Not many people outside of the fan-bases of Arsenal and the German National Youth squad have heard the name. At only 16 years old – soon to be 17 on Sunday – Zelalem, along with a number of national team managers, will be hoping to catch a glimpse of the youngster’s talents as he is set to potentially partake in this afternoon’s FA Cup match for Arsenal. He has yet to play for the Gunner’s senior squad since he was signed at ripe age of 14 – aside from a few appearances in Arsenal’s preseason Asia Tour this past summer.
However, the little people saw of him in Asia was still enough to create excitement about the future of Arsene Wenger’s latest wonderkid. Hailed at the Emirates as the “next Fabregas” (not even Ozil has received such accolades), the promising midfielder certainly displays the innate ability to pick the perfect pass – likened to Cesc as he was making his way up the Arsenal ranks at a similar age. After watching his brief skills video, he certainly displays impeccable control and a calmness while in possession of the ball that most 16-and-under players do not.
Now, how does he fit in the USA National team conversation you ask? It turns out, despite his allegiance to Germany’s U-16 squad, Zelalem will have a tough decision in the near future as he is eligible for a trio of international teams . His parents are both Ethiopian, where he would be eligible to declare his national squad allegiance. The Ethiopian coach is hoping he chooses his family heritage and plays for the African side in the coming future. In addition, since being born in Berlin, Germany where he and his family resided until age 8, Gedion has the option of continuing his climb up the ranks and into the German Senior National team.
His USA roots are also documented. From age 9 until 15, his family lived in Washington where he even participated in training with the USA U-15 squad. He was limited to strictly training with the team as he was only considered a permanent resident of the USA and not a citizen. USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann has personally contacted the player to try to sway his decision towards the Yanks.
Should he declare for the USMNT, it could be the creative boost the US needs to propel them even further up the world ranks. Even if he remotely resembles a player the caliber of Cesc Fabregas, the US have never had the likes of such player in their squad. Donovan, Bradley and Dempsey are all very good midfielders and the best the US has seen; however, Zelalem – should he live up to his potential – would be the most creative US player ever. Right now, the US lacks that special player who creates goals for others who, in turn, makes the players around him better – think Fabregas, Ozil, Iniesta, or even what Mario Gotze did for Borussia Dortmund. Yes, Michael Bradley is the closest player to this currently, but most of the USA’s goals are still set-pieces and individual one-on-one efforts (ex. Donovan). Throw in any of the players mentioned above to the US team now and it’s hard not to dream of the possibilities.
It’s difficult for US fans to forget the “potential” of Freddy Adu at about the same age. However, as far-fetched as Zelalem becoming world-class for the USMNT seems, Arsene Wenger has nurtured similar talents while bringing up Fabregas and, most recently, Jack Wilshere through the Arsenal ranks. Therefore, the biggest question at this point is probably not in the player’s ability, but more with the fact that he has to choose the USMNT over Germany – a national team who is constantly among the World Cup favorites and Ethiopia – while not a football powerhouse, is still where his family heritage began. At this point, the best we can do is hope Jurgen can recruit the kid and then worry about fulfilling his potential down the road.
Below is one of his YouTube highlight videos which shows clips mainly from the four matches he was apart of during Arsenal’s preseason tour. Despite all the variables, it’s hard not picturing him playing for the stars and stripes. But as a Gooner, I’m also excited to see him in regular season action this afternoon.