With the United States roster announced for the upcoming FIFA Under-20 World Cup, there was one obvious omission from the list. Gedion Zelalem. The Arsenal youngster has been tipped to be one of the games future stars although he has had few chances in the first team. This excitement is furthered when it is possible he could represent the United States at international level.
Possible, is the key term there; because the problem is there is a lot of paperwork that needs filling out and time is running out for that paperwork to be completed. But, upon closer inspection, there is a space open on the roster. Could that spot have Zelalem’s name on it?
Zelalem remains eligible to play for Germany, where he was born or Ethiopia, where his parents are from. He is also a U.S. citizen and in the process of becoming eligible to play for the United States.
Before that though, we must ask ourselves this. Is he worth it?
he needs to make his mark soon or be left behind.
Arsenal fans for example aren’t too fussed. He, for them, is just another player who is in the youth team who could be decent. However, it will take a lot for him to make the step up to an already packed full of talent first team, in turn having navigated it out of one of the best youth systems in the world.
Zelalem has made a couple of pre-season appearances and three substitute appearances for the first team; and next season will be an important one in his development. He needs to go out on loan, for a decent team whether that be in the Premier League or in Europe. Unquestionably a talented player, with clever movement and good in possession; he needs to make his mark soon or be left behind just like any youth prospect.
He has however already broken records. He was the first player to represent Arsenal who was born after Arsene Wenger had taken charge of the club. This is a testament to Wenger’s longevity and his status as one of the few remaining long-serving managers in the game.
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For Germany; the World Cup winners also have a huge talent pool to choose from. The fact that Zelalem has not yet committed himself to them may make them think twice about his international career with them.
The difficulty in the process should be something of a sign in that maybe it just isn’t meant to be. He has represented Germany at every level up until now, so why change? The international wrangling may hamper his chances in club football. It is certainly something of a distraction. In addition, it may cause trouble within the squad. They are a team, and here is a guy who the manager wants to simply walk straight in, pull on the jersey and go out and play. Has he earned his place? Those other guys sure have.
he could be the future cornerstone of the USMNT and have the team built around him
If he doesn’t play for Arsenal, will that affect his international career? It shouldn’t but it might. He may feel pressured to choose Germany due to the European influence in the Premier League and the lure of representing the World Champions. Or the opposite, and realize he could be the future cornerstone of the USMNT and have the team built around him. What an opportunity that would be for such a young player.
Maybe he’ll ‘Diego Costa it’. The Chelsea striker played twice for Brazil before opting to play for Spain instead; even at the World Cup in Brazil to which he got a mixed reception from the home crowd. Manchester United talent Adnan Januzaj, mentored by the legendary Ryan Giggs was also another example. He chose Belgium, with the option to play for Kosovo and England also. Both these players had considerable scrutiny with their moves. Zelalem is the much same.
So, back to the original question. Is Zelalem worth it?
Probably yes, but only he knows the answer to that one. That answer had better come soon or the Zelalem conundrum will continue with no clear solution in sight, for the US and the player himself.