Only a few years on from being touted as the long-awaited saviour of American soccer, Freddy Adu is heading for his third loan spell in three seasons, this time with mid-table Greek outfit Aris Thessaloniki. The move is seemingly a long way from the creative attacker’s meteoric rise to prominence as a precocious prodigy destined to someday make it in a big way.
Born in Tema, Ghana, young Fredua Koranteng Adu was noticed early in the USA after arriving with his mother through an immigration lottery. At the tender age of just 14 - after representing the USA with distinction at both the FIFA U-20 and U-17 World Cups in 2003 - Adu became one of the youngest American professional athletes in history, turning down offers from some of Europe’s top sides to sign a Major League Soccer contract in 2004.
“I try to not think about what everyone is saying about me,” he told FIFA.com in late 2003, already engulfed by a soccer-inspired mainstream media whirlwind not seen in the USA since the country hosted the FIFA World Cup™ in 1994, or Pele's arrival at the New York Cosmos in 1975.
What followed for fresh-faced Adu, who was tagged “the biggest signing in the history of MLS” by commissioner Ivan Gazidis, was a succession of disappointments at club level, at least relative to the media circus that buzzed around him. He scored 11 goals in 90 appearances at DC United and eventually moved on to Real Salt Lake in 2006, playing 11 times and scoring twice before a much hyped move to Europe finally took shape.
His first port of call was Portuguese heavyweights Benfica, signing on just two months after his 18th birthday for a reported $2m. He failed to shine under the bright lights of Lisbon, averaging only 20 or so minutes per game. Adu never once made a starting appearance, scoring just twice in 11 outings.
In 2008, he was loaned out to Monaco in the French top flight, and he again failed to earn a starting place and saw his playing time shrink even more. After a return to Benfica, Adu was shipped off yet again, this time to cross-town Belenenses. While with the Portuguese top-tier basement dwellers, he managed briefly to break into the first team before injuries and inconsistency again took their toll.
It seemed to be the case of a wildly talented youngster touted too early, possibly losing his way in the pitiless world of international football. His newest assignment, on loan in Greece, will give Adu – still only 20 – one more opportunity to gain regular first-team action in Europe. “A lot of thought and research went into this move (to Aris),” reported Adu, who turned down an offer to join up with English Premier League outfit Hull City, on his much-followed Twitter page.
At Aris, Adu will be joining up with Eddie Johnson, another once-promising US striker who is now 25 years old. After moving to Fulham in England from Major League Soccer, he failed to make an impact at either Craven Cottage or during a loan spell at Cardiff City, and he is also looking for a revival in Greece. The pair were team-mates at the FIFA U-20 World Cup UAE 2003, where the Americans went all the way to the quarter-finals and Johnson finished the tournament as top scorer.
“It depends on the player and the situation. Going abroad can be a great move for an American player, but it really depends on the circumstances,” USA coach Bob Bradley told FIFA.com during last June’s FIFA Confederations Cup in South Africa, where Adu spent the entire tournament – as the US roared to the final – watching from the bench. “The last thing you want is for a player to leave somewhere where he’s playing regularly and go somewhere where he plays less.”
Landon Donovan, who is currently on loan in England with Everton, echoed his coach’s sentiments, saying: “It can be the right thing or the wrong thing (going abroad) depending on the individual situation - it’s something to think through.”
Adu and Johnson will be aiming to put in good performances at their new club in order to get themselves back in the reckoning for a place in Bradley’s USA squad for South Africa 2010. Adu made his debut for the national team in 2006 at the age of just 16, a move seen by some as an attempt to keep him from playing for Ghana. Since then he has figured only sporadically and made just 15 appearances for the Stars and Stripes.
Johnson, too, has gone off the radar, missing the FIFA Confederations Cup and figuring only occasionally in USA’s qualifiers for the 19th FIFA World Cup. Both Adu and Johnson will be well aware that another young US attacking star, Charlie Davies, is unlikely to recover from injuries sustained in a recent car accident in time to take part in the global showpiece. A turn of fortunes, a spot of regular playing time and a few goals on Greek shores might well be enough for a plane ticket to South Africa.