Where Does Gedion Zelalem's International Allegiance Lie?

By Jackee Arce
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Remember this name: Gedion Zelalem. It’s a name you will be hearing a lot more of in the future. Zelalem is a young Arsenal FC midfielder; he only turned 17 a few days ago (Jan. 26), but he has already played for Arsenal’s first team. This kid has talent and Arsenal knows it. Everybody knows it, because three different national teams are pulling for him to play for them.

Arsenal scouted Zelalem while he was playing in the USA for the Olney Rangers, and Daniel Karbassiyoon discovered him during a Dallas Cup match. Shortly after, arrangements were made and he was flown to the UK to join Aresenal’s academy. Zelalem’s talent continued to shine through, because he has gone beyond playing for its academy teams and has now played for its first team. Kids dream of moments like these but never actually think they’ll happen. It was not luck; he had the talent to get him here.

On Jan. 24 in the 70th minute of Arsenal’s FA Cup match against Coventry City FC, Zelalem came on for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. This was Zelalem’s big debut for Arsenal. Arsenal defeated Conventry 4-0 in what will be the first of many wonderful moments for Zelalem with the club.

Zelalem had trained with the US National Team (USMNT) U-15s, but because he was a resident and not a citizen he could not play for them. This is when he went to Germany and played for its U-15 team. He continued to play for Germany and has now had appearances with its U-16 and U-17 teams as well. It makes the most sense for him to play for the German National Team, because he already has and does not have to deal with more paperwork or permits.

His appointments with the German team does not stop other coaches from trying.  USMNT’s current head coach Jürgen Klinsmann has reached out to Zelalem personally. Klinsmann is German himself and has had a hand in having other German-American players join the USMNT. Zelalem is eligible to play for the USMNT because he developed his skills in a Washington suburb from ages nine to 15 while playing for the Olney Rangers. However, he is not a citizen yet, and it would take a little more effort on his part.

He is eligible to play for Ethiopian National Team because his parents are Ethiopian. Its team has never made it to the World Cup, and Zelalem has two better options so it’s no wonder he hasn’t really been connected to them. The nation has reached out to him, but there hasn’t been any real response.

In the end it is truly up to Zelalem where he wants to play. No matter where he ends up he’ll be a game changer. You cannot blame coaches for trying to have him play for them rather than against them.

Jackee Arce is a soccer writer for RantSports.com. Follow her on Twitter @knackeredwriter, “like” her on Facebook or add her to your network on Google.

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