The midfielder once looked destined for the top, but never made an appearance at the senior international level
It’s the summer of 2014, and the New York Red Bulls are facing Arsenal in what would end up being Thierry Henry’s testimonial. It wasn’t known as that at the time, of course, as Henry had yet to announce he would retire at the end of that MLS season, but it had all the feelings of a goodbye game. The club he is most associated with travelled across the Atlantic to visit his new home, as fans both old and new gathered for a match that very much honored the French icon.
Henry, of course, received the loudest reception of the day as supporters on both sides applauded their hero. Arsene Wenger also received a large ovation from the New Jersey crowd. But, Henry aside, the player that received the most attention wasn’t an Arsenal hero of yesteryear; it was Gedion Zelalem.
Just 17 years old at the time, Zelalem was a rising star in the Arsenal academy. He was also at the center of an international tug-of-war between Ethiopia, Germany and the United States. At Red Bull Arena that day, there were signs in the crowd pleading him to choose the U.S. men’s national team, as the race was seemingly between the U.S. and Germany for a player of Zelalem’s caliber.
On Saturday, the USMNT and Germany will face off in a friendly as both march towards the 2026 World Cup, and Zelalem will be on neither side. Once a highly regarded prospect at Arsenal, a legitimate German youth international and the potential savior of U.S. Soccer, Zelalem never made an international appearance for any of the three senior teams he was eligible to represent.
So what happened to Gedion Zelalem, the U.S.-eligible wonderkid and future Arsenal star that was once dubbed the next Cesc Fabregas? Well, to put it lightly, he didn’t have the luck needed to reach the level many thought he would.