Out of Germany’s U-17 squad, Gedion Zelalem keeps his options open


It was a complete 180. Two weeks ago, as so many hearts devoted to U.S. soccer broke at the thought of Gedion Zelalem slipping away, the reality of the Arsenal prospect seemed clear. Though the 17-year-old had spent much of his pre-Gunners days in the United States, his U-level international history told a story different story. Zelalem had never appeared for the U.S., wasn’t eligible to appear for the U.S., and, called up for Germany’s upcoming qualifying for the European U-17 championship, was about to slip away. Appear for Germany in that tournament, and Zelalem was cap-tied.

It’s part of the reason the big guns came out. Understandably, national team supporters have been excited about the possibility of Zelalem joining up, even if he still needs to get U.S. citizenship to do so. But there was no public indication he actually wanted to play for the U.S. Even putting aside the potential work permit issues of forgoing German citizenship, there was a brief but clear record of Zelalem having accepted Germany’s U-level call ups. If Zelalem wanted to play for the United States, why was he accepting Germany’s invitations?

(MORE: Arsenal midfielder Gedion Zelalem about to jump off the U.S. Soccer radar)

Then, the twist. Oh (for U.S. fans), that glorious twist that an ESPNFC reporter put out on his Twitter feed, one that have fans reason to hope:

[tweet https://twitter.com/JeffreyCarlisle/status/448486214161940481] [tweet https://twitter.com/JeffreyCarlisle/status/448486664416288768]

No, it wasn’t a commitment to the United States. In fact, nothing Arsenal said hinted that a potential future with the U.S. was even a factor in his decision. But in a world where similar excuses are often smoke screens for real motivations, there remains an obvious possibility: The young midfielder is not ready to make any huge decisions about his future.

At least, that’s what appears to be going on. Zelalem gets almost no benefit from narrowing his options. Even if he commits to Germany, he’s not going to Brazil. He’s probably not going to Russia, and where he to limit his options to the Nationalmannschaft, he may not go to Qatar, either. One 17-year-old’s career is impossible to project, but the potential talent output of the Germany federation? That’s a safer bet. Zelalem will be one of a slew of blue chip prospects coming out of the system. There’s no point to making a commitment  that may not pay off until far into the future.

The big cost of Zelalem’s reluctance is missing out on tournaments like the European U-17 Championships, but consider where those priorities fall in the life of a 17-year-old at Arsenal. In addition to the normal distractions of a teen age existence, Zelalem has the responsibilities that come with being linked to one of the world’s biggest clubs – the training evaluations, games, study, and expectations.

Where most 17-year-olds are overwhelmed by more mundane pursuits, Zelalem’s life must be incredibly full. The occasional competition with U-level national teams pales in comparison to establishing a career at your club. Right now, Arsenal should be soccer priority number one.

In that light, pulling out of Germany’s U-17 squad may not be so much a nod to the U.S. as it is a nod to his reality. Major international soccer is in Zelalem’s future, but it doesn’t need to be a part of his present, especially if he wants to keep his options open. Tying his international future to one of his options? That’s best left for another game, once the shape of his professional career’s revealed.

And perhaps three, maybe five years from now, those options will include the United States. Who knows if he’ll choose it? The big news this week as that those big guns we pulled out two weeks ago misfired. It appears Gedion Zelalem is not going to be a German international any time soon.

Southgate: Racism isn’t just a Russian problem

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Credit England boss Gareth Southgate for honesty.

The national team manager was asked about the plethora of stories regarding racism in Russian football ahead of this summer’s World Cup.

[ MORE: PSG punished for incidents vs. Real ]

Given the climate between Russia and England, there are any number of roads he could’ve taken in reply. Suffice it to say, he chose the high one.

Pointing out that racism is everywhere, Southgate used the example of Kick It Out manager Troy Townsend showing the coach some racist comments posted on a photo of English youth national team.

“Our teams mix and the youngsters look up to the senior team,” said Southgate. “I know most of those young players really closely and I’ve seen them come through. To see them abused in that way is absolutely disgusting. When we speak about other countries, I find it difficult to deflect what we’ve seen there.”

“I don’t think we should just talk about racism in Russia. We have got to get our own house in order. There are still things going on in our own country around racism that aren’t correct. We keep pointing the finger at Russia, where we are going to be guests in the next couple of months, but we haven’t resolved the issue in our own country and until we do I think we should stop firing those things off elsewhere.”

Full marks to Southgate for that, now more folks need to turn words into action and cut the vile comments off at the knees.

PSG fined, will have to close part of stadium at next UCL match

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Paris Saint-Germain’s fans had a bit too much fun in their UEFA Champions League loss against Real Madrid, but apparently just a bit.

[ MORE: Zlatan leaves Man Utd ]

Les Parisiens  are facing a partial stadium ban for next season’s first UCL contest after their fans were charged with blocking a stairway, setting off fireworks, and using a laser pointer.

The punishment includes closing the North Stand at the Parc Des Princes and a fine of a little over $52,000.

The stadium ban is one thing, but $52,000, UEFA? How will PSG ever afford it? Neymar will certainly have to take a pay cut.

(If you’re curious, Neymar makes approximately $1 million per week).

Injuries leave host Russia limping ahead of World Cup

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MOSCOW (AP) With less than three months to go until the World Cup in Russia, the host nation’s players are dropping like flies.

A spate of knee injuries this year has left the Russians hurrying to find cover at the back and trying to replace a key attacking threat.

[ MORE: Zlatan leaves Man Utd ]

First, center back Georgy Dzhikiya tore his knee ligaments during a friendly in January. The same happened to Viktor Vasin a month later. Russia’s defense was already thin, so those injuries prompted calls for the 35-year-old Berezutsky twins, Alexei and Vasily, to return from international retirement. They refused to do so.

Now coach Stanislav Cherchesov must also seek a replacement for Zenit St. Petersburg forward Alexander Kokorin, who tore his knee ligaments in the Europa League last week. That puts more responsibility on the shoulders of Fyodor Smolov, now likely to be Russia’s undisputed first-choice striker for the World Cup.

“We’re not complaining about anything,” Cherchesov said Thursday. “Fate is often testing us in various ways but we always try to be ready.”

The injuries mean Cherchesov will be forced to experiment during Friday’s friendly against Brazil and Tuesday’s game against France, both at home. Short-term medical issues have ruled three more fringe players out of those games.

Here’s a closer look at the issues facing Russia ahead of the World Cup:


If you had to pick one Russian striker for the World Cup, it might as well be Fyodor Smolov.

On track to be the Russian league’s top scorer for the third season in a row, Smolov has been working on his English skills as he eyes a move to the Premier League.

Smolov was linked with West Ham during the January transfer window but opted to stay with FC Krasnodar, saying he didn’t want to abandon his team as it battles for a spot in the Champions League next season.

With Kokorin almost certainly out of the picture for the World Cup, Russia’s backup options include Anton Zabolotny, who is still settling in at Zenit after a recent move from newly promoted FC Tosno. The 22-year-old Alexei Miranchuk can play as a forward, but is better in a deeper role.


Russian players tend to stay in their domestic league, but there’s one big exception in midfield – Denis Cheryshev.

The winger came through the Real Madrid youth system when his father was coaching there and is now at Villarreal, but frequent injuries have dented hopes he can add some spice to the national team.

Now he’s fit again and in the squad to face Brazil and France.

Elsewhere in the midfield, there are the promising and creative youngsters Roman Zobnin and Alexander Golovin, but Russia doesn’t currently have a dominant defensive midfielder.


Cherchesov has a reputation as a difficult coach to get along with, and Russian media have regularly reported fallings-out with various players.

One of those outside the squad is Igor Denisov, who last played for Russia in 2016. He has been playing well in a defensive midfield role this season for Lokomotiv Moscow, the team at the top of the Russian league standings. Denisov and Cherchesov clashed during the latter’s time as Dynamo Moscow coach.

Also absent from the squad is forward Artyom Dzyuba. A talented striker who has scored 11 goals in 22 games for Russia but has a reputation for being hot-headed, Dzyuba was deemed surplus to requirements at Zenit and sent on loan to Arsenal Tula. In three games there, he has scored three goals and set up two more to put himself back in the World Cup contention.


Russia’s soccer team hasn’t escaped the country’s doping scandals.

Defensive midfielder Ruslan Kambolov is under investigation by FIFA for a possible doping case revealed by Moscow laboratory documents, but hasn’t been suspended.

The team’s schedule was disrupted Wednesday by drug-testing, which took more than five hours and delayed training. On Thursday, the team said five more doping control officers turned up to take samples from the team.

Wilshere injured, could play in England’s second friendly

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I have no idea what tendinopathy means, but Arsenal and England will be hoping it’s only a minor thing for Jack Wilshere.

[ MORE: Zlatan leaves Man Utd ]

The resurgent Gunners midfielder is going to miss at least one of England’s friendlies this international break after suffering a knee injury in training.

“Jack just felt some tendinopathy in his knee but it’s nothing too serious,” Southgate said. “We decided to leave him back at base and see how he responds, and we hope to have him with us on Saturday.”

England is in Netherlands on Friday, and returns to London to host Italy at Wembley on Tuesday.

Arsenal doesn’t play until April 1 when it visits Stoke City.