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Eligible for US and compared to Zidane, the next chapter for Arsenal wunderkind could begin tonight in FA Cup

Jan 24, 2014, 7:45 AM EST

Arsenal v Galatasaray - Emirates Cup Getty Images

Gedion Zelalem turns 17 on Sunday, and at his young age he’s already been courted by Jurgen Klinsmann, supported by Arsene Wenger and compared to Zinedine Zidane. And later this evening he could make his full debut for Arsenal in the FA Cup (you really should read David Hytner’s fantastic linked article).

Oh, and as hinted above the 6-foot-1 playmaker is eligible to play for the United States.

We showed you some video of Zelalem this summer, whose ball wizardry has been compared to former Arsenal prodigy and current Barcelona midfielder Cesc Fabregas. Yet his progress has taken a leap even since then, and he’ll sign a senior deal with the Gunners soon.

This is where even more concern creeps into the picture for American soccer fans anxious to get this kid in red, white and blue. While he considers himself American — he was raised here from ages 9-16 — Zelalem has plenty of options at his disposal and obstacles in his way as he considers his international side. Plus, as the Guardian points out, he could lose his claim to German citizenship and right to work in the European Union if he applies for a US passport (and work permits are nice. Ask Juan Agudelo).

Born in Ethiopia before emigrating to Germany, there are three nations vying for his commitment. That’s before considering that just by living in England during more developmental years opens him up to Januzaj-like buzz.

Read the article. We’re being advised to remember his name, though as time goes on I suspect Americans will tire of debating whether the skilled youngster will or will not apply for America and when. Until then, there’s just the joy of watching a kid described as such by teammate Jack Wilshere in the summer:

“It won’t be long before he is ready. 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.”

It’s obviously early — maybe and probably absurdly so — to be getting hyped up for a starlet whose choice of international allegiance is still in the air and whose skill set is still relatively untested… but a Fabregas-level offensive playmaker in the U.S. side?

Might as well get pumped. That’s why we watch, after all.

  1. bostonredsoccer - Jan 24, 2014 at 10:20 AM

    “Eligible for US” should be followed by a question mark. As the article explains, it’s a very complex process and it would require working to retain German citizenship before taking the oath for the US. I think it will ultimately be too complicated to completed before he plays for the German U17 in March.

    We should just hope he holds onto his Green Card so that he can easily move back to the US later in his career.

  2. Nicholas Mendola - Jan 24, 2014 at 10:26 AM

    I understand what you’re saying, that it will be complicated, but there’s nothing wrong with the word eligible there. He has the right to apply for a US passport. It could require him changing his professional allegiances, but he’s eligible.

    • Sgc - Jan 24, 2014 at 6:51 PM

      Actually, technically he is not eligible to play for the US today. He must apply for citizenship (there are countries that will issue a passport to non-citizens, unfortunately the US is not one of them), and presumably that would take some time.

      Also, I don’t know if his citizenship would even be automatic. He was not born in the USA. If his father is a US citizen, it is pretty straightforward, but the article does not definitively say this is the case.

      Here is a Washington Post article on the subject, from Post soccer writer Steven Goff:

      http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/soccer-insider/wp/2013/08/12/could-arsenals-teenage-phenom-play-for-u-s/

      That article seems to me to make it clear. . . that it isn’t clear.

    • Sgc - Jan 25, 2014 at 9:34 AM

      Actually, the question mark would be best. Obviously technically he isn’t eligible right now, since he doesn’t have the passport. But more important, it is not known if either of his parents are currently US citizens (in which case it would be easy for him to become one) or only Green Card holders (in which case it would be hard). The Washington Post did a piece on Zelalem a few months back (I’d include the link, but the internet ate my post last time, and I think the link is what did it) which made one thing clear. . . that it isn’t clear.

  3. bellerophon30 - Jan 25, 2014 at 10:25 AM

    Given that there’s no way he’ll be selected by anyone for the coming World Cup, there’s no downside to him just sitting back and waiting to make his decision. He should see if he can crack the full-time first team (meaning in the actual league play) Arsenal, and find out what his options are. I get the feeling that that’s what Aron Johannsen did, and it seemed to work out just fine for him.

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