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Trial by fire

Adu hopes training with Man U leads to Euro transfer

Posted: Tuesday November 14, 2006 2:33PM; Updated: Tuesday November 14, 2006 2:33PM
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Freddy Adu is headed to Manchester United for two weeks of training. Whether he'll end up staying there is anyone's guess.
Freddy Adu is headed to Manchester United for two weeks of training. Whether he'll end up staying there is anyone's guess.
Al Tielemans/SI
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Over the years, dozens of young MLS players have gone to European clubs for offseason training stints, none of which sparked any significant interest by the media on either side of the Atlantic.

But Freddy Adu isn't your typical MLS youngster, and Manchester United isn't your typical club. And therein lies the source of a growing media circus that has escalated a ho-hum training visit into a full-fledged trial that Adu hopes will lead to a multimilion-dollar transfer.

Adu heads to Man United on Saturday for two weeks of training, and the 17-year-old D.C. United midfielder told SI.com in an interview that he has high aspirations for his first exposure to English soccer.

"I'm hoping it leads to a transfer offer," said Adu, who's in Florida this week training with the U.S. Under-20 national team. "If I go in January I wouldn't be able to play [in England] until my 18th birthday [on June 2, 2007]. Those are the rules. But hopefully this leads to an offer in January or in the summer transfer window next year. That would be awesome."

Whether Adu's hopes are realistic is something Man United boss Sir Alex Ferguson will have to decide. Adu's recently completed third MLS season was promising, especially for a 17-year-old, but not transcendent. He played in all 35 of D.C. United's games, starting 32 of them, and finished with two goals and a career-high eight assists for the team with MLS' best regular-season record.

Adu made his debut for the U.S. senior national team at age 16 last January as a substitute in a 0-0 tie against Canada. After calling Adu into the national-team camp in January, former U.S. manager Bruce Arena left him off the Americans' 23-man World Cup roster.

Man United's Ferguson was asked about Adu at a press conference last Friday. "We've known about him for a long time," said Ferguson, who asked me during a visit to Manchester in 2003 for contact information for Adu's family. "We tried to get him four years ago but he signed for D.C. United. That stopped our progress in keeping tabs on him."

Adu told me that Sir Alex's comments had raised his expectations for the trip. "I hope I can show flashes of the kind of player I can become," said Adu, a left-footer who played most of the season on the right side of D.C. United's midfield. "I know I've got a ways to go. This would really be a test for me so I can gauge where I am by training with these guys. At D.C. United I haven't gotten much time at my natural position, which is attacking midfield. Hopefully that's the position I'll play when I'm training over there."

Adu has one more guaranteed year left on his contract with MLS. (The league retains the option for two more years after that.) It's estimated that he may be worth as much as $5 million to $10 million on the transfer market. His guaranteed salary this season was $550,000, making him the fifth-highest-paid player in MLS.

While D.C. United officials have expressed their support while downplaying Adu's visit to Man United as merely training and not a trial, Adu clearly has different ideas. When asked if his proper development requires him to be in Europe, Adu didn't mince words.

"Yes, I think so," he said. "MLS has been awesome. I've enjoyed my time with D.C. United and I've really grown as a professional, but to see a huge change in my abilities I need to go to Europe. That's where all the best players in the world play ... I would love to go to Europe as soon as possible. Then again, I have a contract to honor with MLS, so we'd have to work that out."

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