Two young U.S. midfielders are in the news today with 20-year-old Emerson Hyndman joining Rangers from Bournemouth on loan while 19-year-old Gedion Zelalem is reported by ESPN to be close to leaving Arsenal and joining rising American star Christian Pulisic at Borussia Dortmund.
Hyndman is following a well-worn path to Glasgow for American players first trod by Claudio Reyna, known as “Captain America” by Rangers fans, all the way to Zelalem, who played on loan for the rebounding Scottish giants last year and including DaMarcus Beasley, Maurice Edu, and Alejandro Bedoya.
This pair of moves, assuming the Zelalem move happens, highlight just how difficult it can be for young players, and not just young Americans to break through in top divisions around the world.
In a frank interview with GotSoccer in Miami last May prior to making his decision to sign with the Cherries, Hyndman discussed his what goes into making such an important decision.
Big clubs like Manchester United, Rangers rivals Celtic, Borussia Dortmund, and AC Milan were mentioned at the time as potential landing spots for the smooth passing midfielder and GotSoccer and wondered if the young man’s head would be turned by the attention from the bigger clubs.
Here is what Hyndman told us at the time. “Yeah, that’s another big thing.” “There’s different sorts of clubs, different places, different leagues, there are different paths you can take. You take a bigger club and possibly not play as much, maybe go on loan or you can settle for a good solid club, maybe not fighting for the same things but you’ll get more chances along the way.”
Hyndman admitted then that the process is difficult. “I feel like I need to make the best decision for me, personally and that’s going to take a little bit of time. I’ll take this time, discuss it with my family, people around me that really help me make these decisions and we’ll see.”
Hyndman elected to sign with Bournemouth but a pre-season injury didn’t help his cause and the challenge of breaking into Eddie Howe’s midfield may have been a bit tougher than the Texas native suspected.
Now Hyndman moves onto Rangers for the remainder of the season in search of steady playing time. Zelalem made a similar journey north from London last season, playing 21 times for the Glaswegians. The loan was generally regarded as a success but the lanky midfielder has been unable to convert that experience into first team chances with Arsenal.
As at Arsenal Zelalem would face stiff competition for playing time on talented and deep Dortmund roster, although as a central midfielder he doesn’t figure to go head to head with Pulisic, whom BVB has used almost exclusively as a wide player, for playing time.
As we have seen in too many cases to recount here, a player can go from super prospect to has been in with alarming speed in Europe’s top league’s and only time will tell if these moves are the right ones for the young Americans.
Hyndman seemed well aware of that ticking clock when he spoke to GotSoccer in Miami last May and his words then resonate today for both he and Zelalem.
“I’m 20 years old now, I’m not 18 anymore,” Hyndman told GotSoccer poolside in Miami eight months ago, before adding with a quiet laugh, “I’m moving on into big boy years.”