When the history of American soccer (that's football for most of you) is written, there might well be several chapters set aside for its first genuine superstar. By definition, I mean that very, very rare player who, by virtue of his incomparable skills, had the ability to lift his entire team to dizzying heights only dreamt of previously.
The identity of this messiah of American football could well be a fourteen-year-old forward by the name of Freddy Adu. No, Da Ole Emperor has not been drinking some of the diesel fuel out of one of his Winnebago motor homes.
Trust me on this one; this youngster has that kind of ability. Or as we say over here -- he's the real deal! I must confess that I, too, was one of you doubting Thomases. But after watching him play on videotape I'm now a new and most enthusiastic believer. Never, and I mean never, had I seen such a display of verve, creativity, polished skills and overall knowledge of the game coming out of such a young mind and body. It was electrifying!
But you say you're still not convinced? Well maybe this will ease some of your lingering doubts. Listen to what the current US national coach Bruce Arena has to say about young Mr. Adu: "Freddy's without a doubt the most talented kid we've ever seen at that age...he may be our first superstar. Maybe this is the guy." And, folks, anyone who’s been around Bruce knows he can be quite stingy in handing out compliments. By now, some of you already know why Da Ol’ Sport Emperor is taking the time to write about a fourteen year old American footballer, given my emphasis on African sports. I'll give you a hint. The answer lies in Freddy's last name of Adu. Still haven't quite figured out the connection? All right, I'll let you in on a little secret: on June 2, 1989, Freddy Adu was born in Ghana. That's right, his mother, Emelia Adu, gave birth to Freddy in the homeland of our late lamented colleague King Kotey! I’m sure the Gallant Ghanaian's chest is all puffed out now as he watches Freddy's progress from on high!
You see, Freddy's mother won an immigration lottery and soon thereafter the four members of the Adu family, mother, father, Freddy and a younger brother, all settled in the Washington, DC area. The story goes that Freddy’s extraordinary skills with a football were first noticed while he informally played the sport during school recess. Soon thereafter Freddy was playing for a local team where he also caught the attention of practiced eyes, not only in the US but in Italy while he participated in two youth tournaments there.
Officials of Series A powerhouse Inter Milan put their money where their mouth was by offering Adu three quarters of a million dollars to sign on the dotted line. But Freddy's parents spurned the offer, saying their son, barely a teenager, was far too young. The emphasis Freddy's family places on education led to several more rejections of increasingly lucrative offers made by the likes of English premier league teams, Manchester United and Chelsea, as well as Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid.
But Momma and Poppa Adu did finally relent, allowing their son to join the US Soccer Federation's residency program where Freddy traded skills with America's other top under-seventeen players. But his parents did so on one condition -- Freddy had to continue his high school education, albeit it at an accelerated pace. Not only did Adu train with the US under seventeen team, he easily made the team and more headlines during FIFA's World U-17 Championships in Finland. In their first match of the tournament, the Americans routed South Korea six-one. And guess who scored a hat trick? None other than the aforementioned Freddy Adu.
Against Sierra Leone, Adu scored the winning goal in a two-one victory. And so it went until the impressive US showing ended in the quarterfinals.
As if that wasn't prestigious enough, a short while later Freddy was added to the US under twenty team at FIFA's World Youth Championships in the United Arab Emirates. And not only did he play extensively until the US was eliminated, Adu again is said to have impressed all while playing as a left flank midfielder.
Then on January 17th, Adu's star rose even higher when the D.C. United club selected the teenager with the number one pick in the 2004 Major League Soccer Super Draft. Clearly, the MLS is banking heavily on the mystique and excitement surrounding Adu to boost the league's sagging financial fortunes. But that assistance has proved quite expensive as Adu is now a very high priced commodity indeed. In fact, the league's salary cap was shredded when Adu's advisers negotiated a deal worth half a million dollars a season. That's a king's ransom by MLS standards and the league's highest by far. But half a million is less than chicken feed when compared with the salaries dished out by top European clubs like Juventus, Inter Milan, Real Madrid and Manchester United to even second echelon talent!
While the MLS is quite adamant in not billing Adu as the league's savior, it's clear the MLS is determined to ride the so-called "Freddy Fever" as long as it can. And, in doing so, it's banking on the ten-team league getting unprecedented worldwide visibility to boot.
On hand to receive his DC United jersey, Adu was poised far beyond his fourteen years. He said all the right things -- I hope I can contribute, I've been a big DC United Fan, etc, etc. But he realizes full well that when he touches foot to pitch he'll need much more than calculated honied words to win the day. I can only imagine the stupendous burden Adu must feel in already being compared with Brazilian legend, Pele. Just ask the likes of Maradona, Batistuta, Cruyff and, more recently, Renaldo who all suffered and suffered mightily when also compared with Pele.
What do I mean by suffer? Well their lives became such an open book that even the smallest foible became magnified almost beyond recognition. I know you read the fish bowl stories yourselves so you know what Da Ol’ Emperor means. Then there were the cynical, calculated and dangerous so-called professional fouls. You know the ones I'm referring to. They're the ones designed to injure rather than win possession legitimately. They're also the ones aimed at unfairly leveling the playing field while simultaneously robbing the game of its brightest and best.
Oh, I don't doubt for a minute the sincerity of FIFA and its referees when they say they're doing their level best to eliminate as many of these cruel tactics as possible. But I'm afraid they'll remain an integral part of the modern game, in general, and the arsenal against Adu, in particular, as long as the stakes and financial rewards remain so high.
I know the MLS would like to lower the Adu hype to dampen expectations. But the media machine won't allow that to happen. It has another agenda and that revolves generating ever-increasing revenues for its outlets whether they be radio, television, Internet web site, magazine or newspaper.
So go ahead and mark your calendar. The media circus begins April 3rd, 2004, when the American television network, ABC, inaugurates the "Adu Era" by broadcasting United's season opener against the defending MLS champion San Jose Earthquakes.
Freddy says his first goal is to win the respect of teammates. What's more, he says, he's not going into the season expecting to dominate or to get right into the starting lineup. That all sounds good and modest and I certainly don't doubt Freddy's sincerity. But if you genuinely believe that view is shared by the MLS or most US soccer officials, then Da Ole Emperor has some ocean front property in the middle of the Arizona desert he'd like to sell you real cheap!