Lionel Messi's MLS impact likened to that of Football Manager legend | inside World Soccer

Lionel Messi's MLS impact likened to that of Football Manager legend

Friday, February 16, 2024

Lionel Messi's MLS impact likened to that of Football Manager legend
Photo: @InterMiamiCF

Former USA U-20 coach Thomas Rongen has likened Lionel Messi's impact on the MLS to when ex-prodigy Freddy Adu burst onto the scene in 2004.

Messi has attracted widespread attention since arriving at Inter Miami after nearly two decades in European football.

Messimania has gripped the United States, with many top players across sports and celebrities from the entertainment world flocking to stadiums to catch a glimpse of the Argentine.

Likening his impact to that of Adu, who debuted in the MLS at the age of 14 two decades ago, Rongen told The Guardian:

In the first year in MLS, D.C. United, contractually, had to play him at least a few minutes every game, particularly on the road.

Freddy Adu was just like Messi or [David] Beckham - on the road there were 40,000 people chanting "Freddy, Freddy, Freddy."

[D.C. United coach] Peter Nowak told me, "I had to play him 10 minutes, at least, every game."

We tried to protect him as much as we could, but you just couldn't get away from it.

Anywhere we went in the world, particularly after he'd signed to MLS and had sponsorship deals, the spotlight was Freddy Adu, like it is with Messi now.

I remember we played the Haitian national under-20 team in Fort Lauderdale. There were 18,000 people. People were coming to watch us practice.

Adu was once considered a prodigy and was dubbed "the next Pelé" due to his early talent and potential.

He signed his first professional contract with D.C. United at the age of 14, becoming the youngest player ever to sign a professional contract in the United States.

The now 34-year-old also became the face of numerous off-field endorsements - including a million-dollar deal with Nike and a star role opposite Pelé himself in an ad for Sierra Mist.

However, Adu never quite lived up to the lofty expectations and his career arguably petered out before his mid-20s.

Adu played for 15 teams in nine countries throughout his career, including stints in Portugal, France, Greece, Turkey, Brazil, Serbia, Finland, and Sweden.

There were so many things surrounding him that didn't help him focus on the task at hand.

It was not his fault. It was more due to MLS. He became this creation. The "next Pelé". The "saviour of MLS".

It became a burden for him. All of a sudden, you see the downward spiral.

In MLS at DC United, it proved a tough transition for him, to go from happy-go-lucky to, "OK, every day I've got to fight for my position." I knew emotionally and physically he was not ready for that.

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