Arsenal prospect Zelalem called-up by Germany for U-17 Euro qualifying

GedionZelalemArsenal1-CoventryCity (Getty)


Gedion Zelalem’s international fate may be sealed, and it’s not very good news for those hoping it would be with the U.S. Men’s National Team.

The Arsenal phenom who was born in Berlin, is of Ethiopian descent, and also used to live in the United States, has been named to Germany’s U-17 squad for UEFA Euro qualifying. Were he to appear for Germany, he wouldn’t be able to switch allegiances to the U.S., as only dual citizens are allowed to make a one-time change before appearing at the senior level.

Zelalem, 17, spent his formative years growing up in the Washington D.C. suburbs, starring at Walter Johnson High School, where he was identified by Arsenal. He has previously played for Germany’s U-16 team and trained with the U.S. U-15s, but he is not an American citizen.

Some USMNT fans have even taken a petition to the website to petition President Obama to fast track Zelalem’s citizenship.┬áHe made his first-team debut with Arsenal this winter in a FA Cup match against Coventry City.

What do you think of Zelalem’s latest Germany call-up? Do you expect him to play in the qualifying matches?

Share your thoughts below.

This entry was posted in European Soccer, Featured, U.S. Men's National Team. Bookmark the permalink.

78 Responses to Arsenal prospect Zelalem called-up by Germany for U-17 Euro qualifying

  1. dan says:

    Can’t say I’m surprised at all. How many players does the USA give a chance for their families to come here and have a fresh start yet they go to play for the countries that their families left for a reason?

    • Josh D says:

      Not many, and who cares? His parents came here as tax paying members of society. They owe the US nothing.

      Zelalem owes us nothing and couldn’t play for us anyway at the moment.

      While I would love him to play for us, move on.

      • MLSsnob says:

        Other than the fact that it’s here where he developed his skills that have become so useful for him in his career. It’d be one thing to say Johannsen or Green owes us nothing and while I get your larger point we were at least partially responsible for the talent Germany will now be benefiting from. I guess they’ve given us enough talent over the years so, fair’s fair.

        • Rory Miller says:

          This is going to happen time and time again as our best resident non-citizens get noticed at youth contests like the Dallas Cup. Better get used to it.

          • EspinDOHla says:

            Paging Mr. Fagundez, you’ve been summoned by Uruguay!

            This guy needs a passport!!!

            • Rory Miller says:

              By the way, isn’t all this more easily accomplished by changing USSF rules? I mean, it’s the federation that says you must be a citizen to play. Many countries allow resident aliens to play for the national team, right?

              • Nate Dollars says:

                no, it’s fifa rules, and it says you have to have a passport for that country. so then it depends on whatever that country’s citizenship laws are.

              • Joe+G says:

                The FIFA rules use “nationality” and some have suggested that the US could play Green Card holders. But GCs don’t meet FIFA rules because they can be taken away if you don’t reside in the country. For all practical purposes, it means citizenship.

      • BBB says:

        Where did you look up his parent’s tax status?

      • DC Josh says:


    • Frank says:

      Well there are quite a few players whom German gave a chance to develop (school,football develompent,free health care, better social safety net) and who are now playing for the US.

      • Rory Miller says:

        True, but Germany also gave them a strange awkwardness that they give other people who don’t look like them (that’s a wink wink, nod nod way of saying the R-word came into play).

        • Frank says:

          Well the R-Word is also a part of life for many blacks in the US. And at least Germany doesn`t incarcerate a huge portion of its black population the way the US justice system does.

          I bet many black Americans would like to change places with their German counterparts.

          • Stephen says:

            Do you know if any of what you just said is factual or are you just spewing nonsense?

            Also, most of the people in jail in the country deserve to be there.

            • Frank says:

              it`s a mixture of facts and personal experience.

              Well, they might deserve to be there, but maybe they would have become law-abiding citizens if they had gotten better support from the state when they grew up.

        • Increase0 says:

          European countries have a big problem the US will never have.
          They were pretty homogeneous until the last 50 years.
          Ex: You think Swede—> Blonde.

          Some of it is racism. Some of it is that your first response to seeing someone who doesn’t “look” like a Swede is a foreigner.
          This doesn’t mean racism. It means they are not automatically assumed to be part of your group. You might attempt to speak English when you meet them rather than German. Stuff like that.
          It turns into the strange awkwardness that you talk about.

          • Frank says:

            Well, some of those German-Americans might also have identity issues, because they grew up without a father. It`s not easy when your American father abandoned you and didn`t support you financially (Jermaine Jones).

            Of course in some cases being bi-racial might also have something to do with it.

            But people shouldn`t generalize so much. Just because JJ and DW said in an interview they had troubles growing up bi-racial in Germany doesn`t mean other German-Americans have had to deal with the same issue. These are individuals after all – and should be treated as such.

    • ld says:

      Do you know the reason they left Germany? Please share with us

  2. shawn says:

    hes playing for sure, I hope he turns it down or picks up a “knock” not serious injury. something like a stubbed toe

    • MLSsnob says:

      I’ve heard it’s as simple as picking up a passport. If that the case then why wouldn’t he pick up his US passport before playing therefore keeping his international options open?

      • Increase0 says:

        It’s not at all as simple as picking up a passport. He has to get US citizenship. If he does, he will lose his work permit.(Probably)

        It’s complicated. At 17, I would be afraid to risk my career at Arsenal for any national team.

        • Nate Dollars says:

          i don’t think there’s any way he’d lose his work permit.

          they have an exception for “exceptional talent”, and he would definitely fall under that.

          • bryan says:

            oh really? i did not know that and was under the same impression as Increase0.

          • Joe+G says:

            Germany does have a process through which you can retain your citizenship when you naturalize to another country, but there isn’t a guarantee that they will allow it. And it is time consuming & expensive. The status quo is easier.

            • Nate Dollars says:

              right, i wasn’t talking about his citizenship, but his work permit, which would remain valid (or be re-issued) due to his “exceptional talent”.

              • Joe+G says:

                Except he doesn’t have a work permit. His passport allows him to work there. If he lost his citizenship, he would have to adhere to the FA’s rules on WPs, which might not be kind to someone so young. He doesn’t meet the standard rule for a WP, so he would have to go through the appeal process. No telling what that would mean. Not worth the risk, really.

              • Nate Dollars says:

                his passport *is* his ‘work permit’.

                and yes, arsenal would have to appeal through the ‘exceptional talent’ rule, so i agree, there would be a risk, albeit a small one considering his ability, progress, and potential.

              • Joe+G says:

                I think the WP appeal is riskier than people give credit for someone who doesn’t have NT caps at all *plus* he is too young under FIFA rules to move across borders (once he loses an EU passport). Now, the powers-that-be might grant him some exceptions, but that’s a lot of risk to take on when standing pat is much easier and cleaner.

          • bryan says:

            here if what i found, certainly sounds like it would be a battle:

            According to Section 25 (i) of the German Nationality Act, German citizenship “shall be lost by a person acquiring a foreign citizenship upon his/her application. This does not affect persons acquiring the citizenship of an EU member state or Switzerland.”

            Zelalem has a claim for a US passport but, if he pursued it, he would not only lose his German citizenship but his EU rights, which could affect his ability to work in England. At the very least, he would have to apply for a work permit and that could lead him and Arsenal into choppy waters.

            The system is not designed to accommodate super-talented non-EU youngsters, rather established top internationals. Advice would have to be sought from the UK border agencies while lawyers would also become embroiled. There is no precedent for a Premier League player giving up his EU status and then having to explore the means to remain at his club. The situation would stand to be time-consuming and fraught with risk.

        • Geoff says:

          If he’s a German citizen, he doesn’t need a work permit (or at least if he does, he’s an EU citizen and is automatically granted one). Becoming an American citizen doesn’t void his German citizenship.

          • bryan says:

            that’s the thing, a lot of what has been reported states that Germany would revoke his citizenship if he changed since he is not a dual national.

            i’m sure someone with more knowledge of german laws can comment, but that’s what i had read.

            • Frank says:

              Generally speaking, if you are a German citizenship and apply for a non-EU citizenship, you will lose your German citizenship automatically.

              There are some exceptions, but that`s the general rule.

            • Rory Miller says:

              His parents have a job and work in England so I’m not sure any of that will matter much.

              • bryan says:

                once he is 18, i feel like it would absolutely matter. admittedly, i have no idea, just guessing.

      • user222 says:

        the US State Dept. must receive a directive from Oboma so that they can issue his passport… this is what Obama did with his illegal aunt and uncle who have lived in the US for decades.

        Even if the passport was issued, will Zelalem show up to be sworn in?

        • M says:

          What’s this garbage?! You can’t get a passport until you’re a citizen. You have to be a green card holder for 5 years before you can apply for citizenship. Once you have your citizenship, a passport is more or less a formality…

          What does Obama have to do with ANY of this?!

          It’s unbelievable how little people know about our country….

          • Nate Dollars says:

            what, you have something against little people? and you’re really trying to hide an entire country from them?

        • Gerard D. says:


          The Blaze is that way… ====>

  3. Jon says:

    Thank goodness. Was getting tired of the internet hyping a kid they hadn’t actually seen play and wasn’t (and never would be) in posession of the papers needed to make him US eligible.
    Please move along.

  4. Futebol says:

    “Is not a citizen”, it was all a pipe dream that he would be a part of our team, anyway.

  5. Drewbles says:

    Let’s see if we can trade Jermaine Jones back to Germany for him.

    • AcidBurn says:

      I’d give them Brek Shea, $15 million on the salary cap and two first round picks, done deal.

  6. Excellency says:

    Zelalem should play for Germany. We’re fine. All this bi-national outreach stuff is just creating a lot of debits in the USMNT account that will act like a ball and chain on the USMNT team going forward.

    We dont need to “recruit” for the USMNT. We have more than enough volunteers who are just as good. This whole carrot on a stick approach will cost us when we least want it

    • slowleftarm says:

      While my position is well known on this site, and I largely agree with you, Zelalem lived a good portion of his life here, so I think the situation is a little different. It’s moot, since it looks like he’ll never be eligible, but I don’t think it would be ridiculous for him to play for the USMNT.

    • Elber Galarga says:

      Just as good? Not many big club phenoms on the radar.

    • Nate Dollars says:

      as slowleftarm stated below, the kid was homegrown, if you will, in the usa. we’re not recruiting (in this case), we’re trying to keep our finished product.

      and, as slowleftarm also says, it’s merely the flipside of jones, johnson, johannsson, et al.

      • Nate Dollars says:

        and i’ll also submit that this will happen more and more as soccer grows in this country.

        unless mls can make some big strides quickly, clubs like arsenal will continue poaching young immigrants (and nationals, of course) who have developed here, but want to go to a ‘big’ club. and due to our strict citizenship laws, if they haven’t gotten their citizenship yet, they likely never will.

        • Joe+G says:

          The European clubs will always have an advantage if the player has an EU passport or is willing to wait until age 18 to move. The money is so much better, though the willingness of MLS to sell players at 18 or 19 will dictate if players becoming more willing to sign with the league.

          • Eurosnob says:

            That, and it does not appear that Arsenal “poached” this kid from the MLS. The article simply states that Arsenal “identified” him when he played for his high school – there is no indication that the MLS identified and recruited him.

            • Nate Dollars says:

              yeah, “poached” was an inaccurate word. i simply meant that arsenal didn’t develop him.

              that said, he played for olney rangers in the dallas cup–he wasn’t some unknown like najar–with scouts coming from all over the world. i’m fairly certain mls reached out to him.

  7. slowleftarm says:

    Too bad. This kid spent a lot of youth here and learned the game in the US until he was about 15. Just a quirk of the system I guess that players like Zelalem, Najar and Fagundez grew up here, yet aren’t eligible, but people like Green, Brooks and most of the Germericans never lived here yet are eligible.

  8. bryan says:

    well i’ll be hoping he turns it down…

  9. A.S. says:

    Win some, lose some.

    Wonder what the Icelanders think about this.

  10. mind reader says:

    i think they did it on purpose, surely because of the petition. he is a kid, he might have been swayed by the petition, who knows. i mean the germans of course would have taken him anyway. but as you were petitioning to fast track his US citizenship, they fast tracked his germany call up.

  11. The Resurgence says:

    Well we just lost what was never ours. So idk why everyones so butt hurt! At Least we still have Green who is way better than zelalem.

    • slowleftarm says:

      There’s no proof Green is any better, nor do we “have” him. More likely, Green and Zelalem will be teaming up for Germany at some point.

  12. Frank says:

    Help me out with the rules…why does a U-17 call-up tie him to a national team? He’s played for Germany at the U-15, U-16 and U-17 levels, but perhaps those weren’t the right type games? Does his family still live in the US? Is he interested in US citizenship? I know that as a German he could be eligible to be a dual citizen.

    • bryan says:

      the difference is this is an official FIFA tournament, Euro qualifiers.

      • Rory Miller says:

        When you’ve been called up to a FIFA youth tournament you are locked into whatever countries you have citizenship at that time. You can still switch later, but only to a country you had citizenship with at the time of your youth appearance.

        it is stupid and contrived. Why limit a 25 year old to whatever country he was eligible for at 17? There is no logic behind it except it is to cut down a bit on people bouncing back and forth between national teams.

        • Monty says:

          Isn’t it a good thing to stop players bouncing back and forth between national teams.

          • Joe+G says:

            Well, it goes both ways. It’s a shame that some players get cap-tied very young and then can’t change when things don’t work out. The French were notorious under the old rules for playing lots of dual nationals once and then never calling them again.

            You want to give players flexibility while giving NTs some assurance that players won’t flip-flop.

        • bryan says:

          i understand that Rory. read what i wrote.

          Frank was asking why THIS tournament counted and not when Zelalem played at the 15, 16, and 17 youth levels for Germany. as far as i know, they were friendlies and not an official FIFA tournament.

          this is an official tournament and since he is not a dual citizen, it locks him in. if he was a dual citizen, he would be required to file a one-time switch as it would provisionally cap tie him.

          • Joe+G says:

            Just to clarify, he is a dual citizen of Germany & Ethiopia, so he can conceivably switch to Ethiopia in the future if he doesn’t get a senior competitive cap.

  13. Monty says:

    It was always a pipe dream. Best of luck to him he is a great talent and seems to be a good kid.

  14. AcidBurn says:

    It’s over folks, he’s playing for Germany. The interesting thing here is that from several news reports, he “feels” American (and would probably choose the US if he had the chance), but unless he stubs his toe and misses the games, he’s locked into Germany.

    Sad that he has to make this decision at the age of 17, but it is what it is.

    Who wants to bet that he plays for Germany now and then gets his US citizenship only to realize later that he can’t switch?

  15. Jake says:

    We’ll agree to stop pursing Zelalem if Germany agrees to stop pursuing Julian Green?

  16. Audrel says:

    If we could only develop some decent talent we wouldn’t have to look like the fat chic at last call.

    • bryan says:

      to be fair, this kid frew up playing soccer in the US. not only for his high school but also a local DC suburb youth team. he was discovered at a tournament in Texas.

    • Nate Dollars says:

      as bryan said, we did develop him. that’s why this instance is kind of weird; we’re on the other side now.

      • Bobert says:

        he developed himself really. Or, his local club developed him. He wasn’t developed by any pro-affiliated academy in the US.

  17. ld says:

    Why does everyone here assume he even wants to play for the USA if he could? Germany or the USA? Pretty easy decision. He probably wouldnt pick the USA even if it was an option.

    • bryan says:

      i’ll just leave this here:

      “He has spent the key years of his young life in the US and he not only sounds American, he considers himself to be American. His laid-back attitude and quiet self-assurance are characteristically American. If all things were equal, he would surely choose to declare for Klinsmann and the USA national side, who would love to add a little fantasy to their game.”

      link to

  18. Expat4455 says:

    the question re: there is no proof that Green is better than Zelalem. that is, none except that Zelalem is being tipped to the U17 for Germany and Green has already played (last year when he was the same age as Zelalem is now) on the German U19.