By Sam Arnold, LPC student at College of Law
Today’s modern footballer needs more than just talent to succeed – they need a whole host of factors to align in their favour. Yes, talent is crucial, but so are hard work, dedication, and sacrifice. Further, and of growing importance, an athlete needs to be nurtured and guided.
The football season is not even half way through, but there has already been a number of standout performers; the inevitable goal scoring feats of Robin Van Persie have continued, and Juan Mata consistently impresses as Chelsea’s attacking lynchpin. Also, and perhaps most surprisingly for those without a subscription to Liverpool FC TV, is Raheem Sterling, who at the tender age of seventeen has established himself as a regular in Brendan Rogers’ starting eleven and earned himself a Senior England cap.
However, early success does not guarantee longevity. Perhaps the most telling example of this is Freddy Adu.
Given the Football Manager “wonderkid” tag, Adu left his native Ghana aged eight, moving to the United States. In 2003 he was handed an endorsement deal by sports giants Nike, aged only thirteen, and began playing for Major League Soccer’s (MLS) DC United at the age of fourteen, where he subsequently became the league’s highest paid player. Two years later, aged sixteen, he made his full international debut for the United States, and it was shortly after this that he was invited to attend a two week trial with Manchester United.
After failing to make an impression Adu returned to the US, where he was traded to Real Salt Lake. However, after impressing at the Under 20 World Cup, Adu was offered a second chance of European football stardom when he joined Portuguese side Benfica.
Due to a number of reasons, including the obvious pressure of being labelled the “New Pele”, Adu fell out of favour with the Benfica hierarchy and was shipped out on loan to clubs in Portugal, France, Greece and Turkey, before being transferred back to the United States, and the Philadelphia Union.
Now aged only twenty-three, Adu, a footballing nomad, is no longer a guaranteed starter, failed to make the US World Cup squad in 2010, and the dreams of shining for the top European clubs look unlikely to ever be fulfilled.
So, what lessons can be learnt from the unfortunate Adu, and how can a sports lawyer help?
Undoubtedly, Adu was rushed. Signed to Nike and DC United when the MLS was still in its infant stage, aged only fourteen he was expected to be the poster boy for the developing league. A lot of people had invested a lot of money in Adu, and they obviously wanted some return. Full time education on its own is a worry for most teenagers, but when it is teamed with numerous public appearances, sponsorship obligations, and the timetable of a professional athlete, it comes as no surprise that Adu was not able to live up to the hype.
Adu had the talent; Adu still has the talent, and at only twenty-three, he may yet make it in the big leagues. In the meantime, however, the “Next Freddy Adu” should make it a priority to seek out an agent/sports lawyer/representative that has their best interests at heart; one who can provide reassurance that the rewards will come if the right path is followed; one who can protect them from over exposure and undue pressure; and, one who can guide them through areas such as contracts, sponsorship and endorsement arrangements and all other professional matters that they may not understand so that they can concentrate on what matters most to them – being a footballer.
When a young Evertonian burst on to the scene aged only sixteen, scoring a quite remarkable goal on his debut, his manager, David Moyes, said that he would not be rushed – he would be nurtured.
That youngster? Wayne Rooney.
By Sam Alexander Arnold
Follow on Twitter @SamAArnold
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Sam Arnold, law student studying the LPC at the College of Law
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