by Tola Adenle
The first essay for a new category since promised, Newspaper Columns from the almost 9 years of weekly essays in The Comet – now rested and the metamorphosed The Nation, is presented, beginning today. They will not be posted in the order in which they were presented to the public nor will, say, all sports stories follow each other, then politics, etcetera. I think that could be very boring. What I plan to do is post two or three that will be chosen either for being topical or just to mix things up every week.
I’ve surveyed the field – literary, that is – and discovered that two subjects I tend to feel most passionate about are sports and politics. Since these are subjects that generally appeal more to our emotions than reasoning, readers would have to pardon me WHEN I’m not on their side! This week, therefore, I’m opening with the two passions: a sports story from the 2010 Soccer World Cup while a political story from 2004 will go up Friday afternoon; something fairly topical has already been written and will go up Thursday morning.
The tragedy of Wanjiru’s death (posted yesterday) but not related more than two sports stories, selected the story I’m using. While Fred Adu is a very young and vibrant man still with great promise in soccer, I want to use the story as a tribute to the fallen Olympic track star. In my opinion, it’s Fred’s talent and promise that are wasting away in Europe’s backwater leagues but it is a tragedy, too. And in all things, we must learn to seize the time.
Freddy Adu’s Greek tragedy are far from getting better. What happened to the once promising career who, though, yet to turn twenty-one and is therefore not anywhere near old but now seems caught in aftermath of a European youth team route not taken during his early teens?
When Adu bust on world football consciousness over six years ago, I wrote in my rested COMET Sunday essays that the boy did not belong in what I described as football “playpen” which American Major League Soccer (MLS) represented, suggesting pursuit of a European youth team. I could relate to his mom’s fears of letting his baby move from home. After all, the father had left his young family soon after their arrival in the States on the Diversity Lottery Program. Alone, and perhaps overwhelmed by vultures that most agents/recruiters are, she chose the MLS million-dollar salary AND a million dollar Nike ad plus another beverage ad with Pele.
After the U.S. team to South Africa was announced, I was shocked that Adu’s name was missing because I had stopped following his career. Adu spent a lot of time on the bench when I used to check in and despite his huge capability, he would never make it to Europe with little playing time from one of the world’s weakest leagues. I must mention I’m a hope-ful for “American soccer” to succeed. Our family once took in a soccer match between the University of Nevada-Las Vegas (UNLV) and a West Coast college team that included Coby Jones who would later play for an MLS team and the USA; Bodija playing ground & Cultural Center parking lot, Ibadan, have produced better practices by barefoot boys Saturdays for decades. I also assisted my better half, a volunteer, to coach a youth team in Vegas in the 90s.
Adu could have gone on to become American football best ambassador because by the time he arrived on the scene, football was already enjoying a resurgence as had happened when Pele played for the New York Cosmos after his retirement from “proper” football; do consider the then variant as akin to basketball’s Harlem Globetrotters! “Soccer moms” were already on the match with multiple soccer balls for individual child common sights in cities with huge international populations like Washington, D.C. That was seeding time for the great female teams of the 90s that won, for example, FIFA’s first World Cup with Brandi Chastain in ‘91. U.S. Football has come a long way though the inability to make, for example, accurate passes that stop at exactly intended stops – ball control in football lingo – still plagues the American game as was apparent in South Africa where Adu should have strutted his stuff. Instead, he has no say in, nor does he know where he’s headed next, a real dilemma for the gifted but ill-served young man who can and should still rise to the top.
Drafted by D.C. United in 2004 before he turned fifteen, he was later traded to Salt Lake City and then Benfica, then bottom of league Belenenses (Greece); A.S. Monaco (France), Aris (Greece), a team that is reported to be looking to offload him back to Benfica, a return that will surely land him on the bench – crossing international borders like West African women traders! Is the kid no good or is it the “attitude” that many haul at him in spite of the fact that the world he was thrust into before he could rent a movie is peopled by mostly delinquent adults with very bad attitudes? Before offering my unsolicited advice – again – I must mention that Adu captained the U.S. Under-20 World Cup in 2007 in which the Yankees showed Brazilian samba not the only route to victory in the final.
What has to give; what’s the kid not doing right? Adu is reportedly hard-nosed and is willing to give it his best shot. I think the first of the two basic things that went wrong is already “corrected” because the adulation which must have bred a sense of entitlement is gone and so must the stress of high expectations. Imagine, a 14-year old, six years removed from Ghana, living in tony Potomac, Maryland with a mom who doted on him and a younger brother to whom he must have become The Man of the House. The footballer who would rescue American soccer was a kid, for chrissakes who, at sixteen, went glitzy by da ting a Chart Top-40 singer! Sense of entitlements, including playing time for which coaches are known to make players crawl? I also have a strong feeling that the early recognition and adulation led to envy even on the part of older adults who should have helped him. A $200,000 p.a. coach, and players who earned even less must have hated this African kid living the American dream.
At the heart of Adu’s problem is regular playing time and he needs it fast. I remember former USA Coach Arena did not give him much look-over, either. Anybody who watches football can see how some horrible players over time develop, if not artistry but enough technical mastery to become indispensable, e.g. the Peter Crouches of the English League. It explains why American pro-basketball players would opt to get traded to less glamorous teams where they’ll play a lot rather than warm benches. For Adu, it’s become a vicious cycle: bounced around leagues for “not playing well” but cannot develop unless he gets adequate playing time at club level. I’m sure this year is a crossroads for him because not only did he not make USA’s Coach Bradley team, but he’s getting bumped off again by lowly Aris. “Practice makes perfection.”
“Things really went downhill when Benfica loaned Adu to Monaco … 2008–09. Jerome de Bontin, a French-American member of the U.S. Soccer Federation had taken over as president at Monaco and wanted to add Americans to the team. ‘Maybe the highlight of his stay was the first day of practice, Freddy scored three beautiful goals … But Monaco’s coach, a Brazilian named Ricardo, started Adu only once that season.” Bontin: From the web.
Here’s my opinion. What? Well, anyone who knows the rules of any sport can coach it; ask Richard Williams who must have earned tennis establishment’s permanent red mark transferred to Venus and Serena for telling the world he and Oracene went for two more babies after discovering the scads of money players earn! Having never played the game, he bought books, studied the rules and the rest is history. The girls’ supreme self belief/confidence derives from never having been subjected to subtle and not-so-subtle racist put-downs they would have swallowed at sub-teen tennis academies. Richard should be credited for the Russian tennis revolution as many parents have followed his DIY.
Okay, here I go: Freddie, get out of Europe and go back to the playpen BUT to a team that can guarantee playing time a-plenty. The MLS may be a playpen, but playing a lot means skill improvement. Russian/E. European leagues with playing time would also guarantee being noticed during Champions’ League and UEFA Cup competitions. My other suggestion would draw guffaws from Africa (surely not Ghana) to America to Europe: get traded to the best Ghanaian team for one year and then choose Ghana over USA for international matches through your second citizenship. Others have done it. My suggestion has nothing to do with Ghana’s recent performance. Asanti Kotoko – like the Black Stars of old always struck terror in Nigerian footballers. Your confidence will come back if you do not go to Ghana with any airs. It will give you a lot of what the years you missed getting football “lessons” from informal playgrounds that become second nature – took away. [The Nation, July 11, 2010; 1st of a 3-part series.]