Greg Lalas
Monday March 2nd, 2009

Last week, when the resignation of AS Monaco president Jérôme de Bontin was announced, soccer fans in the U.S. pricked up their ears. Normally, the departure of a club president merits about as much attention here as a reserve match in the Bulgarian second division. But this was different. This front office shake-up has repercussions.

For one, de Bontin was not just any club president. A friend of Prince Albert's from their time playing soccer for Amherst College, he was the only American -- French-American, actually -- in charge of a club in Europe and he spoke openly of "Americanizing" les Rouge et Blanc, particularly the business side of things.

More important to a fan, though, is the fact that de Bontin was Freddy Adu's latest champion. Last summer, just a few months after taking charge, he orchestrated Adu's loan from Benfica with the hope of providing the young starlet a more nurturing environment while simultaneously cashing in on the most famous American player's marketing appeal back home.

"I told [the manager] early on that it was important to my strategy in the years to come to have players from Asia and North America," de Bontin said to me last fall. "In fact, we made a short list out of which we would've taken two additional U.S. players had we not had those restrictions on non-European players."

Aside from Adu, de Bontin had also looked last summer at acquiring Chivas USA's Sacha Kljestan, Glasgow Rangers' Maurice Edu (then with Toronto FC) and Borussia Mönchengladbach's Michael Bradley (then with Heerenveen). "We came close with at least one of the three," he claimed.

From the first moment, Adu's Monaco sojourn has been barely more successful than his year with Benfica. After making two substitute appearances in Portugal, he has appeared for the Monegasques just nine times, with no starts, no goals, no assists. And despite receiving kudos from his teammates for his work and mentality as well as praise from Juventus coach Claudio Ranieri after a winter-break friendly, he remains glued to manager Ricardo's bench.

How can this be? How can a player with such obvious potential -- anyone who watched the Under-20 World Cup in 2007 could see it -- not fulfill even a little bit of it? Can it be chalked up to the over-tactical defensiveness of Ligue 1? Disfavor with the manager? Playing out of position, as some have suggested? Or is it simply still too early to make any pronouncements?

When first thinking about this column, I assumed I would end up suggesting that Adu return to MLS. The move home makes sense. He's not developing his game on the bench at Monaco, his happy-go-lucky marketer's-dream shtick doesn't work in Europe, and if he has any desire to be part of the U.S. national team -- either the full team or the U-20s, who are taking part in the CONCACAF championship this week, qualifying for this fall's World Cup -- he needs to be playing regularly.

But after watching Landon Donovan's latest German misadventure these past few weeks -- OK, all you haters out there, I admit I overestimated his ability to succeed with Bayern -- and thinking about LD's path as a teenager, I'm now convinced that Adu needs to stick it out. Have a backbone, as my English teacher Dr. Welch used to berate me while we read The Odyssey. Adu needs to prove once and for all that a young American player will not slink back to the comfortable arms of MLS when push comes to shove and will instead force his way into the reckoning in Europe.

To answer the earlier questions, the defensive tactics of Ligue 1 can be a burden for an improvisational playmaker like Adu, the way classical music can constrict a jazz cat. But then again, France has a long history of producing such ingenious attackers as Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry and Franck Ribéry. And current stars like Karim Benzema and Yoann Gourcuff don't seem constrained at all.

Is he out of favor with the coach? Perhaps. Except that Ricardo continues regularly to include Adu in the match day roster, an obvious encouragement to the youngster.

However, Ricardo insists on putting Adu on the flank rather than his preferred No. 10 role in the middle. Obviously, the Brazilian tactician doesn't think Adu -- who is not the best defender in the world -- isn't ready to be the heart of the side. So rather than lamenting this reality, Adu needs to adapt to the flank. Arguably, that is where the action is these days. Just look at the two best players in the world: Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

Most important, we should all bear in mind that he is only 19. He has many years ahead of him to fulfill his potential. From the moment he arrived on the scene with D.C. United in '04, Adu has carried accelerated expectations of greatness. Many, myself included, predicted he would be the "American Messi" -- forgetting that even in the long, glorious history of Argentine soccer, there have been only three or four players with Messi's talent.

So, Freddy, don't come home. Stay where you are, take your chances when Ricardo hands them out, and make it so he can't leave you on the bench anymore. Prove that you are more than a mechanism for selling jerseys to 14-year-olds in Peoria. If you do that, not only will you have the career you've long dreamed of, but you'll do more for the reputation of American players than you ever could've done by shooting straight to easy stardom.

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