USA coach Tab Ramos believes playing at Rangers can turn Gedion Zelalem into their star player at the 2018 World Cup.
Zelalem, who has been an instant success in two appearances for Rangers, is being fast-tracked through the US soccer system with a view to making him a key player in head coach Jürgen Klinsmann’s plans for Russia in three years’ time.
The Americans had to get special dispensation from Fifa to make the German-born midfielder their player ahead of the Under-20 World Cup in New Zealand in May as he had not fully complied with residency rules. Zelalem was a stand-out as the USA side, bossed by Ramos, were unfortunately knocked out on penalties in the quarter-finals by Serbia.
Now the US Soccer Federation is thrilled that he is playing regular football at Rangers on loan from Arsenal – even if he experienced some rough treatment in Sunday’s 5-1 win over Queen of the South.
Zelalem was brought down by Mark Millar, who then appeared to stamp on the teenager’s left knee and was booked by referee Bobby Madden.
However, Zelalem was unaffected as he set up the third goal for Jason Holt having had two assists in last week’s 5-0 League Cup win at Airdrie.
Ramos said: “Gedion is an incredible talent. I think getting the playing time he needs, he will develop into the type of impact player that we hope he will be.
“I think going to a big club that’s normally under pressure to succeed will be a good experience for him. He’s certainly someone we wanted to have involved with our program, someone that Jürgen has already spoken about, so I knew it would be a good introduction for him to play in the under-20 World Cup.
“We had to work hard in our dealings with Fifa but given that he grew up and went to school in the States before joining Arsenal in 2013 they realised that we were not trying to get around the rules on residency.
“We left open a slot for him in the squad hoping that we could work things out and we’re all very excited about Gedion’s future with the US national team.”
Zelalem has already been promoted to the under-23 squad, run by former Austrian international Andi Herzog, for a friendly in England next week. The Americans play England on Thursday but Zelalem will not play in that game as Mark Warburton wants the talented star for next Saturday’s Championship clash against Raith Rovers.
He will then be released by Rangers to play against Qatar at Bury’s Gigg Lane on 8 September.
Warburton, however, will face problems next month if, as expected, Zelalem is selected for the qualifying tournament for the Brazil Olympics which takes place in the States between 1 and 13 October.
Zelalem would miss the league match with Falkirk on 3 October and the Petrofac Cup quarter-final against Livingston on 9 October.