Freddy Adu wants to shed 'wonderkid' reputation, return to Europe

Freddy Adu says he thought as a 14-year-old that the decision to turn pro was right, but he now realizes it happened too early. (AP file photo)

WASHINGTON - After a tumultuous year and a half in Philadelphia, Freddy Adu is casting his eyes back across the Atlantic Ocean.

The 23-year-old midfielder has told the BBC World Service's "World Football" radio show that he wants to play one more season in Major League Soccer, then return to Europe to try to re-establish his name on the global stage.

"I don't want people to remember me just as being a 14-year-old wonderkid," Adu told BBC reporter Matthew Nelson, referring to the age at which he became a professional soccer player in 2004.

In an interview full of revealing insights, Adu admitted that while he thought at the time the decision to turn pro was right, he now realizes it happened too early.

"I was still very small and skinny," he said. "But as far as football goes, I felt ready, and mentally, I felt ready."

Adu added that the $1 million contract Nike offered him as a teenager – which made him at the time the highest-paid player in Major League Soccer – did not just suit his goals for himself.

"That decision really was made more for my family than myself, because my family was pretty poor," Adu said. "Obviously, if Nike comes to you and says they want to give you a $1 million contract, and the league wants to make you the highest-paid player at 14, you can't say no."

But that chalice had its share of poison. Adu's innocence led him to over-commit himself to promotional and other engagements away from the soccer field because he "didn't know any better." He admitted the experience was "overwhelming."

"People saw me more as a marketing tool rather than as a football player," Adu said. "There were a lot of things I didn't handle the right way due to the fact that I was so young and so naïve at that point."

After three years with D.C. United and half a season with Real Salt Lake, Adu left MLS for Portugese power Benfica. But he didn't make it with the first team, and ended up being loaned out to four different European teams in four different countries over the next four seasons.

Finally, in the middle of last year, Adu realized it was time to come back to the United States. He signed on with the Philadelphia Union, and has been with the team ever since.

But his time at PPL Park hasn't been so easy either. Once again, he found himself burdened with high expectations from an American fan base. It didn't help Adu that his salary, in excess of $500,000, made him the first Designated Player in Union history. Nor did rumors of him being a disruptive presence in the team's locker room.

Adu called the Union "a place where I'm wanted [and] feel good about being." Still, his mind seems to be wandering abroad once again.

"By 23, right now, I would have loved to be playing in a top league in Europe, but it didn't work out that way," Adu said. "Now I'm looking at 25. It's pushed back a couple of years, but not much… Hopefully I'll do better next year, and then go from there."

You can listen to the full interview here, starting at around the 19:40 mark. There's also an accompanying written story by BBC Sport's Ben Dirs here