Handling the Emergence of Gedion Zelalem

After just three appearances on Arsenal’s Asia Tour, Gedion Zelalem has become a household name – and for good reason. A fine combination of silky skills and tremendous passing ability has seen the Ethiopian born German international impress fans, pundits and media alike.[quote_right]“There is an active group of supporters who insist upon using hype tactics to help elevate youngsters such as Zelalem…”[/quote_right]

However, at the tender age of just sixteen, we might just be doing him a disservice by pouring so much attention over him.

Despite constant reminders from all corners of the online Arsenal world, it seems that there is indeed a relatively active group of supporters who insist upon using hype tactics to help elevate youngsters such as Zelalem.

Of course, this is usually done pleasantly, with the best of intentions, and – to an extent, there is absolutely nothing wrong with it.

It goes without saying that for a player of such an evident talent, there shouldn’t really be much wrong with praising him so openly and so frequently. However, there comes a time when players as young as Gedion Zelalem need their space to develop. Let’s explore why.

[title]Who is Gedion Zelalem?[/title]

Zelalem moved with his family from Berlin to the United States in 2006, where he began playing Football with the Olney Rovers. Whilst playing in the locally competitive Dallas Cup, he was spotted by Arsenal’s North American scout Daniel Karbassiyoon. [quote_left]“Gedion Zelalem joined Arsenal the moment he turned sixteen – which was on January 26th, 2013.”[/quote_left]

After a successful ten-day trial with The Gunners, Gedion Zelalem joined Arsenal the moment he turned sixteen years old – which was on January 26th, 2013. Within just six months, the youngster managed to earn himself a place in Arsenal’s pre-season Asia Tour.

By the time Zelalem reaches the age of eighteen, he will be eligible to decide between either the German national team, and the US national team. However, with 4 under-16s appearances for Germany under his belt, it seems that Zelalem may well have made his mind up already.

When asked on Twitter about his move to Arsenal, Gedion responded in a way which many Arsenal fans will appreciate:

Additionally, Zelalem heaped praise on Arsenal’s style of play, which – according to him, played a big role in his decision to join The Gunners:

 

As you can see, Zelalem has warmed to Arsenal very quickly, and has already begun cementing a positive relationship with fans whilst both on and off the field of play. It is no wonder then, that he is quickly becoming a fan favourite.

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[title]Where’s all the Fuss?[/title]

Fresh off the back of three fantastic performances during Arsenal’s Asia Tour, there is an untold amount of fuss over Gedion Zelalem. As I previously mentioned, there is usually little wrong with this. [quote_right]“Arsenal fans have a history of taking things a little too far when it comes to youth…”[/quote_right]

However, Arsenal fans have a history of taking things a little too far when it comes to youth.

Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Thomas Eisfeld and Ryo Miyaichi have all been victims of over-zealous Arsenal fans, hoping to hype players into becoming world-class superstars before even leaving their teens. Such love for our youth players is admirable at times, but can also be unhealthy.

Theo Walcott for example, suffered almost two years of extended abuse by Arsenal fans between the ages of eighteen and twenty, simply because he hadn’t lived up to their lofty, unfair expectations. He may be one of our best players at the moment, but that level of abuse will have done nothing but slow his progress.

Now, after just three substitute appearances in pre-season matches, the same seems to be happening for young Gedion Zelalem. His Twitter following – which is a good indication of the hype surrounding his performances, reflect my point. On July 10th, a day before setting out on the Asia Tour, Zelalem had a modest amount of followers:

In the short space of just thirteen days, Zelalem’s Twitter following has grown from a modest 8000, to a more impressive 20,000 – and counting.

What’s more is, interviews from Jack Wilshere and Arsene Wenger respectively have helped add fuel to the raging Zelalem bonfire. Wilshere is adamant that Zelalem has a big future, whilst Wenger points out the vast progress the Ethiopian has made in such a short period of time. These are positive, constructive and helpful comments. But in the hands of Arsenal fans, these words of encouragement for Zelalem become promises of dreams.

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[title]Handle with Care[/title]

So, instead of clinging to exaggerated dreams, only to become upset with Zelalem as he takes his time to achieve them, I’d like to call for a more measured approach.[quote_left]“If we truly want him to succeed as early as possible, it’s in our best interests to speak highly of Zelalem, but in moderation.”[/quote_left]

We should praise Zelalem for his performances. We should also cheer about his fantastic vision and maturity on the field of play. But we should leave it at that. We shouldn’t prematurely compare him to Footballing giants, nor call for him to appear in Arsenal’s first team Such comments doing nothing but heave unnecessary pressure on an extremely young man.

Don’t get me wrong, Footballers across the world – including Zelalem, will always be put under pressure. Their job can be demanding in the respect, but I’m pretty sure their wage structure reflects the burdens they carry – and then some.

What I am saying is, at the age of just sixteen, Gedion Zelalem potentially has two decades worth of Football and pressure ahead of him. If we truly want him to succeed as early as possible, it’s in our best interests to speak highly of Zelalem, but in moderation.

Images: Twitter, Kieran Clarke

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