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Rich, famous and only 14

New York: Freddy Adu, the 14-year old football phenomenon, was formally introduced as Major League Soccer’s newest signee on Wednesday.

Excluding individual sports, Adu will become the youngest professional American athlete in more than 100 years when he takes the field next April. “This is one of the most monumental days in the history of soccer in the US,” MLS commissioner Don Garber said at a news conference in New York.

“With enormous pride and excitement, we announce that we have reached a long-term deal with young Mr Freddy Adu, one of the most accomplished young soccer players in the world.”

Adu will be assigned to D.C. United, which completed a trade with the Dallas Burn to gain the first pick in the SuperDraft.

Terms of Adu’s contract were not disclosed.

Adu reportedly becomes the highest-paid player in the league, with a yearly salary of approximately $250,000. All players are signed to the league, not individual teams, as MLS is organised as a single-entity operation.

“Freddy is a very special player,” MLS deputy commissioner Ivan Gazidas said. “He is the best young player in the world - not just in the USA, but in the world. The sky is the limit for this young man.

“A big part of this has been D.C. United. They have taken other young men in, developing them as people and players, people we would be proud to call our sons, and that was a significant factor in the Adu family’s comfort level.”

For MLS, the signing is a coup. Adu, a naturalised American born in Ghana, has demonstrated a magnetic appeal that crosses the boundary between soccer buffs — a minority in the States — and average sports fans. He has been compared to Pele and Diego Maradona and is arguably the only player that might attract hard-core sports fans to an MLS match. Earlier this year, Nike signed Adu to a $1 million endorsement deal.

Few thought Adu would stay this close to home. Earlier this year during the Under-17 Championship qualifying in Guatemala, Adu said he wanted to go to Europe.

But given Adu’s age, his family and its advisers wanted him to stay close to home. The family resides in Potomac, Maryland — a short drive from Washington D.C.

“Money was never a central issue,” Gazidas said.

“(Staying close to home) had something to do with it, but not everything to do with it,” Adu said. “I have faith in MLS. They will treat me right. I felt that this was the best place for me to be right now. I never second-guess myself.”

Adu was locked out of signing anywhere else. Due to Fifa regulations, players under 18 are prohibited from signing a binding contract with a foreign side.

Inter Milan, Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United and others were all willing to take the risk — and offered more money than MLS — that Adu would re-sign with them in four years if he was brought into their youth programme.

Late Wednesday, Adu was added to the roster of the US Under-20 team that will compete later this month at the Fifa World Youth Championship in the UAE.

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