Gedion Zelalem, all 15 years of him, has moved from Bethseda, Md. to London and is set to join Arsenal's academy as a first-year scholar this January, the Washington Post's Steven Goff reported Monday.
A German citizen of Ethiopian descent, Zelalem moved with his family from Berlin to the United States in 2006. He is currently a U.S. permanent resident—not a citizen—but is applying for a passport, and would apparently be eligible to become an American citizen through family ties in two years time.
Zelalem has trained with the U.S. Under-15s as well as the German youth system (he attended successive camps for both countries last winter). Per international regulations, Zelalem is unable to play in games with the U.S., but he can still train with the team.
While it has always been his dream to play for the Mannschaft, the arrival of Jurgen Klinsmann to the U.S. managerial post, and the exuberance he has brought with him, has the youngster thinking hard about his future. He apparently had a terrific time at an elite U.S. U-15 national team camp he attended in the past year.
Both national sides are keen to have him commit to their cause. Fortunately, Zelalem still has some time to mull his future in that regard, meaning he can now concentrate on his club career, which has kicked into overdrive.
But Arsenal are focused more upon his current development at club level than the future colors he might wear for international tournaments. Though Zelalem was invited to a recent U.S. U-17 camp, he chose not to attend, seeking instead to get settled in London.
In order to meet FIFA requirements for underage players, Zelalem's family has moved with him, and his father has found a job. His German citizenship absolves him from any potential eligibility hang-ups, according to European Union law.
Blessed with a precocious capacity to read the game, Zelalem, who is listed as a deep-lying central midfielder, has earned raves for his superb technical ability and passing prowess.
Mike Williams, his former coach at Walter Johnson High School in Bethseda, told Goff that Zelalem is "able to set the tempo like none other."
Teammate Gerry Madden, a senior for WJ last season, praised his then-freshman teammate's "quick thinking", and marveled at Zelalem's ability to play beyond his years, a skill Madden attributed to years spent playing in Europe.
Zelalem's English club coach at Olney Rangers, Matt Pilkington, had contacted Virigina-based scout Daniel Karbassiyoon about coming to watch his star. Karbassiyoon is currently Arsenal's chief North American scout, and was a former player at the club from 2003-05.
After watching Zelalem several times in local matches, Karbassiyoon pointed him out to Arsenal coaches at the Dallas Cup, a highly-competitive tournament in Texas that features some of the top youth teams from around the world.
The coaches saw enough to offer Zelalem a trial, and with his father and Karbassiyoon in tow, Zelalem headed off to London in the dying days of last summer to prove his mettle.
He spent 10 days training with the Gunners youth system, impressing the managerial staff enough to earn an invitation to join the Academy once he turned 16.
Arsene Wenger bestowed Zelalem with a parting gift of a No. 4 Arsenal jersey with his first name emblazoned upon the back, and posed for a picture with his soon-to-be charge.
Considering that highly-rated young talents such as Chuba Akpom, Jack Jebb are currently in the first-year scholar program, it is quite an honor.
Zelalem took advantage of an opportunity to return to London Colney, Arsenal's training center, last Thanksgiving to play with the team again.
Now, he is ready to continue his education—both on the field and in the classroom—across the Atlantic. His former coaches in America are fully confident he will make the most of the opportunity.
"The balance, the vision, the ideas—you don't see that often at (Zelalem's) age," Pilkington told Goff.
Williams went one (gigantic) step further in his praise. "We will see Gedion in Arsenal's first team three years from now," the high school coach said. "He's got a great future."
Zelalem calls the opportunity a "dream," and convinced his father—who had wanted to bring him along with a smaller team for awhile longer before moving to a bigger club—to let him accelerate that intended plan.
Zelalem Woldyes (Goff reported that, according to Ethiopian tradition, a son is given his father's name) could only grant his son his wish after seeing how much it meant to him to play for Arsenal.
And come January, we'll see how he begins in this new endeavor.
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