Member Since: 12/12/2002
From todays telegraph
Freddy Adu is not lacking in self-confidence.
"Sometimes," the 17-year-old Ghanaian-American once said of his performance in training, "I impress even myself."
Later this month, Adu will need to do a lot more than impress himself. According to his fan website, the "American Soccer Phenom" is "set to take the British Premier Soccer League by storm". This is an optimistic reading of a contentious, disputed, evidently problematic offer of a two-week trial at Manchester United.
At the end of it, we will begin to have an idea of where Adu stands in world football. Which is he: one of the most exciting talents to emerge in a generation? Or the over-hyped product of a commercial engine that is increasingly seeking to drive football?
Is he the next Cesc Fabregas? Or is he simply a second Calum Best, who was once put through the trial motions by a reluctant Sir Alex Ferguson simply because of his connections?
Adu's arrival at Carrington in a fortnight tells us an awful lot about the way the game is being run, both internationally and more specifically in the boardroom at Old Trafford. He was born in Ghana and was playing football from the age of three in his home town of Tema.
When he was eight his parents won a US immigration lottery and he moved to Washington DC, where his athleticism and natural skill were immediately picked up. So much so, that at 12 he was offered the chance to go to Milan and play for Inter's academy.
His advisers persuaded him he would be better off staying at home and at 14 he made his first appearance for DC United in the Major Soccer League, the youngest debutant in professional sport in American history. By 17, he was a regular in the team. In the very small pond of US football, he was already the biggest fish around.
What makes Adu's progress far more intriguing than simply being the tale of a gifted prodigy, is that almost from the moment word was out about him, he became the physical embodiment of the commercial desperation to break football as a major spectator sport in America.
Nike, anxious to find a home-grown (well, almost) superstar on which to attach their flag, put him on a multi-million dollar contract when he was just 13. Because legally he was too young to do it himself, his mum had to sign the deal. For the company it was a huge gamble. But if this was the Tiger Woods of soccer, they convinced themselves, it would be madness not to have him signed up lock, stock and shinpad. From the moment the contract was inked in, his celebrity was never in doubt. The question was, however: was his talent commensurate with his fame?
Bruce Arena, the US national team coach, clearly wasn't sure. In a move which must have cut Nike's marketing executives to the quick, the 17-year-old Adu was not selected for the US World Cup squad for Germany this year. It was a telling omission. Pele played at the same age in the World Cup, so did Norman Whiteside. Even Adu's contemporary, Theo Walcott, received an invitation to the party.
The news of Adu's trial at Carrington suggests those behind him must be worried about his development. While to admit it publicly might go against the grain of every American tenet of self-regard, Nike appear to recognise that he is not going to become the best player he can become if he stays in the United States.
He needs to be in Europe, being schooled in the same environment as the best under-20s in the world, like the South Americans, Lionel Messi and Giovanni dos Santos, at Barcelona or the Nigerian, John Obi Mikel, at Chelsea. And the perfect fit for Team Freddy, as the Adu brand is doubtless known, is Manchester United.
Here, after all, is a club heavily sponsored by Nike, owned by a family of Americans. The Glazers are, according to word emerging from within Old Trafford, adopting a pretty straightforward commercial policy in order to pay off their massive mortgage on the place. It can be summed up in one word: "more". More sponsors, more revenue from ticket sales, more foreign tours.
Even if they don't know much about football, the Glazer offspring will appreciate that Adu would fit neatly into their marketing approach, giving them more American sporting superstars than anyone else, ready to reap the benefits of soccer's big US breakthrough. If it ever comes.
Besides, United have a precedent of signing up players largely for their potential marquee value. Dong Fangzhou, a limited but willing Chinese forward, is on loan at United's feeder club, Royal Antwerp. By no coincidence whatsoever, Dong's only appearance in the United senior squad was during their tour to the Far East last summer, when he was on the team sheet in matches in Hong Kong and Shanghai.
Right now, his chances of ever stepping out in a Premiership match at Old Trafford are only marginally better than those of Joel Glazer. Log on to the club's Chinese-language website, however, and you'll find plenty of pictures of Dong modelling the latest line in red leisure wear.
Adu, though, would be a much more expensive adornment to be wheeled out only on tours of the United States. And judging by the way details of his trial were announced by United, there are those within the club who do not believe he is worth the cost of bothering. It is understandable why. No great player has ever emerged from the US system.
Top European youth coaches these days prefer to talent-spot in Africa or South America, where young players forge a bedrock of technique playing thousands of hours of informal football.
Since he was eight, Adu has been immersed in the most sanitised football in the world, playing the game in formalised workshops generally conducted by some bloke who had a couple of games for Brentford in the Eighties and is now on to a nice little earner teaching the children of the wealthy how to spring the offside trap.
Adu may have all the physical attributes, but when it comes to sheer knowledge of the game, he will find himself way behind even the most limited of his European-schooled counterparts.
In fact when it comes to deciding if he is the next Cesc or the next Calum, you have to think, were Freddy Adu really that good, he wouldn't be coming for a much-publicised two-week trial at Manchester United.
He would already be playing for them.
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