Last updated : 21 December 2006 By Ed


Is Freddy Adu the real deal or just the latest great American soccer hope to sink under the weight of hyperbole?

After a highly publicised but inconclusive two-week training session with Manchester United, followed by an abrupt trade away from his Major League Soccer (MLS) club D.C. United, the jury is still out on the 17-year-old Ghanaian-born Adu.

While not exactly a flop, he has hardly set the U.S. soccer scene alight since signing a $1 million endorsement deal at 14, becoming MLS's highest-paid player on $500,000 per season at 15 and the youngest U.S. international at 16.

He was promptly traded to MLS newcomers Real Salt Lake, but could not have endeared himself to fans there by insisting he wants to play in Europe.

"People around him have always told him: 'You're the greatest,' and when you are a teenager you begin to believe it," said Steven Goff, the Washington Post's soccer writer.

"(But) he's a great kid and not full of himself, it's just that the expectations on him are so high.

"He's become a good MLS player this year," said Goff. "The first year he was a novelty, the second he was spectacular at times but also painfully inconsistent. This third year he was a good solid player, but certainly not a great player."

Another prominent soccer writer, Grahame Jones, of the Los Angeles Times, said: "I have always regarded Freddy Adu as being a marketing creation.

"He is a gifted player for his age but nothing special, even within the limited talent field that is MLS. His training with Manchester United was more of a courtesy by Man U toward MLS than an expression of serious interest and from what I hear he did not overly impress," he told Reuters.

"Perhaps in time and with the right coaching, he might become a useful journeyman player but at the moment he is quite ordinary," said Jones.

It was all so different three years ago when Adu burst on to the scene as a precocious talent on the U.S. Under-17 team with the speed and skill to beat opponents with ease and score.

Shoe company Nike saw him as a marketable icon and paid him well, while PepsiCo featured Adu in an advertisement for a soft drink. It was no coincidence that he was paired with Pele in those spots.

There the comparison with the great Brazilian ends. When he was 17, Pele was helping Brazil to win the World Cup.

MLS, naturally, wanted to promote Adu as the new face of a sport still struggling to make a mark in America. But therein lies the league's dilemma -- any player good enough to attract attention from the big European clubs is hardly going to stay with MLS and its salary ceiling.

Inevitably a talented American player will join the U.S. foreign legion of players such as Brian McBride, Claudio Reyna, DeMarcus Beasley and Bobby Convey, who ply their trade in Europe.

Perhaps the most telling verdict on Adu came from Manchester United's veteran manager Alex Ferguson, who tried to protect young gifted players such as Ryan Giggs and David Beckham from too much attention early in their careers.

"Freddy has done all right," Ferguson said. "He is a very confident and talented boy but nothing can be done just yet. He will go back to the United States and we will keep a check on him. Then when he is 18, we will have to assess what we can do next."

In a commentary for Newsweek, Mark Starr suggested Adu's training with United's youth team was "a commercial contrivance".

"No team trades away the 17-year-old future of American soccer...unless it has concluded that he is not the future of American soccer," wrote Starr.

"While he is quite talented and at times dazzling with the feet, Adu is not the magical player that will someday lead American soccer to the Promised Land."

Frank Dell'Apa, soccer writer for the Boston Globe and cable TV's ESPN summed it up: "Freddy Adu's career was bound to plateau. Adu always had a better chance of ending up with Real Salt Lake than with Real Madrid.

"The hype has caught up with Adu. The soccer system in the U.S. helped create the Adu phenomenon. Adu's development has been distorted by media hyperbole."