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

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project