Gedion Zelalem signs first professional contract with Arsenal
Gedion Zelalem's chances of ever playing for the U.S. men's national one day seem slim, especially after he was called up for Germany's upcoming U-17 European championship qualifiers, but the Maryland-area youth star continues to ride the fast track at Arsenal.
Zelalem signed his first professional contract with Arsenal on Tuesday, the club announced on its official website, joining Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey in pledging his future to the Gunners. At 17, Zelalem has already made a first-team appearance for the club, making his debut on Jan. 24 against Coventry City in the FA Cup.
If Zelalem does appear for Germany's U-17s in any of the upcoming matches against Georgia, Republic of Ireland and Serbia, he will no longer be eligible to play for the USA, since he currently does not have U.S. citizenship. FIFA stipulates that a player is only eligible to make a one-time allegiance switch if that player is a citizen of both countries at the time of his first appearance in an official competition with a given nation.
Zelalem holds German (birthplace) and Ethiopian (parents birthplace) eligibility -- the Washington Post broke down his situation in detail last summer -- and even though he lived in the U.S. during his youth years, he does not maintain citizenship just yet and would need to become naturalized before entertaining the thought of donning the red, white and blue. Gaining U.S. citizenship after appearing for Germany in an official youth competition would not impact his U.S. national team eligibility.
U.S. fans, eager to see Zelalem take the path that fellow teenager Julian Green could potentially take and choose the USA over Germany, even petitioned President Barack Obama to fast-track his U.S. citizenship. Regardless of the path Zelalem chooses for international play, his club path seems pretty clear: Continuing to climb the ladder at one of the world's premier clubs. "Gedion is very young of course, but he has shown already that he has fantastic promise, and we all look forward to his development with us," Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger told the club's official website.