Christian Pulisic's Chelsea transfer - all you need to know
USA international back on loan at Borussia Dortmund until summer
Last Updated: 07/01/19 1:54pm
How good is Christian Pulisic? What role will he play? How did the move go down across the Atlantic? We get the lowdown from a US football expert...
On Wednesday Chelsea and Borussia Dortmund confirmed they had agreed a £57.6m deal for Christian Pulisic, which will see the 20-year-old remain at the Bundesliga side on loan until the end of the season.
The United States international becomes the second most expensive outfield player in Chelsea's history, after Alvaro Morata. A number of English clubs, including Liverpool and Arsenal, were previously linked with Pulisic, who has found his first-team opportunities limited this season by the emergence of England international Jadon Sancho.
So why have Chelsea splashed the cash? We spoke to NBC's lead soccer writer Joe Prince-Wright to get the lowdown on this US superstar...
Chelsea have spent £58m on Pulisic - but just how good is he and how much potential does he have?
Prince-Wright: He has everything you need to succeed in the modern game. Pace, trickery, wonderful vision and he has come up with big goals and assists for club and country. There is no doubt he is the most gifted player to ever be produced in the US and has always had an innate ability to take players on, score amazing goals and do things other kids couldn't do growing up.
However, he couples that with an incredible work ethic. Jurgen Klinsmann, who gave Pulisic his international debut at the age of 17, described his potential as "limitless" and it is hard to disagree. At the age of 20 he already has several seasons in the Bundesliga, Champions League and international competition under his belt. If he continues on this upwards trajectory, Chelsea have got themselves one of the best young talents in world football. He has all of the tools to flourish at the top level and I don't think he is anywhere near the finished product.
What role will he play at Chelsea? What positions did he take up at Dortmund?
Prince-Wright: Growing up, Pulisic's favourite player was Luis Figo and that is still the nickname his father uses for him. That gives you an idea of what type of player he is. He can play on either flank, but playing just off the left is his main position at Dortmund, even though playing as a true No 10 may be his best role.
I realise this is all starting to sound like Eden Hazard II… But, like Hazard, the main strength of Pulisic is running at pace with the ball and twisting and turning defenders inside out. He can go either way, is two-footed, and makes really good decisions in the final third when it comes to picking out passes and creating chances.
Pulisic the creator
Pulisic has completed more dribbles than any other player in the Bundesliga since his debut in 2016 and created 71 chances in 81 league games.
Pulisic has completed more dribbles than any other player in the Bundesliga since his debut in 2016 and created 71 chances in 81 league games. He isn't shy in digging deep and defending either, and he tracks back and also presses defenders high when they have the ball. One of his USA teammates, who played in the Premier League, told me the US squad were in awe when they first trained with a 17-year-old Pulisic: "He'd keep running and running at you all the time. He is fearless. Relentless."
How do you think he will adapt to the Premier League and the weight of expectation a big price tag brings?
Prince-Wright: Very well. He has the pace to cope with the Premier League, no doubt, but I have spoken to Christian over the past few years and he told me he wants to improve his strength, being more clinical and his total of goals and assists. Those are the main areas where he can improve, no doubt. I do have a few reservations if he is ready for the physicality of the Premier League right now, but he has been kicked all over the place by teams in Central America and the Caribbean and handled that well on the international stage.
In terms of dealing with the expectations of a large price tag, this will not impact him at all. He has been thrown into the media spotlight and dubbed the saviour of US Soccer as a 17-year-old and he has coped with it all very well. Not qualifying for the 2018 World Cup hit him hard, as he was seen by his tears on the pitch in Trinidad and Tobago after the USA's shock failure to make it out of CONCACAF qualifying for the first time since 1986. But he has rebounded and became the youngest captain of the USA in the modern era in their last game against Italy in November.
He is an extremely resilient character, but is sometimes a little hard on himself. I've spoken with some of his youth coaches in his hometown, Hershey, Pennsylvania, and they told me they use to have to tell him to relax and lighten up a little, as he was overly critical of himself and too serious. At times his personality can be a little dour in media interviews, and he admits he isn't vocal in the dressing room, but that is because he is focused on one thing: being a better player on the pitch each and every day.
How has this move gone down in the States? And what impact could it have for Chelsea in USA?
Prince-Wright: Across the US sporting landscape, not just in football circles, this is a huge deal. It has been plastered all across the media and Pulisic's profile continues to rise. If you think about it, many American players have come over to the Premier League in years gone by, but none have been bought for £58m, and none have arrived at one of the 'big six' clubs right away with huge expectations on their shoulders.
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The previous record transfer fee for a US player was the $22 million Wolfsburg paid for John Brooks, so Pulisic has been sold for over three times that amount. This is a monumental moment for American soccer. In terms of Americans in the Premier League, Clint Dempsey's time at Fulham and Tottenham is as successful as an outfield player has ever been, with a shout out for Tim Howard and Brad Friedel in goal for their long, impressive careers.
I have no doubt that whenever Chelsea play pre-season games in the USA in the next few years, every stadium they play in will be sold out to watch Pulisic. There will be millions of new Chelsea fans in the USA, just because Pulisic has signed.
There will be millions of new Chelsea fans in the USA, just because Pulisic has signed.
NBC lead soccer writer Joe Prince-Wright
The USA national team has a huge following Stateside, with many fans focusing on supporting American players rather than specific clubs, and Pulisic is the poster boy. American soccer fans are extremely patriotic and have been desperate for one of their own to become a sensation at one of the biggest clubs in the world. Pulisic arguably already did that at Dortmund, but there's no denying that a move to Chelsea and the Premier League is a step up in terms of his visibility across the US sporting landscape. Expect to see billboards of Pulisic in a Chelsea shirt in Times Square on your next trip to New York City…
He's had an unusual journey - what were the key milestones through his development to this point?
Prince-Wright: He is from a small town in Pennsylvania, but there's no doubt he has been set up for a top career from a young age with the structure around him. His parents both played in university and his dad then went on to play for the local indoor team and then coached at a high level in the States. His godfather, Bob Lilley, is currently the head coach of the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in the second-tier in North America, with Pulisic's father, Mark, his assistant coach.
Everybody stood up and took notice back in 2013 when he scored several superb goals and won the tournament MVP as the US U17 side beat Brazil in the final to win a very strong international tournament in Bradenton, Florida.
On the full international stage, as a teenager he carried the US through their 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign and scored twice in their 2-0 win against Trinidad & Tobago in Denver, Colorado in June 2017, and then scored against Panama and T&T later on in qualifying.
It was clear when he scored his first US goal against Bolivia (he became the youngest ever goalscorer for the US) in June 2016 that he was going to be the main man for the US, and although he didn't feature heavily in the 2016 Copa America Centenario on home soil, being part of the squad was invaluable for his development.
For Dortmund, grabbing a late assist in a big UEFA Champions League draw against Real Madrid in 2016-17 stands out, and winning the DFB Pokal was a great way to cap off his first full season after five goals in 43 appearances in all competitions. He matched that record last season, and being a regular at Dortmund has allowed him to develop every aspect of his game.
His cousin, Will, followed him to Dortmund's academy and played in the same US youth teams, while his father also coached in the Dortmund academy while living with Christian in Germany.
Growing up he was encouraged to play as many sports as he could, not just football, and Christian loves basketball and LeBron James in particular. So seeing LeBron wearing a Pulisic No 10 jersey in an Instagram post last year will have no doubt been an amazing moment for the youngster.
Steve Klein, who is a close friend of the Pulisic family and leads one of the most successful youth clubs in the US, PA Classics, told me that he and Pulisic's family were keen to not overplay him as a youngster amid fears of him burning out. Klein coached Pulisic at PA Classics and with the youth national teams. "The one thing I would say for sure about his dad, mum and the family, he never played for multiple soccer teams. A lot of these kids, and this is something we struggled with at our soccer club a lot of times, kids just want to play so much, so many games and guest for so many teams.
"They never did that. We never had him playing for two teams in the club. He would play for an older age group and we never put him down into a younger age group just to win a State Cup. He would get opportunities to go and play at the Dallas Cup with teams from other states but he would never do that. I would say he played a ton of soccer but all the extra was on his own in his backyard. He played a lot but he was not playing on two or three teams."
Is he the golden boy of US football - or are there other talented young players coming through who we could soon see in the Premier League?
Prince-Wright: Pulisic is the top talent and will be the leader of the US national team for the next decade. But there are some other names you should look out for. Tim Weah at PSG is just 18, Tyler Adams, 19, has just moved to RB Leipzig from the New York Red Bulls, Weston McKennie, 20, is a regular for Schalke in Germany, Haji Wright, 20, is also breaking through at Schalke, and Josh Sargent, 18 scored twice in his first three appearances for Werder Bremen in recent months.
Pulisic is the jewel in the crown of US football.
NBC lead soccer writer Joe Prince-Wright
There is a core group of extremely talented youngsters who aren't quite on Pulisic's level, but are using him as their inspiration to make it at top European clubs. Klinsmann's reign as the head coach of the US national team wasn't as successful as it should have been, but you can argue his greatest success was in his joint role as technical director of US Soccer. He pushed many of the USA's top young players to move to Europe as soon as they could to aid their development and we are starting to see those efforts bear fruit. But Pulisic is the jewel in the crown of US football.