The Saga of Adu and Lamptey

At inception of their careers, which were decades apart, they both were hailed as the best next thing in football, new kids on the block who would take the world by storm in no distant time. So good were they that each of them, Nii Odartey Lamptey and Freddy Adu, were compared to Edson Arantes do Nascimento, better known the world over as Pele, the legendary Brazilian footballer who won three World Cups as a member of his country’s national team and is considered by many around the world as the greatest footballer of all time.

Akaeze Poses With Brazilian Fans

Akaeze Poses With Brazilian Fans

Beyond being individually compared to Pele, a comparison which Pele himself considered not misplaced, Lamptey and Adu had something else in common. They were both Ghanaians and were born in Tema area of the West African country and attracted the attention of soccer pundits in their teenage years. While Lamptey, as a member of Ghana’s Black Starlets earned adulations at the 1991 FIFA U-17 World Cup where he emerged the most valuable player, Adu, who emigrated to the United States as an eight-year-old with his family, was, as a teenager, hailed as the future king of American football.

To many analysts then, the predictions were not out of place, given the prodigious talent of the two youngsters. But it did not take long, sadly, for many to realise how quick they had been in making such predictions. It was, in fact, something of an antithesis. Indeed, the career of one of them, Lamptey, was practically winding on a disappointing note by the time that of Adu was about commencing.

With much attention on him after the U-17 World Cup in 1991, Lamptey, to the shock of many who saw him in action in that competition, year after year, failed to stamp his feet in world soccer as many analysts had predicted he would. He became, instead, a “journey man,” moving from one club to another without making much impact in them. By the time he called time on his career in 2008, Lamptey had featured for 13 clubs, beginning with Anderlecht of Belgium and ending with Jomo Cosmos of South Africa.

It could have made sense if the movements were big money transfers, the result of outstanding performance.  They were not. For a man who admitted to being naïve in those early days, Lamptey was at the mercy of an Italian agent who was more interested in making money off him than guaranteeing his future prospect and so changed clubs for him at will. Playing for 13 teams around the world, in different continents, explains why Lamptey was said to have “burnt out” midway into his career. The once golden boy of Ghanaian football hardly came close to fulfilling his great potential. He now lives and works as a soccer administrator in Ghana.

While many still wonder just what exactly went wrong with him, the other ‘Pele,’ Adu, now 26, has not fared better. If anything, the African-American only seems to have towed the line of Lamptey with regards to club turnover.  Adu, who became the youngest player to sign for an MLS team at age 14, has, even with more years to spare in his career, already starred for 13 teams so far, the latest of which is Tampa Bay Rowdies, an American football club, which he signed for this July.

It says something about just how far the attacking midfielder has come since 2004 when he first signed for DC United as a teenager. Even for a lowly rated league as the North American Soccer League which Tampa Bay Rowdies features in, Adu’s movement to the club is something of a face saving one, considering where he was coming from. As a member of Kuopion Palloseura, KuPS, a club that plies its trade in Finland, one of the poorest leagues in the world, Adu was loaned to KuFu-98, another Finnish team.

In an article earlier this year titled ‘Freddy Adu Scored the Saddest Free Kick You’ll Ever See,” Kevin Draper gave what was an up close on the former American prodigy while at KuPS, the latest in a litany of write-ups on the downward fortunes of the once promising footballer. Said Draper: “the Finnish first division — the Veikkausliiga — isn’t particularly strong. The average monthly wage is just $2,000—even the first division players are barely full-time professionals — and according to UEFA’s methodology it is the 35th best league in Europe. It is ranked behind Azerbaijan, Moldova, Georgia, and Kazakhstan, among 30 other better.” That’s the league in which Adu found himself, a far cry from the mid-2000s when, from DC United, he moved to Real Salt Lake, Benfica and AS Monaco.

Yet, according to Draper’s article, Adu was not a regular in KuPS. The free kick which the left footed player scored in one of the matches he featured for KuPS, was a class act and could have attracted rave reviews were he playing for some team in a better rated league but Draper reported that only 15 fans watched that match. No wonder the writer considers the joyful moment of scoring a great free kick a sad moment.

Adu and Lamptey, are by no means, the only gifted players who failed to fulfil the great promise they showed early in life. There are numerous others, promising talents, from all over the world, who failed to live up to expectation when it mattered most. Before Lionel Messi burst onto the stage, a number of Argentine players such as Ariel Ortega and Javier Saviola had been compared to Diego Maradona and each, except Messi, found the midfielder’s shoes too big to fill and the expectation arising from being compared to him a huge burden.

To some observers, the failure of many sportsmen, and not just footballers, to rise to stardom, fulfil or meet the high expectations of fans, could, more often than not, be due to societal pressure.  The pressure such footballers face is no different from that placed on a child, at times, by his parents or family members who expect him to meet or surpass certain standard. It is all well and good when this happens, but when, like Adu and Lamptey, they fail to even come close, it leaves many wondering just exactly what went wrong.

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