Once dubbed 'the new Pele', the 24-year-old has turned out for nine clubs in 10 years, with the latest chapter in a nomadic career seeing him on trial at the Championship club
By Alec Fenn
Will Smith’s portrayal of the American Dream in the 2006 film ‘The Pursuit of Happyness’ tells the true story behind Chris Gardner’s rise from penniless San Francisco salesman to Wall Street legend.
At the same time news stands across America were dominated by another rags to riches celebration of upward social mobility following the emergence of teenage footballer Freddy Adu.
Aged just 14, he became the youngest US athlete to sign a major league contract since 1887 when he joined DC United as the number one pick in the 2004 MLS SuperDraft.
All the more remarkable was that Adu had only laid foot on US soil after his mother won a Green Card Lottery in the family’s homeland of Tema, Ghana - in which 55,000 ‘winners’ are offered US residency every year from a pool of applicants in the region of eight million people - when the child prodigy was only eight.
In Hollywood, more often than not films have a happy ending, but while the waves of the Atlantic Ocean ought to have been gently lapping over Adu’s feet on Copacabana Beach at this summer‘s World Cup in Brazil, he instead finds his career marooned on the shores of England’s Fylde Coast.
There’s a sense of irony that America’s once great hope has washed up on Blackpool’s coastline, after all the town is affectionately known as ‘the Las Vegas of the north’. But the burning question remains how a player once dubbed ‘the new Pele’ has spent the last three weeks attempting to re-establish himself with a club struggling in the second tier of English football.
Initial contact between Blackpool and Adu’s representatives was made last summer, when former Seasiders manager Paul Ince surprisingly named the forward as one of his top transfer targets, despite the player enduring a torrid time with Brasileiro Serie A outfit Bahia - his ninth team in 10 years.
|'HE'S 24 AND EARNED MILLIONS'
|THE VIEW FROM AMERICA
"The perception of Adu in America is that of the failed child prodigy. He was hyped up from the age of 14 as the next Pele, the great American hope, and obviously those expectations were never close to being met (and were really always unrealistic).
A deal failed to materialise and nothing more was thought of a possible move until the player offered to train with the club on a non-contract basis in February, having spent the previous two months as a free agent. An agreement was reached and a reservation made for a Mr Adu at the Championship side’s four-star hotel built into their Bloomfield Road stadium.
The initial intention was that Adu would spend several weeks working on his fitness rather than training alone back in America, but there was an underlying hope – from Blackpool at least - that the forward would impress enough for a deal to be struck, with both player and club in need of salvation.
However, while his infectious personality and million-dollar smile have helped to lift spirits around Blackpool’s Squires Gate training ground, his efforts to impress on the pitch have been hampered by a chronic lack of fitness and misfortune.
First impressions can be lasting ones and insiders revealed how the 24-year-old spent much of his first training session quite literally struggling to find his feet. The firm ground soles on his boots – more accustomed to hardened Brazilian pitches than sodden English turf - saw him slip countless times before he was forced to borrow a more suitable pair from the club.
Still, an air of optimism remained and it was hoped that Adu would somehow conjure the spark that saw Serie A side Inter make a six-figure bid for the player when he was just 14 and Nike reward him with a $1 million (€731,000) sponsorship deal at the same age.
Sadly his magic has deserted him in three underwhelming friendly appearances against modest opposition. His first outing came in a 45-minute cameo in a game against the club’s youth team, before he was substituted at half-time in a 3-3 draw with League One Rochdale’s second-string side.
Those displays alone convinced Blackpool not to take their interest in a permanent switch any further, while a final fitness-affected outing against Crewe last week prompted caretaker boss Barry Ferguson to reveal Adu would not be offered a contract.
He told the club's official website: "There is nothing happening with Freddy. He’s come in and worked hard with us. He is a great lad but I’m more than happy with what I’ve got. I have a strong squad.”
Any move would likely have proved futile in any case. His failure to play in 75% of the USA’s competitive matches over the last two years – his last outing came in the 2011 Gold Cup final – mean the club would have needed to apply for an "exceptional talent" visa to play in England, with high-profile figures needed to provide endorsements of his talents.
All of which leaves the events of the last three weeks feeling a little pointless. But in an interview with the club’s website published last week, in which Adu admitted to dreaming of gatecrashing Jurgen Klinsmann’s USA squad and fulfilling his dream of playing at the World Cup, the picture becomes clearer.
Prior to his disastrous move to Bahia last year, the former DC United star turned down lucrative offers from clubs in Australia and South Korea to continue his career in Brazil, where he thought he had a better chance of catching the eye of Klinsmann rather than becoming a forgotten man.
A return to the MLS would be a simple route back into competitive football but his last stint in his homeland – an unsuccessful two-year spell with Philadelphia Union between 2011 and 2013 – left a bitter taste. And, perhaps more significantly, a move home would require Adu to accept a large pay cut from the salary he has become accustomed to earning – a reported $500,000 (€365,800) a year during his time in Pennsylvania.
The hope now is that the publicity sparked from his recent stint in Blackpool will alert clubs across Europe – which was quite possibly the purpose of the entire exercise in the eyes of the same advisors who packaged together the Adu brand 10 years ago.