Zelalem debuts for Arsenal 2 days before 17th birthday

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Happy early birthday, Gedion Zelalem.

Turning 17 on Sunday, the wonderkid debuted at the Emirates in Arsenal’s comprehensive 4-0 win over Coventry City in the FA Cup, and he looked every bit like an Arsenal player.

Arsene Wenger, who foresaw this day just over a year ago when he signed him to an academy deal, inserted the youngster in the 71st minute, taking over for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

He becomes the first player to see the pitch for Arsenal who was born after Wenger took charge.  That’s a new level of youth.

The German-Ethiopian was confident in possession, and was heavily involved in the buildup of Santi Cazorla’s goal, Arsenal’s fourth.   He got the opportunity to play alongside Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla, and Jack Wilshere, and it probably won’t be the last time we see those names together on the scoresheet.

(MORE: Eligible for US and compared to Zidane, next chapter for Zelalem could begin tonight)

Tonight’s appearance is the start to a highly-touted career for the Arsenal academy product, and many countries are vying for his services.

Zelalem’s parents were born in Ethiopia, the kid himself was born in Berlin, and he lived near Bethesda, Maryland from ages 9-16.  Jurgen Klinsmann has made an open push to get Zelalem to play for the United States, but there are plenty of obstacles to overcome.

Nevertheless, on the club level it’s easy to see why, with plenty of room to grow, the young attacking midfielder is exciting so many people in London’s famed academy and beyond.

Report: Newcastle activates $12m release clause of ex-Arsenal youth

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Reports out of Turkey say Newcastle United have finally struck the transfer market for a new No. 10.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Aksam reports that Rafa Benitez got the Magpies hierarchy to activate a near $12 million release clause for Besiktas midfielder Oguzhan Ozyakup.

The 25-year-old was part of Arsenal’s youth set-up until 2012, making two League Cup appearances in 2011-12 before moving to Besiktas.

Dutch-born Ozyakup is 35-times capped with a goal for Turkey, twice captaining the Crescent-Stars.

Ozyakup lost playing time to Talisca this season, and registered just four assists in 24 appearances. In 219 appearances for Besiktas, he’s posted 27 goals with 50 assists.

Like the move for Newcastle?

Lukaku pens inspiring post on hard-scrabble upbringing

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Manchester United and Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku has an inspiring and emotional post in The Players’ Tribune which tugs at the heart strings and explains his competitive fire.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Lukaku talks about how his family’s poverty caused him to become a fierce competitor in the hopes of meeting his dreams head-on and providing for his family.

The Belgian, 25, scored twice in his side’s 3-0 World Cup-opening win over Panama earlier this week, and is now far removed from his youth, but he tells his story as if it lives fresh in his mind.

From The Players’ Tribune:

There were even times when my mum had to “borrow” bread from the bakery down the street. The bakers knew me and my little brother, so they’d let her take a loaf of bread on Monday and pay them back on Friday.

Lukaku also talks about racism in football, his debut for Anderlecht, and that aforementioned competitive drive. It’s 100 percent worth the read.

West Ham signs club record center back from Toulouse

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West Ham has reportedly set a club record with its latest signing under new manager Manuel Pellegrini.

Issa Diop is the player, the 21-year-old Toulouse captain and center back costing the Irons around $29 million.

[ MORE: Arsenal signs Leno ]

Diop scored three goals with an assist and eight yellow cards in 31 Ligue 1 matches this season, giving the young defender 95 apps, six goals, three assists, and 23 yellows since debuting with the senior team at 18.

Capped by France at every level below the senior team, Diop’s 2.2 interceptions per game ranked sixth in Ligue 1.

Toulose finished 18th in Ligue 1, but won its promotion/relegation playoff to stay in the French top flight.

From WHUFC.com:

“I am very happy to sign for such a historic, English club, and I hope to show my best here. I am a very ambitious player and West Ham is a very ambitious club, as we’ve seen with the appointment of the new coach. I hope to help the team win lots of games and make the fans happy.”

Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show: Episode 3

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In the third episode of Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show, England pulls out a massive win while VAR finds its way into the World Cup spotlight.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ] 

There will be plenty more to come over the next few weeks, with the show coming via the Men In Blazers.

Click play on the video above to watch the first episode in full.