Gedion Zelalem, a 17-year-old Arsenal youth prospect, has gained American citizenship and will soon be eligible to play for the U.S. men’s national team.
Zelalem was born in Germany to Ethiopian parents and lived in Virginia for six years before moving to Arsenal’s academy.
He joins 19-year-old Julian Green and 21-year-old John Brooks on the list of German-Americans that coach Jurgen Klinsmann has recruited to the USMNT before they fully matured as players.
Zelalem has made two appearances with Arsenal — one last year in an FA Cup game and one this year in a meaningless Champions League game.
He mostly plays for the club’s youth team as a midfielder, where he’s doing things like this to other teenagers:
As American Soccer Now’s Brian Sciaretta notes, there are several examples of Americans standing out at the youth level at big clubs, only to have disappointing careers. Being good at 17 doesn’t mean you’ll be good at 22, and players don’t always develop smoothly. Even Green, who scored a goal at the World Cup, is struggling to get minutes on one of the worst teams in the German Bundesliga.
On the other hand, Zelalem could be really good. His youth coach once said of him, “He dribbles like Iniesta and he passes like Xavi. I’ve thought like that for the past few years but I’ve been wary about saying it. I don’t worry now.”
Manager Arsene Wenger told SI that he has the potential to be a “top professional player” over the summer.
His Arsenal teammate Jack Wilshere heaped praise on him last year:
“He sees passes that not a lot of players can and he’s so comfortable on the ball. Even in training, he’s a nightmare to play against. He keeps the ball away from you and shields it. He’s not very big but he’s strong. He drifts in and out of players. Technically, he’s right up there. He can use his left and right and he sees so many passes.”
Recruiting dual-nationals has been one of the defining characteristics of the Klinsmann era. To reach Klinsmann’s goal of making the semifinals at the 2018 World Cup, guys like Zelalem will have to emerge and fulfil the hype.
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