LONDON: The boy Freddy Adu is better known in the US than the Beckhams.
From what we see and hear, it is quite possible that Freddy is a greater football talent than David Beckham, and already he displays composure in the media glare. From this side of the Atlantic, there are a few questions, and concerns, about the elevation of a 14-year-old Ghanaian-born boy who is being packaged as the American Dream. These questions involve the mind, the body and the adolescent development of what may very well be a player who is the real deal in terms of precocious skill.
Freddy is out of Africa. His mother, Amelia, won an immigration visa via a US Green Card lottery to enter America when the boy wonder was eight. She is reported to have been formidable in slowing down the rapid escalation that football agents, in both the US and Europe, would have had her child running long before now.
She ''insisted'' on education first, it is said, although if Freddy has truly reached graduation after squeezing 2½ years of high school learning into the past 12 months, then every football mom and dad would be applying for that fast track.
But on the subject of education, we should perhaps be circumspect about rushing to judgment. If Freddy's mother had not won the lottery that led to a new citizenship, he might well have left school in Ghana and been put to work. We should also not be too hasty to say that a 14-year-old who already has a US$1million Nike contract and features in a Pepsi advertisement with Pele is getting too much too soon.
If Adu has bypassed adolescence to bank his fortune, who is to deny his, or his mother's, right to reap while they may?
But we read nothing of bone growth, no reports of pediatricians monitoring him through the adolescent growth spurt that comes to most youths between 14 and 18. If Adu is playing a man's game in Major League Soccer, if opponents are racing him and tackling him with no quarter asked or given, as their livelihoods depend on them doing, it may not be the Green Card that his mother needs to be watchful over but the green tips of pliable bones in her son's tender skeletal years.
Of course, Freddy appears mature already. His 5-foot-8 and 140-pound frame, or 1.72 meters, 64 kg, looks well, it looks rather like Pele's did when he became a World Cup winner at 17.
''Its great,'' Adu said in one of many spoon-fed interviews last weekend. ''Great to be compared with Pele. But I'm not Pele, obviously. I'm just gonna keep working hard and not let it bother me at all. If I did, I'm gonna get a big head about it who wouldn't?''
The child probably outearns Agoos, a mainstay of the US national team. The top salary in MLS is capped at US$300,000, but, in respect of his extra workload as a catalyst to American soccer's growth, Adu's pay is closer to $500,000.
He adds, in another carefully worded response, that his salary ''might be a big X on my back for a while to come.'' Freddy knows where he came from, and he believes that he knows where he is going, into a future he figures is set to take the United States ''up there with Argentina and all of them'' in 10 years.
By then, he might have exercised options to join Real Madrid or Arsenal, the two clubs he admires. It isn't Adu's fault that his mother won the visa lottery, or that he has settled where there is no tradition of developing prodigious soccer ability among contemporaries.
Whether he is worse off is a matter of debate. Generations of such talents from Ghana have been siphoned away prematurely by European clubs, only to vanish as they failed to make the grade in an alien environment. Americans have long pushed child stars into Hollywood, onto the skating rink or into gymnastic kindergartens.
Those with a vested interest say it is ''dumb'' to get upset when Freddy is having fun among the grown-ups.
Dumb is one word nobody who has dealt with the boy uses. But there is a silence to questions that may yet come about the growing pains of a child. IHT