Freddy Adu, the 14-year-old prodigy of US soccer, has spurned a host of glamorous European clubs and signed a deal that, in theory at least, ties him to Major League Soccer here for the next six years.
The contract, unveiled in New York yesterday, may well make the Ghanaian-born Adu the youngest professional in any team sport here in almost 120 years. Adu, who turns 15 in June, is expected to join the struggling DC United club on a full-time basis as soon as he has completed an accelerated school programme in May.
His decision is being hailed by MLS as a massive coup, given the intense interest in Adu from several of Europe's richest clubs, among them Internazionale, Chelsea and, most recently, Manchester United. According to one report, United were close to clinching an agreement with Adu, before the senior management upheaval that saw their chief executive, Peter Kenyon, switch to Chelsea.
But, in the end, the familiar territory of Washington, close to the Adu family's home in Maryland, appears to have been the decisive factor - along with the size of the deal MLS was able to offer him.
Under the US system, all league players are centrally contracted to MLS itself, not to one of its 10 clubs. Though terms were not immediately disclosed, Adu's contract is believed to be worth up to $500,000 (£296,000) a year.
This is far above the formal MLS maximum of $285,000 a year, and would almost certainly make him the best-paid soccer player in the US, even before he has kicked a ball as a professional. In addition, Adu has a $1m deal with the sports goods manufacturer, Nike.
Though a top European club could have easily matched that figure for a player considered one of the top young prospects in the world, Adu might have been too young to play in many countries. His registration could also have fallen foul of rules preventing the signing of non-European players who are not regular internationals.
"His decision to play in his country, for his League, will motivate other youngsters to look to MLS," said the League's Commissioner, Don Garber.
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