England’s strict guidelines for foreign players don’t apply in Zelalem’s case. He is a German citizen, of Ethiopian descent, and because of European Union laws, wouldn’t face any legal hurdles.
“It’s a dream for me,” said Zelalem, who moved with his family to the United States from Berlin in 2006 and is a U.S. permanent resident but not a citizen. “I’ve always wanted it. I’ve gotten the opportunity, and I’m going to take it.”
Until he turns 16 — the threshold set by FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, to join a club overseas — Zelalem will follow a normal teenage soccer routine: represent a neighborhood school that is No. 2 in The Post’s rankings and continue playing for an elite club travel team, Olney Rangers.
During breaks in the school year, however, he plans to return to Arsenal’s training grounds at London Colney, 18 miles north of the club’s gleaming Emirates Stadium. Arsenal has inquired about him returning over the Thanksgiving period, said his father, Zelalem Woldyes. (In Ethiopian tradition, Gedion was given his father’s first name.)
“My philosophy was to start with a smaller team and take it step by step,” said Woldyes, 36, a medical technician at a sleep clinic. “Arsenal felt like family, so we thought, ‘Why not?’ Gedion said to me, ‘Papa, I want to go to Arsenal.’ For him to become a professional at Arsenal, it would be a gift.”
Woldyes and Danny Karbassiyoon, Arsenal’s Richmond-based North American scout, attended the workouts.
Arsenal’s legendary manager, Arsene Wenger, presented the teenager a No. 4 “Gedion” jersey and posed for a photo with father and son.
Because of Zelalem’s age, Arsenal is not permitted to enter into a formal agreement until he turns 16. Even then, FIFA guidelines require the parents to move to the country and gain employment. Woldyes said he would begin looking for a job and a place to live next year.
The club must also provide an academic arrangement “should he cease playing professional football,” FIFA says in its “protection of minors” guidelines.
Zelalem is not the first high school soccer player from the area to seek a pro career. Most famously, Freddy Adu, a native of Ghana and a naturalized U.S. citizen, signed with Major League Soccer in 2004 at age 14 and played regularly with D.C. United for three years before being traded to Real Salt Lake.