Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, USA head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has stressed that Arsenal teenager Gedion Zelalem still has a long way to go before he is ready to play for the full national team.
Zelalem, 19, has featured for the US at both Under-20 and Under-23 level since switching his international allegiances from Germany prior to playing at last summer's Under-20 World Cup in New Zealand, but he is yet to receive his first senior call-up.
The Berlin-born midfielder, who has made two first-team appearances for Arsenal, was hailed as one of the team’s building blocks for the future when he first emerged as a potential option for the States back in 2014, but his failure to excel while on loan at Rangers in the Scottish Championship this past season has seen his star fade somewhat.
Klinsmann still says that the highly-rated playmaker has the ability to go “very far” in the game, but while he had claimed in the past that he could walk straight into the senior US squad, he now seems to have tempered his expectations to a degree.
“We can tell that this kid has the talent to go very far,” Klinsmann told the World Street Journal on Zelalem. “But this is just the first question. Now there are 10 more questions. Is he strong enough? Is he explosive enough? is he aware enough of whatever happens around him? What about his vision? What about his lifestyle? There are so many questions. In the next couple of years we see if the specific talent will break through. He has to go through that process.
“So Arsenal moved him on to Rangers to give him a lesson to become a young man in the second Scottish league. He goes there. He takes a lesson. Sometimes it works sometimes it doesn’t. With Gideon we see wonderful talent. But now it’s all the other things.
“For a national team, the end goal is that you have difference makers. Our standards are you should be a difference maker in your club. We cannot take a player who is just a floater in his club.
“A striker in his club should score every second game if wants to be a national team player. An attacking midfielder should, every second game, give you one assist or exceptional pieces. And defenders need to scare away and shut down and intimidate the striker.”
Zelalem featured 28 times for Rangers during last season’s loan spell, recording eight assists, but a series of niggling injuries over the second half of the campaign meant his impact was more limited than hoped.
The former German Under-17 international, who joined Arsenal in 2013, did reveal back in April that he would be open to returning to Ibrox for their first top-flight campaign since 2011-12, but he is first expected to spend preseason with the Gunners before Arsene Wenger decides what would be best for his development.
He certainly needs regular playing time if he wants to push his way into Klinsmann’s plans, but whether he can go on to live up to the promise that has earned him comparisons to Cesc Fabregas in the past remains to be seen at this stage.