for the sheer number of goals he could be counted on to score in the game.
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Adu still hasn't closed the door on his professional career, however. He may not have played a competitive match in three years, but believes he still has a final run left in him.
"I haven’t retired yet, I’m only 32, and I do have the urge to get back to playing again – I obviously have to get back on my horse and get extremely fit, and that’s going to be the hard part. I’m going to give it a go next year," he vowed.News Now - Sport News