Chelsea lead pursuit of 16-year-old prodigy Adu

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The Independent Online

Chelsea believe they remain in pole position to sign American prodigy Freddy Adu. However, a deal is far from being concluded for the 16-year-old who has been the target for clubs across Europe but who has yet to live up to his billing as the world's most sought-after teenager.

The Premiership champions are relaxed about the prospect of a transfer but know that there are complications with regards to Adu's contract, with Major League Soccer holding his registration. It is also far from likely that he would be granted a work permit.

Indeed Adu's chances of becoming the youngest player to feature in a World Cup - beating the record set by Norman Whiteside in 1982 - are believed to have receded after he did not impress in earning his first cap last month.

Ghanaian-born Adu, who plays for DC United, where he made his debut at the age of 14, is struggling to hold down a regular starting place at the club where he has a difficult relationship with the coach, Peter Nowak. He would probably be loaned out to another European club if he joined Chelsea. They have plans for major commercial activity in the United States - where they want to increase their commercial ties - and are fully aware of the benefits they would gain from buying Adu.

Chelsea's management team first met the striker during their pre-season tour in 2004 and invited him and his mother to their game against Milan in New York. Last year he played against Chelsea and has made clear that he would like to join the club - a fee of around £5m would be expected - but has also attracted interest from Spain, Italy and the Netherlands. Manchester United are among his admirers.

Adu is represented by the US sports agency, Sports Net. One of his agents, Dan Segal, said yesterday that the player had attracted a lot of interest. "At this stage nothing has been truly decided," he said.

Chelsea, meanwhile, have insisted that there are no plans at present to re-lay their home pitch before the end of the season. The surface is in a poor condition and Chelsea have traditionally changed it at this time of year, but are hoping that a different tactic might give the pitch a chance to deteriorate less next season. Barcelona, who play Chelsea in the next round of the Champions' League, are to rip up their pitch for the second time in six months before Chelsea's visit on 7 March.

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