It is easy to suggest that “child prodigy” Freddy Adu is simply an over-rated marketing project more than someone who has the potential to be a significant player on the world-scene. I think that view is actually a convenient cop-out.
Clearly, I’m in the camp of Freddy supporters that hopes his career heads the right direction. I like inventive, skillful, unpredictable soccer… and a confident Freddy Adu has the capabilities to deliver that. I am also frustrated that (aside from Clint Dempsey) we tend to only count “workers” in our successful international exports (keepers, defensemen, etc.) to the best leagues – as I’ve talked about before. So I am willing to cut him some slack in the hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel. But I do not underestimate the fact that he’s having trouble – for whatever reason – breaking into lineups that he should clearly have the talent to break into.
The one thing worth getting our arms around, is how much steak is there to go along with the Freddy sizzle? There are those that assert (with evidence) that the handful of professional coaches who have not found ways to use Freddy cannot all be wrong. It’s a powerful argument. Yet, I’m not fully bought in.
Coaches, and their continued disinterest in Freddy, are often seen as a rationale for the suggestion that Freddy’s attitude or training regimen are not up to professional standards. I have no facts to dispute this, but I don’t recall coaches having called Freddy out for these transgressions… at least not since he was older than 17. Peter Nowak, his first professional coach – who was long presumed to be glad to get rid of Freddy both called him back for the Olympics and leading blogger Ives Galarcep says that in conversations with Peter, there’s no apparent bad feelings or grudge. Have I missed comments from the foreign contingent or Jason Kreis that suggest Freddy is some sort of lazy trainer or locker-room cancer?
My biggest point of confusion comes from the idea that he just doesn’t have what it takes. Freddy has been (it appears) let go from Portuguese first-division club Belenenses where he was on loan from Benfica. Belenenses might be a terrific club but that sure isn’t clear from what I see. I’ve attended a game in the Portuguese first division before and watched a few on Television . . . it is a fine league. There is little value in arguing the inarguable – where it sits relative to MLS, or even other leagues in Europe – but I’ll start with the position that it is a good (not great) league, where its few best teams (Benfica, Porto, etc.) can compete with (though certainly not dominate) other teams in Europe. Much like many European leagues though, I strongly doubt the weaker teams offer anything approaching the quality soccer of the best in the league or other top European teams… or, as I walk out on a limb, those bottom dwellers are probably not significantly better than most MLS teams.
So, back to Belenenses… it sits dead last in the Portuguese first division with 10 points in 14 games. That is one victory, one and seven ties in 14 attempts. In those 14 games, Belenenses has managed to score six goals. Freddy, meanwhile, could barely catch a moment of game time.
Now, Freddy Adu is no Pele – despite what advertisers may have attempted to show us. But, a player that played over 6,300 minutes and scored 12 goals with 19 assists in MLS, all well before his 20th birthday (no, I’m not entertaining the “real age” conspiracy here,) should be seeing the field for such a struggling Portuguese side which is desaparately in need of goals and attacking options.
One knock that detractors use against Freddy is that he cannot handle physicality of pro-ball. MLS is no less physical than Liga Sagres, and while Freddy wasn’t leading the league in MLS he was a solid player. I don’t see that argument having much to offer.
However, as I said, there’s weight to the idea that a number of coaches haven’t figured out what to do with Freddy. While the situations and circumstances are not identical, there is an interesting comparison here to make between Freddy Adu and Jozy Altidore. I realize they are not the same type of player, but there are similarities.
They both started professionally in MLS and are young, skillful attacking players. In MLS Freddy had more minutes and assists, Jozy as an out-and-out forward had more goals. They both were “bought” by big clubs and subsequently loaned out, which is not unusual for a young, new-to-Europe player who needs experience.
Freddy by bought by Benfica of Portugal and loaned to a French league club, Monaco and rarely saw the field. The then was shipped to Belenenses and also didn’t see much action.
Jozy was bought by Villareal of Spain and was sent to a small club, Xerez in the second division and saw very little of the field. However, he then went to Hull City, also not a huge club, though in a league with much more attention, and he’s been finding the field. But, we are still all waiting for his first Premier League goal.
Hmmm. No goals yet. Been in trouble for Tweeting inappropriately after turning up late. Didn’t see the field regularly for second Division Xerez. Etc. I’ve heard nobody giving up on Jozy (and rightly not!) but aside from being played more at Premier League bottom-dweller Hull City, where is the drastic difference?
Freddy is dealing with the weight of his fanfare and “child prodigy” expectations more than a drastic failure which is drastically different from other players trying to seek fame in European soccer.
His next move will be interesting and important for his career. I hope he has level-headed, open-minded and knowledgeable advisors that have his long-term best interests in mind.