- The Washington Times - Friday, February 10, 2006

I was baffled this week when the Times of London reported English soccer giant Chelsea is willing to pay $8.7 million for 16-year-old Freddy Adu of D.C. United.

Apparently flushed with cash from Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, Chelsea has hired a new director of youth development, paying him $3.4 million a year to stock its youth academy by any means necessary.

The London club realizes if it’s going to stay on top, it can’t just keep forking out giant transfer fees of $45 million for big-name stars. Instead, it must build a strong youth team similar to the Manchester United youth team of 1992, which produced stars David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt, Ryan Giggs and Gary and Phil Neville. Those players didn’t cost Manchester United a dime in transfer fees but helped the club win numerous titles.

Chelsea is still smarting over losing to Arsenal in the battle to sign 16-year-old Theo Walcott, who moved to the Gunners last month for a stunning $20 million. The Blues also are embroiled in a nasty transfer war with Manchester United over Nigerian prodigy John Obi Mikel.

Adu can’t play at the pro level in England until he is 18 in June 2007, but he could gain tremendous experience training with many of the best players in the world at Chelsea.

Does Adu learn more from going up against John Terry, Hernan Crespo or Frank Lampard in Chelsea training scrimmages or playing in MLS, a young, second-tier league? Chelsea also would have the option to loan Adu back to play in MLS or some other league.

If Chelsea really is willing to offer MLS anything close to the $8 million figure being banded about, the cash-strapped league should sign the transfer papers. And Adu could use the extra money, too: He recently spent more than $20,000 on a high-tech entertainment setup in his Potomac home.

In MLS, in which a club’s total salary cap is $1.7 million and average players leave for more money with unknown teams in Norway and Holland, $8 million for Adu could go along way.

Apart from scoring a couple of highlight video goals and playing a small role in D.C. United’s 2004 championship team, Adu has done little to earn such lavish international attention. But Adu has name recognition, and that is priceless in the transfer bidding wars. It might even earn him a work permit to play in England.

While the suits at the MLS office in New York have made all the obligatory denials about Adu not going anywhere anytime soon, they are secretly delighted about all the exposure their prized asset is getting. The question is whether they will make the right decision before the novelty wears off.

United preseason — D.C. United went to Bradenton, Fla., this week for preseason training and will play against the U.S. under-17 national team tomorrow.

They will play three more exhibition games in Florida: the MetroStars on Tuesday, Real Salt Lake on Friday and the Kansas City Wizards on Feb. 21.

United released its 2006 schedule this week. They will play four home games in April, beginning with the season-opener against the MetroStars on April 2.

World Cup prep — The U.S. team will hold its main training camp for the World Cup at SAS Soccer Park in Cary, N.C. Camp begins May 9 and will last two weeks. The World Cup is in Germany from June 9 to July 9.

Change in plans — The new Wembley Stadium in London will not be open in time for the FA Cup final May 13. Instead, the game will be in Cardiff, Wales. Construction on the $1.2 billion venue, built on the grounds of Wembley Stadium (1923-2000), was supposed to have been completed last fall. The last game played at Wembley was England’s 1-0 loss to Germany in 2000.

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