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Saturday, July 28, 2007

Why Soccer Schools Should Develop Young Talent: The Freddy Adu Experiment (Revisited)

With a transfer to Benfica of Portugal appearing imminent according to the Salt Lake Tribune, I went back to read a commentary that I wrote almost two years ago about Fredua "Freddy" Adu. This appeared in my column for AC Cugini Scuola Calcio. In 2001, Inter Milan offered $750,000 to place Adu in their soccer school. Mrs. Adu and her advisers declined the offer. His MLS contract, at the of age 14 in 2004, was $500,000 a year before lucrative endorsements. He was compared to Pele', and became the youngest North American athlete to play professionally.

We will shortly look at Freddy's career MLS statistics, which are courtesy of Wikipedia. These do not reflect his excellent performance (notably against Poland and Brasil) at the most recent U-20 World Cup, which is why Benfica will pay a reported transfer fee referenced in the Tribune article above of $2,000,000 to the MLS. For a highly promoted 18 year old professional player, neither are astronomical fees.

But what was expected three years ago by the MLS during their marketing campaign for this young player? The next Pele' and Savior of North American soccer only garnered $2 million on the lucrative European football transfer market? What about his "me first" attitude because he has heard how good he is for years? Benfica is not DC United, Real Salt Lake, or the MLS marketing plan. There won't be high-profile agents and commercial sponsors who will dictate his schedule. Adu will be just another young playing fighting for playing time. Against experienced professionals who weren't coddled as he has been over here. He will be a small fish in a very big ocean, and that experience will be quite new for him. He will have to deal with a new club, culture, country, language, and hopefully, a more mature attitude will develop.

Despite all of his technical gifts, the fact remains, and it has been forgotten (or pushed into the background) during the three years of hyperbole surrounding this young man: soccer is a team game, and one player's needs or "branding" do not surpass the collective needs of the rest. Yes, that goes against all that we have seen so far with regards to David Beckham's arrival. But comparing the two players is like comparing apples and oranges. Adu needs to experience hunger and desire. Perhaps to remember his roots in Ghana. Not his life of teenage luxury that was spawned in tony Potomac, Maryland, elite soccer residency programs such as in Bradenton, and cultivation by marketing mavens with appearances on late night talk-shows (he was on David Letterman a few weeks ago), along with print and television commercials. All before he was old enough to drive a car. Perhaps "Fredua" will emerge, instead of "Freddy," at o Estadio da Luz in Lisboa.

Boa sorte, Fredua.

To see a video of his arrival in Lisbon, please click here.

Year Club Games
Goals Assists
2004 D.C. United 14 (16) 5 3
2005 D.C. United 19 (9) 4 6
2006 D.C. United 29 (3) 2 8
2007 Real Salt Lake 11 (1) 1 2
65 (28) 12 18


The deal was confirmed, and the MLS, according to Deputy Commissioner Ivan Gazidis, will receive a "sell on" fee if and when Adu leaves Benfica. But please read this interesting comment from Mr. Gazidis.

"Freddy, when we signed him, was one of most talented young players in the world. I think, today, he still is one of the most young talented players in the world," Gazidis said. "What we've struggled with is the expectations, not that we've placed on him, but that the media has placed on him." (1)

Young Adu played in the MLS, and was significantly promoted by them. Where did the expectations begin in 2004? Not in the NBA, NFL, or MLB. Please, Mr. Gazidis, do you really think that American fans (new, casual, or hardcore) are that misinformed or ignorant? You (MLS) and his sponsors created the excessive expectations for an adolescent who is still a teenager, and the media fed the demand that you promoted. Not the other way around.

Source: (1) http://soccernet.espn.go.com/news/story?id=449109&cc=5901

Why Soccer Schools Should Develop Young Talent: The Freddy Adu Experiment

03 November 2005

Recently, there has been much in the news about Freddy Adu, the 16 year old “prodigy” who plays for DC United. Apparently, young Adu wasn’t pleased with his playing time, and last week, made his displeasure known to Steven Goff (who was interviewed last June for this column) of the Washington Post. His comments sparked an interesting commentary by Michael Wilbon of the Post, and a suspension for United’s first playoff game at Chicago last Friday night. Adu refused to apologize to the team, and was relegated to the radio/TV booth to observe the game, which ended in a 0 – 0 draw. He is on the roster for the return game on Sunday afternoon at RFK Stadium.

I would like to comment on Michael Wilbon's excellent article, "For Adu, MLS Not The Promised Land." As he correctly noted, Mr. Don Garber and the rest of the MLS marketing team should not try to "grow" the sport on the back of a talented yet maturing 16 year old. Those of us who recognize quality know that Freddy Adu is not the holy grail. New fans to the sport have quickly realized what Mr. Wilbon so eloquently stated: They were sold a bill of goods that has not delivered. Even Bruce Arena, head coach of the U.S. National team, declared that young Adu needed to stop criticizing his coach if he expected to survive in the MLS, or become a component of his national team.

Four years ago, Freddy Adu was offered an opportunity to enter the Internazionale di Milano (Inter Milan) youth sector. He would have benefited from the milieu of one of the best club teams in the world, and would have learned the trade of a professional soccer player. He would not have become a media and MLS created phenomenon with tremendous pressure to succeed. Along with an increasingly bad attitude with his head coach. He is starting to sound like a spoiled 16 year old, and also needs to be reminded that he earns many times more than his fellow teammates.

The benefits of AC Cugini are as follows: Young players are developed by coaches and managers with their best interests at heart. They are not rushed to sign professional contracts, but are exposed to soccer schools, talent scouts, and elite teams in Italy and Canada for future opportunities. In my opinion, had Freddy Adu been exposed to Inter Milan, or even AC Cugini, his chance to realize all of his innate abilities would have been maximized. Instead, he signed a professional contract at the age of 14, graduated from high school a year later, and has been hearing too many compliments from well-meaning but ill-advised handlers and marketers. He is a very talented player; however, his game and attitude need to mature. He is fortunate to have a very good coach at DC United, Mr. Peter Nowak, who is doing his best to prepare Adu for the future. But Mr. Nowak’s task is further complicated by a league that has unrealistic expectations. In essence, they are putting all of their chips on one card. Let’s hope that it turns out to be a winning hand.

American soccer gained tremendous credibility due to the efforts of the women's program. Three years ago, the men's national team had their best performance at the World Cup since 1930. Soccer will succeed when we stop comparing it to other American sports, and produce a quality product that can stand on its own merits. It will not succeed when the sport attempts to sell a commodity before its maturity date to a public with 20/20 vision.

Link to Michael Wilbon’s article:



by Steve Amoia, AC Cugini CALCIO CONNECTION

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