The world's greatest soccer player of all time told Goal that the U.S. international hasn't lived up to his expectations.
The then-14-year old possessed technical skills beyond his teenage years and had charisma as vast as his potential. Even Pele, the world's greatest soccer star, believed that the young Ghanaian-American had the chance to follow in his footsteps as one of soccer's greats.
Nine years later, Adu has yet to live up to the enormous amount of hype placed on him. The attacking midfielder is a journeyman at only 24 years old, playing for nine clubs on three different continents, and hasn't featured for the U.S. national team since the 2011 Gold Cup final against Mexico.
Reflecting on Adu's career to date, Pele agrees with the growing opinion that Adu has been a disappointment thus far.
"Unfortunately, his career hasn't turned the way we expected," Pele told Goal. "This happens to a lot of players."
Pele admits that he hasn't stayed in touch with Adu since the two paired for various marketing campaigns, including the famous commercial of the two playing against each other for a Sierra Mist spot in 2004. Some critics suggested that Pele's compliments of Adu in the beginning of the teen's career were motivated by his endorsement deals, but the Brazilian legend insists that Adu's potential was bright early on.
"We spoke a lot about him when he started. Years ago I even tried to bring him to Santos," Pele revealed.
Adu finally made it to Brazil almost a decade later with Bahia but still has yet to make a meaningful impact at the club. He has only played in one match in two months for the Brazilian side, playing seven minutes in a 3-1 loss to Criciúma. Bahia's unstable ownership hasn't helped. The club is on its third manager since the U.S. international's arrival.
Pele believes Adu can turn his career around in Brazil but needs a little bit of good fortune on his side.
"Oh yeah, of course [he can]," Pele said. "It can be difficult to come back, but still he has a chance. It's a bit about luck."
Though Adu hasn't lived up to Pele's expectations, the former Santos star striker admits that he is impressed with the growth of U.S. Soccer as a whole. He considers Clint Dempsey to be the national team's best player.
"Clint, I think has the most ability," Pele said. "You have a lot of good young players. But most important in the United States is the development of the national team. This is very important."
He added: "All of the world today knows football in the United States. Go on and grow with big stars and you have a lot of good players that play in Europe. Besides that I think it's the most growing sport, in six years, eight years, 20, I think it will be more blown up. I think the base in the United States is strong and I am very happy that it is growing."
Pele remembers when he made the decision to join the New York Cosmos from Santos and how different soccer was in the country during the 1970s.
"There's been a big growth and changes," Pele explained. "I remember when I was brought in to talk about playing soccer in the United States. We talked about soccer at the time and [if I joined] we'd see what would happen.
"At that time, it wasn't that big. It was college football and pro football. But we came, we start to play in the league and it became one of the great pastimes in the United States."
Follow Alex Labidou on Twitter.
Check out the latest on Pele here.