PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Arsenal’s 18-year-old German-born midfielder Gedion Zelalem will go straight into the U.S. national team if FIFA grant him eligibility, U.S coach Juergen Klinsmann told reporters on Thursday.
Zelalem was born in Berlin and played for Germany at youth level and was also eligible to play for Ethiopia through his parents.
However the player has expressed a desire to play for the United States and gained U.S. citizenship in December, opening the door to a potential switch pending permission from the world governing body.
“He is a special case. I think he is already at a level that he can definitely play with the senior team,” Klinsmann told a small group of reporters.
Although Zelalem has yet to feature in a Premier League game for Arsenal he is seen as one of the most exciting prospects in the club’s youth ranks.
He made his first-team debut in the FA Cup win over Coventry City in January last year and made another appearance from the bench in the Champions League game away to Galatasaray in December 2014.
Klinsmann did not rule out the midfielder being given a slot in one of the U.S. youth teams at some stage but said he wanted to see him with the first team initially.
“Definitely I would like to see him with me first. I want to see how he interacts with the whole group and what level he is in. For the next dates, I am totally open to have him in the Under-23s,” he said.
Zelalem lived in the United States from 2006 until 2013 when he joined London club Arsenal.
FIFA rules, designed to stop players from being granted citizenship for entirely football reasons, require players to live in a country for five years after their 18th birthday before they are eligible.
The U.S. is hopeful of being granted a waiver in the case of Zelalem, given that his move to the country as a schoolboy had nothing to do with football.
Klinsmann continues to look for other dual-nationals to strengthen his squad, with Mexican team Club America’s Phoenix-born defender Ventura Alvarado and Leon goalkeeper William Yarbrough also on his radar.
Reporting by Simon Evans, editing by Alan Baldwin