In 1995, George Weah was named the FIFA World Player of the Year, beating off competition from Italian left-back Paolo Maldini and German goal machine Jurgen Klinsmann.
After receiving his award, Weah invited his mentor and current Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger to the stage, where he paid tribute to him. Weah recognised that without Wenger, he may never have played professionally in Europe and may never have become the greatest footballer on Earth.
Wenger signed the then unknown Weah as manager of French Club AS Monaco in 1988. Weah was signed from Cameroonian club side Tonnerre Yaounde, and just seven years later became the World’s greatest player.
Weah's story would go down in history as one of the greatest scouting success stories in football history, and Wenger was highly instrumental in this story, initially from the scouting of the player to the rapid professional development he received under his tutelage.
Wenger was also able to create an impressive youth team set up at Monaco that would go on to produce legends such as Lilian Thuram, Emmanuel Petit and Thierry Henry.
Fast forward to 2013, and we find a Wenger who has still not lost his passion for discovering and grooming young and talented footballers. We find a Wenger who still derives maximum satisfaction in making world class talent for his team, rather than buying these ready-made talents from outside.
Arsenal are currently on tour in Asia, and Wenger has chosen to travel with both the experienced and youth team players. The youth team players in the travelling party include exciting talents such as Serge Gnabry, Thomas Eislfeld, Chuba Akpom and Chuks Aneke and these players have shone in the cameo roles thay have been offered on the tour, with Akpom finding the net in two of Arsenal’s three games.
One other name that was relatively unknown to Arsenal fans before the Asia tour is Gedion Zelalem. Zelalem is a 16-year-old German of Ethiopian descent, currently with the Arsenal youth ranks. According to the Daily Mail, young Zelalem was not even attached to a professional football club when he was discovered by Arsenal’s American scout, Danny Karbassiyoon.
He plays in central midfield, and is a player who likes to have the ball. His calmness on the ball is really remarkable for someone his age and he has quickly reminded Arsenal fans of a young Cesc Fabregas.
Zelalem has a lot of qualities that were in Fabregas when he was also 16, but what makes Zelalem quite unique is the fact that he had been unattached to any professional football club before joining Arsenal. On the other hand, Fabregas came from Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy.
Zelalem’s ability to see openings is very impressive. Many midfielders in the game today can see the runs of their team-mates, but not all of these players have the ability to make the perfect pass and this is something Zelalem has been doing with ease for Arsenal in their tour of Asia.
Some critics may argue that he is doing this against weak opposition, such as Indonesia and Vietnam, but we must not forget that Nagoya Grampus Eight is a full professional side with a lot of international players. Zelalem made a fantastic through ball to Theo Walcott in the build-up to Arsenal’s third goal against them, and that was a pass that Barcelona’s Xavi or Juventus’ Andrea Pirlo would have been proud of.
Jack Wilshere has been very impressed with the young Zelalem, and he was quoted by the Metro as saying: "He sees passes that not a lot of players can’. ‘You think “what’s he doing?” and suddenly someone is in. He is only 16 and he is an exciting player."
Wilshere added: "It won’t be long before he is ready. "He's so comfortable on the ball, even in training he's a nightmare to play against.
"He keeps the ball away from you and shields it. He’s not very big but he is strong. He drifts in and out of players. He’s quite a strong lad and technically he’s right up there. He’s a good one for the future."
Wenger is famous for referring to players that have been out of action for a long period as “new signings” when they return to the fold, and I strongly believe that Zelalem is as good as a “new signing” for Arsenal this season.
With his career yet to kick start, it may be a little too early and probably even dangerous to rain applause on the young man, since he has yet to be tested in a professional football arena.
Arsenal need to be cautious with this prodigious talent and there is really no better manager to develop under in world football than Wenger, as Weah will testify.
At a League Managers Association (LMA) gathering in 2008, Wenger revealed how he discovered Cristiano Ronaldo, who was very close to signing for Arsenal before Manchester United signed him.
According to the Telegraph, Wenger also revealed how close he was to signing a 16-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic before he joined Ajax. Arsenal were successful with Fabregas, but Zelalem seems to be the next most exciting success story of the Arsenal scouting network.
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