CHESTER, PA. (AP) - Freddy Adu can say it now. He was spoiled.
A pro at just 14, the youngest ever to play for the U.S. two years later, Adu was christened the next Pele _ and the petulant teen phenom believed the hype. When he was benched, Adu lashed out at the disciplinarian coach. When he turned 16, Adu drove a 2006 BMW 330i and proclaimed, “everything is me in this car.”
He was billed as the next one-word superstar like Tiger, LeBron, Shaq.
He would win World Cups for the United States and maybe play for Arsenal or Chelsea by his early 20s.
Yet six years after his debut in Major League Soccer, Adu was miles removed from England’s Premier League or even a packed house in Washington roaring in delight, tingling in anticipation of each move by soccer’s boy wonder.
He sat scared in Greece on his team’s bus as it was attacked by overzealous fans.
His own team’s fans.
Hooligans pelted the bus with rocks and shattered windows all because Adu’s Aris FC lost a game in Thessaloniki to its city rival. Waiting for police to clear a lane back to the hotel, Adu’s lone thought was, get me out of here.
“It was one of the craziest things to happen to me,” Adu said. “I’m like, man, this is not what I envisioned when I wanted to be a pro athlete.”
Few parts of his career have developed the way Adu expected.
Once billed as American soccer’s savior, Adu found himself stuck in Greece last year with his career in shambles. He had bounced around European teams on a series of unsuccessful loans that left him forgotten by the public in the United States and an afterthought for a meaty role on the U.S. national team. Former national team coach Bob Bradley had no use for him on the U.S. roster for last year’s World Cup in South Africa.
On top of the world as a teen, Adu stopped having fun playing the game he loved.
“When I didn’t get called up to the World Cup team, that really hit me,” Adu said. “That’s always been a goal of mine. When I didn’t get a chance to go, I really sat back. For me, the rest of the year, was the worst time of my career. The worst. When I went back to Aris, the team said my salary was too high and basically tried to bully me into taking a paycut by not allowing me to train with team. Everything was bad.”
He wasn’t the next Pele. Adu wasn’t even the next Preki. Or Landon Donovan. He was a high-priced globetrotting journeyman, playing ball in Portugal or Greece or Turkey, trying to find a perfect fit before he ran out of time to rediscover the talent that made him such a prodigy and a pro at 14.