Gedion Zelalem turns 17 on Sunday, and at his young age he’s already been courted by Jurgen Klinsmann, supported by Arsene Wenger and compared to Zinedine Zidane. And later this evening he could make his full debut for Arsenal in the FA Cup (you really should read David Hytner’s fantastic linked article).
Oh, and as hinted above the 6-foot-1 playmaker is eligible to play for the United States.
We showed you some video of Zelalem this summer, whose ball wizardry has been compared to former Arsenal prodigy and current Barcelona midfielder Cesc Fabregas. Yet his progress has taken a leap even since then, and he’ll sign a senior deal with the Gunners soon.
This is where even more concern creeps into the picture for American soccer fans anxious to get this kid in red, white and blue. While he considers himself American — he was raised here from ages 9-16 — Zelalem has plenty of options at his disposal and obstacles in his way as he considers his international side. Plus, as the Guardian points out, he could lose his claim to German citizenship and right to work in the European Union if he applies for a US passport (and work permits are nice. Ask Juan Agudelo).
Born in Ethiopia before emigrating to Germany, there are three nations vying for his commitment. That’s before considering that just by living in England during more developmental years opens him up to Januzaj-like buzz.
Read the article. We’re being advised to remember his name, though as time goes on I suspect Americans will tire of debating whether the skilled youngster will or will not apply for America and when. Until then, there’s just the joy of watching a kid described as such by teammate Jack Wilshere in the summer:
“It won’t be long before he is ready. He sees passes that not a lot of players can and he’s so comfortable on the ball. Even in training, he’s a nightmare to play against. He keeps the ball away from you and shields it. He’s not very big but he’s strong. He drifts in and out of players. Technically, he’s right up there. He can use his left and right and he sees so many passes.”
It’s obviously early — maybe and probably absurdly so — to be getting hyped up for a starlet whose choice of international allegiance is still in the air and whose skill set is still relatively untested… but a Fabregas-level offensive playmaker in the U.S. side?
Might as well get pumped. That’s why we watch, after all.