After suffering a tournament-ending quarter-final loss to Brazil, the United States’ sensational star-in-the-making Freddy Adu talked to FIFA.com in Turku about his impressions of Finland 2003, the future ahead and the massive attention paid to him by defenders and journalists alike. At only 14, the finals’ youngest footballer has maturity, charisma and confidence to spare. Just before a long flight home over the Atlantic, the phenom has already put a great many things into perspective.
FIFA.com: Many have labelled you the future of football in the United States. How do you view such talk?
I try not to think about that kind of stuff and just focus on my game…and getting better. It’s flattering in a lot of ways that someone, somewhere thinks that highly of me that they would say I could be the future of the game in America. But if you focus on it too much you are going to get yourself into trouble. As a player, you have to just concentrate on getting better, practicing hard, staying determined and not changing your game for anyone. You can’t let anyone change the way you play.
You have been drawing a lot of attention from defenders on the field and the media off of it. Does the attention get to you?
You have to expect that you are going to get hit a lot on the field. I just realised that they have to do what they have to do to stop me. But I feel like I just need to get on with the game and keep going at them, keep trying to find a way. I learned how tough I could really be here in Finland. I learned how to dig deep and fight through it.
The attention from the media is good in a lot of ways and not so good in other ways. It gets your name out there and its good for you personally and gets people interested in the team…so that’s a positive. Also though, it’s a problem because, with all of the attention, our opponents know a little bit what to expect and they can change their game and focus their attention on you. But, I guess that is when the best players excel and rise to the challenge.
Do you feel that as a team the U.S. accomplished their goals at Finland 2003?
It was great to play in a World Championship, but I don’t think we accomplished what we wanted to. We trained hard for two years and we expected to at least get to the semi-finals, and we did not achieve that goal. In general, the only game I believe we played well in as a team was the match against Korea (6-1). All of the other games were pretty sub-par performances. We did not live up to our potential as a team.
What went wrong against Brazil?
We gave Brazil way too much space. We tried to come out and play some good soccer, hold the ball and take the game to them, but it did not really happen the way we wanted it to. We had some good moments, but in the end we gave them too much freedom and as talented as they are they really took advantage of it.
How about personally? Did you achieve any personal goals at the finals?
Personally, I feel I could have done much better. I always feel that I can do a little better. I picked up an ankle injury just before the finals in a friendly against Manchester United and it really forced me to change the way I play my game. I did learn a lot about myself as a player though. I learned that I can get out there and cause problems and get goals and fight through the pain and the hacking…but basically it was kind of a bummer to not go into the World Championship 100 percent fit after working so hard for two years.
What areas of your game do you think you need to improve to reach the next level?
I would like to improve every part of my game. As a player you can never feel like you’re good enough. You have to keep working, and try to improve everything, dribbling, passing, turning, defending…everything.
What is next for Freddy Adu?
The next step for me is to go back to Bradenton (U.S. Soccer’s full-time residency program in Bradenton, Florida) and focus on finishing up school. Hopefully I can get a chance to get into the U-20 team and continue to represent the United States the best way I know how.