USMNT prospect Gedion Zelalem made his debut for Arsenal tonight at the age of 16. The highly-touted midfielder — who is eligible to play internationally for the United States, Germany and Ethiopia — is the first footballer to play for Arsenal that was born after the date when Arsene Wenger was appointed Gunners manager in 1996.
Zelalem made several appearances for Germany’s u-15 and u-16 team, but a lot of USMNT fans still hold out hope that Zelalem will decide to play for the US of A.
However, World Soccer Talk Senior Writer Kartik Krishnaiyer notes that if Zelalem declares that he wants to play for the United States, Arsenal would not be able to offer him a professional contract until he turns 18. If he decides on the USMNT as his future, he could play as a youth player for Arsenal or join another club in Europe, but not as a professional. In order to be eligible for the USA, he could only sign as a professional for a club in the United States. Zelalem faces lots of decisions to make in the near future.
Since Zelalem is technically a German citizen holding an European Union passport, he could sign a professional contract with the Gunners before 18
In today’s FA Cup victory against Coventry City, Zelalem entered the game in the 71st minute and looked extremely comfortable and confident in the middle of the pitch at the Emirates Stadium.
Recently, World Soccer Talk writer Jack Tomczuk summed up Zelalem’s strengths:
“Gedion Zelalem was born in Germany to an Ethopian father and was spotted by Arsenal scouts two years ago while playing for Olney Rangers Soccer club in Maryland. Upon arriving in North London, Zelalem completely skipped over the Arsenal under-18 team and jumped right into the reserves. His surprise inclusion in Arsene Wenger’s first-team squad for the club’s Asian tour [last summer was] validated by two impressive outings against the Indonesia Dream Team and Vietnam.
“Perhaps the most striking aspect of Zelalem’s game is his vision. He has a remarkable ability to recognize the runs being made by his teammates and react quickly with an accurate through ball. Additionally, Zelalem’s composure on the ball is astounding given his age. Comparisons have already been made to Cesc Fabregas who possessed similar skills when he made his debut for the senior team in 2003 at age 16.
“And Arsenal supporters should not be alone in their joy over Zelalem. According to an article published by The Washington Post last year, the 16-year old is trying to secure a U.S. passport, which would make him eligible to play for the red, white and blue of the USA. He has been involved in both the German and American youth systems, and his father is from Ethopia; so a big decision looms ahead for Zelalem.
“Though he is a highly-rated young player, Arsene Wenger — and indeed the club as a whole — have been mum on Zelalem in an apparent effort to avoid the trap of high expectations. However, if he continues to shine on the pitch, Gedion Zelalem will force his way into the spotlight.”
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