There’s a big article in the Guardian today about Gedion Zelalem, an 16-year-old midfielder who’s about to sign his first professional contract with Arsenal.
Earlier this year, ESPN’s Jason Davis called him “an achingly young, potentially transcendent talent.”
The Guardian article compares him favourably to Cesc Fàbregas, Andrés Iniesta, and Xavi (a little over the top, but still).
If you’re a fan of the U.S. men’s national team, this paragraph from the Guardian will make you salivate:
“He has spent the key years of his young life in the US and he not only sounds American, he considers himself to be American. His laid-back attitude and quiet self-assurance are characteristically American. If all things were equal, he would surely choose to declare for Klinsmann and the USA national side, who would love to add a little fantasy to their game.”
It’s not that simple.
Zelalem is a German of Ethiopian descent who moved to the U.S. when he was nine. While he spent his formative years in Washington, D.C. before moving to London, he isn’t an American citizen yet. He could apply for a U.S. passport and get one, but doing so would prohibit him from keeping his German citizenship. It would potentially also make it harder for him to get a work permit to play in the Premier League.
The U.S. has been snubbed by elite players with strong ties to the country before — most notably Giuseppe Rossi (Italy) and Neven Subotić (Serbia).
But under Jurgen Klinsmann there has been an aggressive effort to recruit young players with dual citizenship to the U.S. national team. Klinsmann has already brought guys like Aron Jóhannsson (Iceland), Jermaine Jones (Germany), Timmy Chandler (Germany), and Joe Corona (Mexico) into the team.
In addition to Zelalem, Klinsmann’s is currently trying to convince German-American Bayern Munich teenager Julian Green to join the U.S.
Zelalem is on the bench for Arsenal’s FA Cup game against Coventry tonight. There’s still a long way to go before he could potentially factor into the USMNT. And even if he picks the U.S., there have been plenty of teenagers that flamed out before getting anywhere near the international stage. So don’t get your hopes up.
But if he’s even half as good as the hype, it’d be a huge coup for Klinsmann.
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