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Zelalem makes Arsenal debut in FA Cup

GedionZelalemArsenal1-CoventryCity (Getty)


Gedion Zelalem received an early birthday present he won’t ever forget.

Just two days shy of his 17th birthday, Zelalem made his Arsenal debut, entering as a substitute in the 71st minute for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Zelalem didn’t score but he did help provide a superb pass to teammate Santi Cazorla that finished with Olivier Giroud slamming the ball home for Arsenal’s third of the night in a 4-0 victory against Coventry City.

Born in Berlin, Germany and the son of Ethiopian parents, Zelalem spent six years (from age 9 to 15) living in Bethesda, Md. and developing his game with the local club team Olney Rangers. After being spotted at the well-renowned Dallas Cup youth tournament in 2011 by Arsenal scouts, Zelalem and his family moved to London last January where he joined the club’s academy full time. Zelalem is expected to sign his first professional contract this weekend once he turns 17-years old.

Though he lived in the U.S. and reportedly has a U.S. green card (along with his father), Zelalem currently only has German and Ethiopian citizenship and he’s currently in the Germany youth system, having most recently featured for the German Under-17s in a friendly match last fall.

It’s unlikely that Zelalem will ever be able to play for the U.S. since he’s no longer living in the country, but it’s a nice sign that a club in the U.S. can help develop a player who ends up at one of the biggest soccer clubs in the world.


What do you think of this news? Excited for Zelalem’s future? Think he ends up playing for Germany internationally?

Share your thoughts below.


  1. What’s interesting here is that according to the articles if all else were equal, his first choice would be to play for the US (ahead of Germany and Ethiopia). Now that is something.

    What’s sad is that he might really want to play for the US, but because of the citizenship complications might not be able to. Or might have to choose between keeping his work permit with Arsenal or going into club limbo.

    Let’s hope that he doesn’t play in the German euro qualies in March so his options are still open.

    • his status has been discussed before…

      1-he was born in Germany, thus he carries an EU passport and playing in UK is not a problem.

      2-he does feel American but he has confided to close friends in the DC area that he wants to represent Germany. It seems he is following his father’s advice and preference.

      His father and mother moved to Germany as refugees, then Gedion was born. They applied for visas to the US and got accepted as immigrants in 2008, Gedion’s mother died due to illness (not sure if in Germany or USA). Gedion moved to the UK at 16 when he didn’t even have a green card. He might’ve gotten it last year.

      US immigration law says that you have to physically be in the US by the age of 18 to apply for and obtain citizenship (it takes 1-2 yrs).
      If you apply for US citizenship after your 18 birthday then you would have to go thru formal immigration process (4-5yrs). It gets complicated, since Gedion is not physically present in the US then more than likely citizenship will be denied. It’s a no brainer, since you don’t live or work in the US then you don’t need American citizenship.

      His father openly supports his son playing for Germany as repayment for how Germany helped him out as refuge. 100% sure he didn’t come to the US as a highly-trained or skilled worker, he’s probably getting all the social benefits…. I can understand the gratitude he feels toward Germany but I don’t understand why is he still sucking the tit of our great country.

      • the fact is, in this country and with MLS we should be putting the $$ into youth development and youth infrastructure/coaching. We should be paying for youth coaches that are just as qualified as the coaches at Arsenal. And we should give clearer paths to a pro career to all players. So that when prospects like Gideon come along they know that they will get excellent training in US academies. We should be building our soccer culture from the ground up, not the top down.

        Instead MLS spends its millions on bringing back American players because they think it is the solution to growing the game and getting a TV audience. It’s not. MLS paid the transfer fees for Bradley,Dempsey, and Defoe. Not the clubs. With those transfer fees that money could have gone into fixing our youth academy system and paying for top youth coaches for a decade.

      • Where did you hear he wants to represent Germany? Why go through the hassle of getting a US passport if that is the case (he already has a greencard).

      • The part about getting a US passport is only speculation. No one has said he has applied for one, just that he can claim one (with some journalistic assumptions about the process involved).

      • you can maintain a greencard forever as long as you come back or visit 1 or 2 times a year. You do not technically have to live here once it is obtained.

  2. The Washington Post article a year and half ago stated that he was working on getting his passport in 2012 and it would take two years to get it, so he wouldn’t get it til later this year. “However, he is apparently eligible for citizenship through family ties and is pursuing a U.S. passport.”

  3. Rossi, Subotic, Freddy Adu, Jose Torres, Edgar Castillo, Jermaine Jones, Michael Hoyos, Timmy Chandler, Danny Williams, Fabian Johnson, Bunbury, Hurzeler, Julian Green, Zelalem-so many players, so much in spilled over who they’ll play for… I don’t care, I’ll root for whomever plays for the U.S.

  4. 9-15 years is enough to have American mind-set. Now I understand Gedion Zelalem picks Germany over USA, but there’s still time.

    I moved to USA around 1989 and became American via the U.S. Navy, in 1993.

  5. This article is really overly negative in regards to him playing for the us. If it was so unrealistic I doubt JK would have reached out to him. Which he has.

    • I haven’t seen any articles that say that, only that it *may* be possible for the dad to apply. Considering all the obstacles and the perception that Gedion will be fine in the German system, I don’t think he is going to go through all the process when having a US passport isn’t all that critical.

  6. I don’t understand why people think that the German-American players have less of a connection to this country or programs. They are the sons of American servicemen. I don’t think it gets more red blooded than that.

    • Well probably because they never lived here or spent much time here (varies someone based on the player you’re talking about that’s generally true). Simply having half the DNA of someone from the US is not the same thing.

    • because they were raised in Germany and I bet that they all feel German but when you are not good enough to play for your home country and someone offers you the chance to go to the WC you are going to take it.

    • They were also raised around US military bases so there was a lot of US presence there, I can completely understand how they can feel American when their father is an American soldier and they live outside a military base. It’s not like their only exposure to US culture is through movies and MTV.

      Then, there’s the racial angle that makes everyone uncomfortable to talk about. Being bi-racial makes them visibly different than others. No matter how tolerant people are, I guarantee that they have been teased (and probably much worse) about it at some point in their lives. I’m guessing that looking American, having an American father, and have other Germans point out that you aren’t exactly like them creates some cultural ambivalence.

      • I think it is no coincidence that some of them idolize the country of the father they have never met.

        That`s not uncommon with children abondoned by a parent. Terrence Boyd seems to hate his American father, but absolutely adores his father`s country. That`s quite a contradiction and probably a matter for a therapy.

      • I think someone should write a thesis on “Abandoned child syndrome” in regards to dual nationals.

        Terrence Boyd and Jermaine Jones seem to be interesting cases.

      • Correct me if I am wrong, but Jermaine Jones’ parents were married and got divorced when he was 10 years old. He lived in Chicago and moved back with his mom. It was at that point that the relationship with his became estranged.

        Sadly, that sometimes occurs in divorces. Unfortunately, I have friends who have gone through divorces. 2 of them were face with situations where they would have to move 500 miles away and the other 3000 miles away because of their careers. Distance kills relationships.

      • I don`t know when JJ went back to Germany with his mother, but he didn`t spend 10 years in the US. He started to play organized football in Germany at the age of 6 – apparently he only spent a brief period in the US.

        It`s true that divorces happen frequently. But Jones` father didn`t support Jermaine or his mother financially – both lived on benefits.

        I am sure that growing up without a father and in relative poverty has influenced him more than anything else.

    • There is a whole lot of (somewhat) contradictory information out there about Zelalem’s potential citizenship status. I am at the point where I pretty much throw my hands up in the air. I consider myself both reasonably informed for a lay person on soccer and law, and I just have no clue.

    • He can keep his citizenship, but he (or rather his father) has to apply to do so. You have to convince the Germans that it is in their best interests that he take the US citizenship. It would be easy for a Jurgen K. to do it, but not sure how they would act in this case.

      It’s another piece in a really complicated process that probably means it’s easier to keep his German citizenship and take his chances on getting to the NT.

  7. Ok so according to the Guardian, the statement in the above article is wrong. He can claim US citizenship but doing so would mean giving up his German citizenship, which would complicate his ability to play at Arsenal since he would then need to get a work permit (doesn’t need one now as an EU national).

    • One way around that would be to get UK residency then he would have right to work in the UK/EU. However, I think he might be 2/3 years away from getting UK residency. HE could pull a Januzc and hold off representing any country until he is sure.

      According to the article I read on the guardian, he feels completely american. He has spent half his life in the US (DC area) and most of his soccer playing life in the US 8/9-16. He stated in another interview he only started playing soccer at 5. So I feel the US can claim developing him.

      Finally, for those of you who might not now, DC has a VERY big Ethiopian community. As a result, it seems natural that he should feel at home in DC/NY.

  8. Too bad that it appears he won’t be able to play for the US. He certainly has far more a connection here than the Germericans or Johannsson. As others have said, good to see an excellent young player develop here.

    • improving by leaps and bounds yes, but Mexico’s gold medal in London, which we couldnt qualify for, was a pretty big statement on that topic

      • And how would that be smart?
        We have an absolutely loaded group and every sub will be very important. I would rather not sacrifice tangible world cup results in order to reserve a player who is just as likely to flame out as to become a superstar.

        Ditto Julian Green and John Brooks.

      • Jeremy,

        Read some of the articles out there. The kid considers himself American.

        I’ve watched every USA game since 2001. I don’t want to burst your bubble, but the chances of this squad winning the World Cup is verrrrrrry slim.. In 4 or 8 years, who knows.. I’d sacrifice a spot for him.

      • If you read the article, you’d realize that he can’t play with us, and unless he decides MLS is more prestigious than the Premier League and he moves back to the US, he won’t.

      • FIFA also has a rule that a player acquiring a “new nationality” has to spend 5 years in the country after age 18. Add in the German dual citizenship rules and the need to have a UK work permit and the need for his parents to have done everything needed to become citizens, you have a lot that has to be in place for him to be eligible to play for the US.

      • Brent,

        The USA’s smarts or lack thereof are not the point.

        He is not a citizen, the article says.

        He has a green card, not a passport, the article says. Five years is the soonest he can get a passport unless he gets married to a US citizen then I believe it can be shortened to three years.

        The World Cup is four-five months away.

        He cannot play for the US national team in the Brazil.

      • He has had a Green Card for quite a while and it is based on his father (not him) because he is under 18. His father is remarried because Gedion’s mom died, so we don’t know if the 3 or 5 year path is the correct one.

    • While I appreciate your enthusiasm, I think that’s a bit of a stretch in this case. Didn’t he move to the USA for only a few years while playing high school and was scouted at the Dallas Cup?

      • He lived in the USA from the age of 9 to 16. The Guardian say he considers himself to be American, so it’ll be interesting to see how this unfolds.

      • Yes he has said that often. Which is really the thing I dislike the most. I won’t argue what makes you an American but saying “I am an American but I refuse to play” for them is an insult.

      • Rossi was born in Teaneck, New Jersey, is a Knicks and Yankee fan, his family and friends still live there, he calls it home and he has a US passport.

        He’s an American.

        Who he plays international soccer for has no bearing on that.

      • Regardless of who he plays for professionally, I think you’d have to say that he is at least in part, a product of the American soccer system. I would extend a similar argument to someone like Neven Subotic who played college soccer and for underage US teams before switching over to Serbia.

        A lot of times when people want to talk about the American soccer system, they rightly don’t count someone like Jermaine Jones as a products of the American system, but they forget to add the many players playing for other national teams that are.

        * Also, to be clear, I am not trying to say that either Jones is not “American” in the sense that American is an identity, only that they were not trained to play soccer in the United States. As far as I’m concerned, anyone who goes out and plays most of the second half of the snow game against Costa Rica with the hole in his leg that Jones had is American enough for me.

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