Report: Arsenal midfielder Zelalem’s U.S. eligibility far from a done deal

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An ESPN FC report regarding Gedion Zelalem’s U.S. eligibility looks alarming, but is it a cause for concern?

The Arsenal midfielder’s chances of playing for the United States men’s national team got a huge bump recently when the 17-year-old German-American picked up his U.S. citizenship.

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Zelalem’s father is a naturalized citizen after being born in Ethiopia, and Gedion lived in the U.S. for six years after leaving Hertha Berlin’s academy.

But it turns out Zelalem needs far more recent work for his U.S. dreams to come true.

From ESPN FC:

Zelalem is a naturalized American citizen, as opposed to becoming one through lineage or birthright. His parents and his grandparents were also born overseas, meaning he’s subject to a little-known stipulation in FIFA’s statutes that would require him to live in the U.S. for five years from Jan. 26, his 18th birthday, before suiting up for the Yanks in official matches.

And since the playmaking midfielder — who lived in Maryland between 2006 and 2013, when he moved to London to join the Gunners — isn’t about to leave Europe any time soon, meeting that requirement as it’s written would appear to be non-starter.

But the U.S. Soccer Federation appears to have some recourse when it comes to Zelalem, as FIFA can and does grant exceptions to players who are able to show that their naturalization didn’t violate the spirit of the law.

Alright, Zelalem believers… now we’ll give you reason to exhale. It seems Gedion Zelalem would be a prime candidate for a FIFA exemption due to the aforementioned six years in the United States. And the report quotes USSF president Sunil Gulati as “not expecting any issues” in an effort to have him eligible by “March or April.”

Still, it’s at least a mental hiccup in the road to finding out whether Zelalem is the next American hope or the latest disappointment. Do you believe Gulati’s confident statement?