Player profile: Who is Gedion Zelalem? The midfielder who has just signed his first professional contract with Arsenal

Jack Wilshere and Carl Jenkinson have already given him their praise

Gedion Zelalem, who made history by becoming the first player born after Arsene Wenger joined Arsenal to play for the club when he made his debut against Coventry City in the FA Cup in January and signed his first professional deal with the club today, is one of the brightest young stars in the Gunners’ academy.

Born in Berlin to Ethiopian parents, Zelalem was spotted while playing for American junior side Olney Rovers after his family moved to the United States. Arsenal’s chief North American scout Daniel Karbassiyoon, who played for the club from 2003-05, watched him at the Dallas Cup, a highly competitive international tournament for youth teams, and pointed him out to Arsenal’s coaches.

The midfielder, then just 14, was invited for a trial at Arsenal, and so impressed Arsene Wenger that not only did he secure a place at the academy when he turned 16, but also the parting gift of an Arsenal jersey emblazoned with his name and the number 4, presented to him by the manager.

Zelalem has drawn comparisons with one of the most illustrious wearers of that Arsenal No 4 shirt – Cesc Fabregas – for his style of play. A deep lying central midfielder with superb technique, Zelalem has earned plaudits for his range of passing and precocious ability to read the game.

Mike Williams, his high-school coach, told the Washington Post that Zelalem is “able to set the tempo like no other”. His coach at Olney Rovers, Matt Pilkington concurred: “The balance, the vision, the ideas – you don’t see that often at Gedion’s age.”

After rejoining Arsenal last year, Zelalem wasted no time in justifying the hype. He starred for the under-21 team (despite being five years younger than most of his fellow players), before a series of assured performances on the club’s Asia Tour had seasoned players purring over his ability.

“So many of the young players impress me but if I had to choose one it would be Gedion,” said Carl Jenkinson. “He is very gifted on the ball, he is a midfielder that it is difficult to get the ball off, he has great balance and good feet and has great vision.” Jack Wilshere enthused: “He played a few passes through that I don’t know how he saw them to be honest.”

At 16, Zelalem is clearly far from the finished article. He needs to develop his slight physique to compete physically in the centre of the park; in addition, German newspaper the Rheinische Post reports that he still “often makes the wrong decisions…and uses only his right foot for almost every touch”.

But even that newspaper concedes that Zelalem’s creativity and vision are so outstanding that “one can scarcely believe he’s only 16 years old”.

All the signs suggest that Zelalem has the maturity to cope with his FA Cup baptism of fire.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee