For years, the United States tried to get Gedion Zelalem American citizenship and late last year, he got it. Finally, he had cleared the biggest obstacle to playing for the U.S., but now they have a new problem -- Germany has called him up to their U-18 team.
After Zelalem got U.S. citizenship, all indications were that he preferred to play for the Americans and it didn't look like Germany -- who Zelalem had played for at the U-15, U-16 and U-17 level before -- were going to make much of a push to keep him. Now, they clearly are, and Zelalem is going to have to make a decision, but the good news is that because Germany just want him for friendlies, he could accept a call-up and still be eligible for the U.S. later.
Zelalem was born in Germany, but moved to the U.S. when he was nine years old and grew up outside of Washington, D.C. He stayed there until he was spotted by Arsenal scouts and jumped at the chance to join the Gunners. He has been with the club ever since, playing above his age group and even making his senior team debut at the age of 16.
The 18-year-old is a brilliant talent, who has dominated Arsenal U-21 matches despite being underage. He is the type of creative player that the U.S. has craved for so long and would be a huge addition to the Americans' youth teams immediately. He could play at the U-20 World Cup this summer, as well as in Olympic qualifying in October, then the Olympics next year.
On top of that, Jurgen Klinsmann has praised Zelalem recently and said that he could play for the senior team now. That's a big jump for a player who is generally playing for his club's youth team, but it wouldn't be the first time Klinsmann pushed a player up to the senior team when others thought he wasn't ready.
Then again, if Zelalem chooses Germany, Klinsmann may not even get the chance to pick which age group he'll play at. Making matters more complicated is that Zelalem can't actually play for the U.S. right now, but the team has appealed to FIFA for a waiver because Zelalem's situation does not violate the spirit of the rule that would keep him from playing and USSF president Sunil Gulati said that he expects the appeal to be granted so Zelalem could play in "mid-April."
Assuming Zelalem does get the go ahead to play in April, his choices are:
- Play for the Germany U-18s in friendlies now
- Wait for the U.S. next month and join up with their youth teams while banking on Klinsmann calling him up for the senior team, as he said he would
What is he going to do? To this point, all indications were the U.S., but that was before Germany was chasing him. Now, who knows.