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Arsenal’s Wenger lauds Zelalem’s decision to play for USA

GedionZelalemArsenal1-MonacoEmiratesCup (Getty)



Gedion Zelalem’s decision to play for the U.S. Men’s National Team has come with much fanfare, and a big vote of confidence as well.

Days after FIFA made Zelalem eligible to play for the U.S., his manager at Arsenal, Arsene Wenger, lauded the decision. Wenger told reporters that he leaves it up to his players to decide what nation they want to represent, and added that he thinks it will be beneficial to have Zelalem learn under U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann.

“Jurgen has all the knowledge that is needed at the top level,” said Wenger, who also stated that Zelalem could go out on loan next season. “He has good experience as a coach as well and it will be fantastic for him.”

This isn’t the first time Wenger has had good things to say about Zelalem with the U.S. Last summer during Arsenal’s preseason stop in the New York area, Wenger said Zelalem was the type of attacking player that the Americans lack.

“Gedion has the qualities that I believe are very important to give in the States because the national team I’ve seen (is missing them),” Wenger said last July. “He’s a creative player and he can create a spark an opening with his pass, with his vision through the eyes and if he manages to build up his physique and his qualities, he can be a very important player. Let’s hope he will do it.”

Zelalem, who was born in Berlin to Ethiopian parents but given U.S. citizenship last year, will first play with the U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team at this summer’s World Cup.

He was included in the Americans’ 21-man roster by head coach Tab Ramos, and is expected to play a significant role in their campaign in New Zealand if Zelalem can acclimate to his new surroundings and teammates fast enough.


What do you make of Wenger’s comments? How happy are you to hear he is fully behind Zelalem’s move? Expecting a big U-20 World Cup out of Zelalem?

Share your thoughts below.


  1. Some the comments, are really strange… Makes me Wonder who really understands International Soccer/Football and especially the difficult path/road to becoming a National Team member… even for USA.This is NOT the JV Squad, that many individuals on here.. were cut from. My Good man Quozzel.. has the best and most informative comment,by far. Thanks Quozzel

  2. I equate the whole German-American issue to a new college basketball coach bringing in JC transfers to hold the program over until the 4 year players can get a foothold. It’s not ideal, but sometimes necessary to get things to the next level. It is going to take some time for the American youth system to produce the players with the qualities that JK is looking for. Hopefully in 10-12 years the real issue will be are these German Americans of good enough quality to help those teams. If so we will know that we have progressed. If we are still having this debate at that time, then JK has failed in his job as technical director. All of the said Gedion Zelalem would be a player that falls under our youth development system anyway.

    • As a fan of college basketball, more and more teams are using foreign players. The goal is to win and you try to get the best players you can to do that, regardless of origin. The NBA also has been getting more and more foreign players and nobody gives a rats patootie about that. It seems that only some US soccer fans seem to care.

      • My position is well known on this issue although I think GZ should play for the USMNT (although it wouldn’t be ridiculous for him to play for Germany either). However, NBA teams aren’t national teams – they can and should look wherever they can for the best players possible. Same is true for NCAA teams really – the only concern is whether a kid is academically qualified, nationality isn’t an issue.

        But a national team is supposed to be made up of players from that country. That’s the point – so recruiting people because the coach thinks the current squad isn’t good enough isn’t really kosher in my opinion. And I realize other countries do it too but I don’t agree with it. JK’s recruitment efforts would be more like Coach K recruiting Dirk Nowitzki for the US Olympic team because he thought the US players he had available weren’t good enough.

      • No. A national team is made up of people of a certain citizenship. Period. Doesn’t matter where they grew up. You have the passport? Then you get to represent that country. End of story.

      • Ok I guess that’s the difference between the spirit and the letter of the rules governing who can play for which country.

      • Slow’s argument is with the rules as they currently stand. Perhaps he/she would also say that regardless of what the rules allow, the USMNT should voluntarily restrict itself to players with sufficeint connections to the US. So it’s pointless to keep pointing out what the rules say. Slow’s argument is about what the rules *should* say, and/or about whether the USSF should unilaterally decide not to take full advantage of what the rules permit.

      • +1. Well said. Slowleft has always been consistent on this subject, even if I don’t entirely agree with him.

        His problem is with the rules themselves, not whether or not we are following them.

        If the guy feels the US team is becoming a group of opportunistic mercenaries rather than something that reflects an ideal and identity he relates with, he is certainly within bounds to say so.

        I mean, we all sit here and talk openly about how corrupt and ridiculous FIFA is, yet all of the sudden our tone shifts to “that’s how the rules are written and you are an idiot if you don’t agree” when it comes to eligibility.

      • As I have pointed out before, most of the German Americans you object to are natural born US citizens under the law and qualify to be President once they turn 35, yet you don’t think they should qualify to play soccer for the US. Ironically, Zelalem is one who is a naturalized citizen and less an “American” legally than the ones you object to.

      • Gary Page

        Duke is no longer averse to using one and done players.

        That should tell you all you need to know about the importance of winning in college basketball.

        JK has about the most ironclad contract the USSF has ever signed but he probably more than anyone, knows the importance of results.

  3. A telling statement of Wenger’s, “if he manages to build up his physique and his qualities, he can be a very important player”, indicates that regardless of how good this kid is technically he still has a ways to go before he’s truly ready to contribute to the USNT.
    CONCACAF is a very physical path to the World Cup, and Zelalem is a slightly build kid. IMO he’ll need a year (or two) in order to fill in a bit before he’s ready for the Sr. Level. The U-20 level is a good starting point for him. A strong performance this summer and he’ll get a shot at the U-23 Olympic Qualification Tournament. In the long run I think this will help him prepare for the riggers of CONCACAF.

    • I think you meant the “rigors” of CONCACAF, but some of the officiating would certainly support a claim that there are “riggers” in CONCACAF too.

    • He has a slight build, but he’s actually a big kid. Tall, relatively broad shouldered. When he’s older, he’ll be a physical specimen. I think the best comp would be Aaron Ramsey – pretty good technically (better than just about any American player), works hard, can get forward and score goals but isn’t really a creative midfielder.

    • I used to think that about Beasley and was sure he would never be a good defensive back because he could be muscled off the ball. I was wrong. While GZ looks like he could bulk up a bit and it would help him, past experience shows it may not be necessary.

    • You have to factor in what Wenger is using as his standard for comparison.

      In GZ’s case that is probably a guy like Patrick Viera in a competition like the race for the EPL title or the Champion’s league.

      In any case the kid has time to fill out, bulk up and learn the game.

  4. Let’s be honest here: picking the US over Germany screams lack of self belief and commitment and it sends a pretty song message to clubs.

    • LOL. Unlike the Germericans JK has recruited, GZ has actually lived in America almost as long as he did in Germany plus his teenage years were spent here. I think he could’ve chosen either but maybe the kid just likes America more. Rob must be a Mexico supporter based on his constant anti-MLS/USMNT rhetoric. Don’t worry – you guys will beat the USMNT again someday. It’s only been four years at this point.

      • I didn’t call you a Mexican, I called you a Mexico supporter – i.e. you hate US soccer because their your rival. Please save the race card for when it’s appropriate.

      • Yikes, they’re not their – firing off responses so quickly I’m forgetting basic grammar. Unacceptable.

      • I don’t agree with a lot of what slow says in reference to American “enough”, but a racist is something he is not.

    • Oh, lordy.

      The USMNT has made the Round of 16 three of the last four World Cups. Zelalem has a chance to slot in right away in a competitive squad and play in Russia in 2018. This is exactly what young players dream about.

      Germany is not exactly offering the same opportunity. Their midfield is scary loaded…by a bunch, the most loaded midfield in International soccer. Zelalem might – MIGHT! – have a chance of making the 2022 squad at best.

      Personally I think with this wave of young players coming up now, the US will be comfortably in the Top 10 in the world by 2022 anyhow. Russia 2018 has a chance to be a statement tournament for the US and I suspect it could well be.

      I don’t think Zelalem is going to take a big career hit here. Exactly the opposite, in fact.

      • or maybe Rob has a pretty good idea of what’s talking about.. Maybe Rob has family members that play in Germany and very close friends that play for the youth USNT. or maybe Rob has a close friend that regularly sets up try-outs for American players with German and Mexican teams and hears the same complains all the time “American players just don’t have the mental fortitude to make it in a big league.”….. Just maybe.

      • That sounds like bias and prejudgment…which is exactly why American players aren’t making it in Europe despite the fact that we consistently make the Round of 16 – in the two most-recent tournaments, ahead of traditional powers like England and Portugal. And it was not the Americans who were showing shaky psyches and a lack of mental (or testicular) fortitude on those occasions. We battled to the wire and even gave a vastly more-talented Belgian team that is now #3 in the world a coronary, or actually, several. And Mexico dares critique Americans for shaky mental fortitude? They were only in the World Cup because America didn’t let its foot off the gas against a meaningless qualifier against Panama, in Panama.

        Nobody sane thinks American players are soft. Accuse us of tactical naivety, sure. Accuse us of lack of tactical finesse…again, probably guilty. Accuse us of an ad hoc youth system and particularly poor development after the age of 16 or so…yup, that’s been a traditional knock on us for awhile as well though hopefully our Academy set-ups are starting to change that.

        But “lack of mental fortitude”?

        It’s kind of hard to be both hard-working overachievers AND mentally soft. I thought the knock on us was that we were try-hard hustlers who got by with grit and determination but lacked the SKILL for the big time.

        So…which is it?

      • Of corse thereis bias. Just like Slow would automatically peg you as a classless scumbag if you cheer for Mexico bias it’s everywhere. There is also a race amongst European teams to find a true American star. Bayern has said that much. The payoff is just too hard to ignore. We all know American players can run all day and most of the night if told so. What they do before and after it’s what matter to this people. being able to live and breath soccer 24/7 says a lot more than whatever you do during those 90 minutes on the field

      • quozzel,

        After the 2010 WC Ghana loss, Landon Donovan said that, and I’m paraphrasing, the big difference between the USMNT and a team like Ghana was mental.

        I believe he said our players were not as savvy ( or, your words, having “tactical naivety” ) as the Ghanaian players, many of whom played in tough European leagues and in tough competitions like the Champions League. This meant they did the little things that added up to a big win. It was a small but significant difference.

        Ironically this echoes pretty much what JK has said for a long time and has regularly been blasted for on SBI.

        Like Donovan, I have always thought the best way to become the best was to compete against the best but most of SBI seems to disagree and prefers to settle for second best.

        In 2005 Ryan Nelsen, a New Zealander but also a Greensboro College (Div lll) and Stanford player and a DC United center back and Captain, moved to Blackburn Rovers and without too much fuss became their center half. He went on to have a very long and solid career.

        If not before, then since then, MLS has sent players (many of them Americans) over to that level in Europe who have achieved varying degrees of success. Even if they “fail” over there they come back much better players.

        These best example for me was EJ. Anyone who saw EJ before he went to Fulham and wherever else he played in Europe and then saw him when he came back could see that.

        So there is plenty of evidence that what American players “lack” in terms of succeeding in the higher European leagues, if they lack anything, is not a lack of skill, talent or mental capacity. Mostly, it is just the lack of an opportunity, the lack of a willingness of those clubs to take a chance.

        It is not an accident that certain clubs like Fulham have had more than their share of Americans. I’d like to see what AZ could do with Jordan Morris for example.

        While I’m certain there is prejudice, you also have to factor in the hyper competitive atmosphere at those big clubs where success must be instant and it must be huge, or heads will roll. It’s that promotion/ relegation thing again. There is a reason why those big clubs are full of Brazilians, Argentinians and Eastern Europeans.

        Even though many of them turn out to be miserable failures, there is still a huge bias FOR players from those places because of the long track record.

      • you sound really smart and well-connected — congrats! yet none of that explains why you think no one would actually willingly choose to represent the usa.

      • Athletes are competitive by nature. Choosing to play for a weaker team goes against everything an athlete should strive for.

      • That is your opinion which isn’t shared at all by many of the top athletes you reference. For example, when Lebron James left Cleveland for Miami he was killed by top athletes for running from the challenge of making his team better and instead going to a team that is better and already has other stars. That is the complete opposite of your claim above. Stop speaking for top/competitive athletes. You know nothing!

      • Definitely a self-hating American, this Rob.

        It makes no sense, this rubbish you are spouting about Zelalem spontaneously deciding based on [?] that he is not good enough and must play for a “weaker team”. Zelalem is a teenager has yet to encounter a single professional failure. On paper, he is WAY above the curve for players his age. Not sure what would ever cause a teenager to make this sort of decision, regardless of their life goals or profession.

        By your logic, it’s like a quarterback prom king who just got a perfect score on the SAT deciding to go to correspondence college and sell Avon for a living.

        More likely, the kid sees what the rest of us do. The US is his home and he can be part of something big here. We are not Germany, but we are not a backwater anymore. True competitors love a challenge.

      • ….or maybe Rob has a nephew that plays 4th div in Germany and when he asked that nephew how good Julian Green is his nephew responded “he’s pretty good…. but never the best player on the field or anything”

      • hey, that’s actually the most compelling reason yet for your reverse hard-on (hard-off?) for green: “but–but–my nephew said this! my nephew! he only speaks the truth!”

      • Why would anyone believe what Rob says?

        Look I can do it too Rob:

        Me and Jurgen Klinsmann are actually buddies. We went out for lunch the other day and he confided in me that he actually doesn’t know what he is doing and that he is way in over his head. I asked him why he doesn’t just quit but he said he refuses to quit. So you see I have inside knowledge about how even JK thinks that he is no good. Don’t ever question me on an anti-Klinsmann post again!

    • As I have said before, people like the US and many have literally died trying to get here. It’s a pretty good country. If you don’t think so, why are you here?

  5. This Winger guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Under such horrible leadership, Zelalem’s time for the USNT will essentially be a waste. He needs to play for someone who is an expert at developing young talent, like Sigi Schmid. Maybe a loan to the Sounders is in order.

  6. I’m sure Wenger means it… but what do you expect him to say? This is worthy of a note in a news round up, and not the (somewhat) overkill in the headline.

    The most interesting part of the Wenger quote was left out, which was about how they encourage players to do what’s in their heart. The implication is that this was what GZ wanted, that it is a deeper commitment than simply an opportunity to break into an easier side

    • good stuff! i would also imagine that Wegner is excited about having a potential American star on the roster and selling jerseys.

      • either he doesn’t personally care but is told to or he really does like the fact that his club has a potential US asset in development..

      • I doubt he cares about selling shirts, but Zelalem’s transfer value will likely get a greater boost from showing well with the US than never appearing for Germany

    • TIQ,

      “ The implication is that this was what GZ wanted, that it is a deeper commitment than simply an opportunity to break into an easier side”

      If that is what a kid like GZ is interested in then why is he at Arsenal?

      Why doesn’t he move to a club where the chances to play for the first team might be easier ?

      Do you suppose breaking into Arsenal’s lineup is easier than breaking into the USMNT lineup?

      • Your comment does note make any sense. GZ is not contradicting himself. Tony stated that “The implication is that this was what GZ wanted, that it is a deeper commitment than simply an opportunity to break into an easier side”. In other words, playing for the USMNT is much more important than the fact that getting into the USMNT squad is easier than getting into Die Mannschaft. Meaning even if getting into the USMNT squad was harder than getting into the German squad, he would still choose the USMNT.

      • Anthony,

        I never said GZ contradicted himself.

        What I am pointing out is that he is at Arsenal, and may have a halfway decent shot at breaking into their first team in the foreseeable future.

        If you are going to rate the teams that are “easier” ( Tony’s words not mine) to get into, then I would say USMNT first, Arsenal second and then Germany third. By how much I don’t know but that would be my guess.

        The point is GZ’s willingness to stay at Arsenal and fight for a place would seem to indicate the kid is not afraid of a challenge as many here seem to be implying.

        After all, breaking into the first team at Arsenal is about a hard a challenge as a young soccer player, from any country, could get.

        Kids think they are invincible ( and he is a kid). I’ll bet if you sat him down and really got to talk to him he’d tell you he thinks he could play for either Germany or the US.

        So I’d take it at face value when Wenger and others say he wants to play for the US because that is where his friends are.

    • I think Wenger and Koinsmann have a mutual admiration society. Klinsmann played for Wenger when Wenger was coach at Monaco and Monaco went far in the equivalent of the Champions League back then. That may have something to do with this.

    • well, being in the Germany Midfield pool likely waiting a while for an opportunity.

      should be in prime position to start at the U20 World Cup and compete for a 1st team role with the US when ready.

      • Wegner, a consumate frenchman, may hold a grudge for some of the times Germany or the Germanesque invaded. Thus making him less likely to “[leave] it up to his players to decide what nation they want to represent”

      • I think he’d prefer they not play for anyone but Arsenal. But I would think he’d prefer Germany for GZ since 1) it’ll be harder for him to break into their squad (and therefore he’ll get less callups and be with Arsenal more) and 2) there would generally be less travel involved with playing for Germany.

      • You do know that Wenger is from Alsace Lorraine which is very Germanic, right?. In fact, he speaks German as well as French. It has been the subject of territorial disputes between France and Germany (and German predecessors). If anything, he would prefer Germany. His name is ethnic German

        Don’t let a little knowledge hurt you…

      • Having studied a fiar amount of European diplomatic and military history, I think Alsace Lorraine is more French than German. Certainly the French think so. It has been a political football for a long time, belonging to whoever won the last war.

    • Actually, I bet Wenger would applauded the decision to go with the US over Germany. With the US, he’d get minutes with the Olympic team right away…with Germany not so much. Wenger wants him for Arsenal and if he starts getting international minutes sooner, the better as far as Wenger is concerned. And that is more likely to happen with the US than Germany. So no, no-one had to tell Wenger that the other options were Ethiopia and Germany–he knew.

    • With a similar situation, Joel Campbell of Costa Rica, Wenger sent him on loan to Lorient, Real Betis, Olympiacos, and Villareal. He did very well in the last World Cup. My guess is that he will find a pretty good team for Zelalem.

      • DC United could use a creative midfielder. That’ll mean CCL experience, in addition to MLS. If Olsen has anything to do with it, Zelalem will come back with the kind of bite that Arsenal lacks. And, he gets to be in familiar surroundings.

      • What’s prohibitive is that all MLS loans have to have an “option to buy” clause attached to them.

        I’d love to see the likes of Zelalem and Julian Green get loaned over here; I think it’d do them a world of good, and it makes financial and logistic sense for both the teams loaning these guys and MLS squad depth…the problem is, MLS teams can’t do it unless it’s an audition…one of MLS’s myriad rules I personally don’t agree with. I know Garber doesn’t want MLS becoming a loan-driven league…but to me, each team should have at least one pure loan slot available.

        Oh well. If wishes were fishes….

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