Once labeled the next Cesc Fabregas at Arsenal FC, 22-year-old midfielder Gedion Zelalem has signed with New York City FC.
Zelalem, born in Berlin, Germany to Ethiopian parents, played last season for Major League Soccer’s Sporting Kansas City and its USL affiliate Swope Park Rangers.
“I’m really excited to be joining New York City FC,” Zelalem said in a statement released by the club. “The club has established a culture and style of play that I’m really looking forward to being a part of. It’s also a great city to live in, but mostly I’m ready to win a lot of soccer matches in 2020.”
Zelalem joined Arsenal in 2013 at the age of 16 and spent six seasons with the Premier League club. Zelalem made his debut in 2014 during an FA Cup win over Coventry City. He had a total of four appearances for Arsenal’s first team, including a substitute role in a UEFA Champions League match against Galatasaray.
Rangers acquired Zelalem on loan from Arsenal in 2015. He played 28 matches and had eight assists to help the Scottish club win promotion back to the Scottish Premiership.
Zelalem was loaned to Dutch side VVV-Venlo in January of 2017, where he played nine times for a side that finished first in the 2016-2017 Eerste Divisie.
A serious knee injury, suffered while competing for the United States in the 2017 U-20 World Cup, kept him sidelined for 16 months and altered the path of his promising career.
“Soccer is not as straight forward as you think it is growing up,” Zelalem told MLSsoccer.com in July. “There are a lot of ups and down, there are injuries. I’ve learned a lot.”
“It killed me,” former U.S. U-20 and current Houston Dynamo head coach Tab Ramos said. “Gedion is simply the most technical player I’ve ever had on the youth national team. Really easy on the ball, can get out of trouble. I saw someone for, at that time, was really special and different than anyone we ever had. I think it would have worked [out] at Arsenal if not for that injury.”
Zelalem joined Sporting KC in March of 2019 where he made nine appearances for the first team and played in seven Swope Park matches.
His journey now continues in a program that matches his style and skill set.
“Gedion is a very versatile midfielder who can play across multiple positions,” NYCFC head coach Ronny Deila said. “He’s a creative player and possesses very good technique on the ball which is vital for a midfielder in our system.”
Zelalem scored against Deila’s Celtic FC in the 2016 Scottish Cup semifinal won by Rangers in penalties. Despite winning the Scottish regular season title three weeks later, Deila was dismissed by the Hoops.
🤔 Remember Gedion Zelalem?
— PLZ Soccer (@PLZSoccer) January 12, 2020
Prior to linking up with Arsenal, Zelalem played for current NYCFC Academy coach Matt Pilkington with the Olney Rangers in Maryland. A naturalized American citizen who emigrated to the states in 2006, Zelalem has represented both his native Germany and the U.S. on the youth national team level.
“Even though he’s still in the early portion of his career he’s gained really valuable experience at multiple clubs across a few different leagues,” Sporting Director David Lee sad. “He’s also represented the U.S. youth national team in two World Cups, and we think we’ve identified a very talented player who can come in and develop with us and improve our squad.”