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Klinsmann: Gedion Zelalem's time is now

The US national coach thinks Arsenal's midfield wunderkind is ready for the big show.

Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

At a roundtable discussion yesterday (my invitation must have been lost in the mail), US Men's National Team manager Jurgen Klinsmann said that Gedion Zelalem will come straight into the senior side once he receives clearance from FIFA.

As has been mentioned previously, Zelalem still has to clear some bureaucratic red tape before he can suit up for the Americans. There's been some discussion on whether Zelalem would come straight into the senior set-up or if he would be eased through, possibly even featuring for the U-20 Olympic side.

Klinsmann did not throw any cold water on the latter, but said "[Zelalem] is already on the level where he can definitely play on the senior team." Also, interestingly enough, Klinsmann mentioned that Zelalem was "a special case" and that the USMNT had "put a lot, a lot of work [into him]."

Other than a Champions League substitute appearance during the most dire of Arsenal's injury situations this season, Zelalem has been playing for Arsenal's U-18s, U-19 UEFA Youth League side, and U-21s, a victim of Arsenal's attacking midfield logjam at the youth and senior levels. Further, he has not been a standout performer in many of these lower level matches, as Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Daniel Crowley have received more praise thus far this season. Considering Klinsmann's previous statements about USMNT players needing to play regularly for their clubs, and that he would prefer said clubs be in a top European league, it is interesting that he would make such strong, supportive statements backing a youth player whose only action is in erratically scheduled, second division (or worse) youth league matches.

I am on record as being a staunch believer in Zelalem's status as an exciting Arsenal youth prospect, and that his strengths are not typically those displayed in Arsenal youth highlight tapes, but it seems quite a different proposition to say he is ready to play for a strong international side such as the United States. From Arsenal's perspective, it has to help their brand in the US to have one of their players in the senior squad. Further, it will be good experience for the young midfielder to practice, and potentially play, with his more seasoned compatriots. Hopefully, he will be able to take a step forward at the club as a result of his call-up, whenever that time comes.