SAN JOSE, Calif. – Since making his debut for Arsenal’s senior side in 2014, US fans are still wondering when promising 19-year-old American Gedion Zelalem will have his breakthrough season for the Gunners.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger made it clear he’s in no rush, but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have high hopes for the player discovered by the club in the DC area.
“I think he’s a player who has quality, top quality,” Wenger said in Tuesday’s press conference previewing the 2016 AT&T All-Star Game on Thursday, July 28 (7:30 pm ET on ESPN, UniMas, TSN and RDS).
Zelalem is coming off a loan spell with Scottish side Glasgow Rangers, where Wenger felt “he did quite well.” Since opting to represent the US national team in 2015 – he had previously played matches for German youth national teams and was also eligible for Ethiopia – he played in the FIFA Under-20 World Cup for the USA and then in Olympic qualifying.
But there’s a straightforward reason Wenger gave as to why Zelalem hasn’t received more of an extended run for Arsenal up to this point.
“He might be a bit longer to mature because he is a little bit behind on the body structure,” Wenger said of the wiry Zelalem. “But I’m sure he will be a great player who matures maybe a bit slowly physically. But overall, I’m convinced that he’ll have a great career. Will he play [on Thursday]? Certainly [he’ll be] part of the game.”
In general, Wenger made it clear he is a fan of the American player and if the opportunities present themselves in the future, he is eager to recruit Arsenal’s next great soccer talent from North America.
“Americans have a big quality that they are dedicated – when they do something, they do it 100 percent,” Wenger said. “I would have loved to have players coming from here because they have individual responsibility and they are committed.
“I believe that a long time in this country you had a handicap because you play only six months. Every sport lasts six months. In Europe, these players next to me [Peter Cech and Jack Wilshere] play 11 months a year since they were kids. That makes a big difference in practice time … We had practice in the university this morning [San Jose State] and the facilities are absolutely exceptional. It’s all there, but it’s a quality of practice and practice time and that means if you want to catch up, you have to play the whole season.