The 20-year-old American winger will move to Stamford Bridge this summer and face a new level of expectation in the Premier League
The start of 2019 was supposed to serve as the unofficial launch of the Christian Pulisic sweepstakes, what with a growing number of teams being linked with the 20-year-old American sensation.
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Chelsea ended the contest before it had a chance to ever get going, though, making Borussia Dortmund a £58 million ($73m) offer that they simply couldn’t refuse. And now instead of a chase for Pulisic, the next six months will serve as a half-year engagement before Pulisic’s long-expected marriage to the Premier League becomes reality.
Being the subject of transfer talk had previously been Pulisic’s reality, ever since he made his Bundesliga debut as a 17-year-old in January 2016.
It is easy to forget, though, that he arrived onto the scene in Germany with little fanfare and no expectations. Only true American soccer diehards knew about Pulisic’s budding talent before he made his first-team bow at Signal Iduna Park.
While he started out as a bit of a novelty, this fearless American teenager passed every test which came his way and now finds himself on his way to one of the world’s most high-profile clubs. Essentially, Pulisic is about to face more scrutiny than any American before him.
Was Chelsea the right move for Pulisic? It might seem like a silly question considering the riches his new contract are going to guarantee, but American soccer fans have seen enough players make lucrative transfers in Europe only to see their careers stall.
The hefty price paid for Pulisic won’t guarantee him a starting role, either, as Chelsea’s past spending history can attest, but the price does suggest it was an acquisition Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri was fully behind.
Salary alone wouldn’t have been enough to convince Pulisic to agree to leave Dortmund. There is obviously the appeal of playing for Sarri, a man who has forged a reputation as one of the best attacking soccer minds in Europe, a man who has also shown an ability to develop young talent.
Throw in the fact that Sarri’s preferred 4-3-3 system is one Pulisic is very familiar with, and well-suited to flourish in, and you begin to understand why Chelsea would be so eager to end the bidding before other European powers decided to get serious about joining the chase for Pulisic.
Sarri wants wide forwards who can take on defenders, but also combine well with team-mates, as well as press defensively. These are all characteristics that Pulisic has developed at Dortmund, and while Pulisic does not have the goal totals that will make anybody think he can be the second coming of Eden Hazard, Sarri is sure to have seen enough video of Pulisic to know he could be a perfect fit in his 4-3-3.
If Sarri was eager to find a dynamic and defensively honest young winger to eventually replace ageing options Willian and Pedro Rodriguez, then he couldn’t have done much better than Pulisic.
Chelsea fans who aren’t too familiar with Pulisic will surely express concern over such a high price tag being paid for a player who is currently struggling for regular starts with Borussia Dortmund, but that would ignore the fact that Pulisic’s regular starting role has been taken over by English phenomenon Jadon Sancho.
It would also ignore the reality that Pulisic has still seen regular playing time, has been on a steady run of starting every other match, and started each of Dortmund’s past four Champions League group matches, suggesting that manager Lucien Favre hasn’t lost faith in Pulisic so much as he has settled on a squad rotation that has worked well for the current Bundesliga leaders.
Pulisic has already shown he can handle the big stage, having featured in three Champions League campaigns. He has faced Real Madrid four times in Europe, and delivered some impressive performances in those meetings.
He also showed well against Tottenham, a match Dortmund lost, but one in which Pulisic was a constant threat in the kind of game Chelsea fans would be wise to watch in order to better understand why he is such a highly-regarded prospect.
It is that track record, and Pulisic’s ability to thrive against the toughest of challenges, that has driven his move to Chelsea even more than the obvious allure of marketing muscle.
Pulisic is the kind of player who could help Chelsea take the lead in the European soccer’s race to win over the lucrative American soccer market, and that marketing appeal clearly played some part in Chelsea’s final valuation of Pulisic.
It is no different than Juventus factoring in Cristiano Ronaldo jersey sales into their move for the Portuguese star. That is the reality of the modern game, but any suggestion that Chelsea’s motives were more about marketing than about Pulisic the player ignores both his impressive body of work over the past three years and the reality that he fits in well with what Chelsea and Sarri need.
It may feel like Pulisic is leaving Dortmund when his star is starting to fade at the club, but the reality is now is the time for him to go. He only had one more season left on his Dortmund contract after this current campaign, and once it became clear he had no intention of signing a new deal, the clock started ticking on Dortmund needing to sell.
You could argue that Pulisic should have been more patient, and signed a new deal with Dortmund to give him a few more years of seasoning before the move to England. As reasonable as that alternative may have been, you also can’t fault Pulisic for believing he is ready for a new challenge, especially after how much he has already been able to achieve before his 21st birthday.
The final verdict on whether joining Chelsea is the right move will be determined years from now, and it will be up to Pulisic to show he is worth the investment. He is no longer the unknown teenager shocking German soccer by thriving at such a young age.
Now he is the high-priced American heading to England to realise a dream, but also to face the challenge of proving he is worth every penny.