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Christian Pulisic to Chelsea: Good Transfer Business or Folly?

Image: Bongarts/Getty Images

In the January 2019 transfer window, Chelsea signed 20-year-old Christian Pulisic from Borussia Dortmund before loaning him back to the German side to complete the 2018-19 season.

In completing the transfer at a reputed £58 million, Chelsea ensured that the young man became the most expensive American football player ever. Chelsea also ensured that they have a contingency plan in place should they be hit with the double whammy of Eden Hazard leaving in the summer and the club’s FIFA mandated two-transfer window ban being upheld.

That Chelsea were willing to pay such a high fee for someone so young and still relatively unproven certainly raised eyebrows, with many a wise sage claiming they had overpaid. However, a closer look at the situation and maybe the thinking behind the deal becomes a little clearer.

Born in Hershey, Pennsylvania in 1998 and after spending some time in England as a boy, he was signed to the German side, Borussia Dortmund, in 2015. Dortmund, then managed by Jurgen Klopp, fast-tracked Pulisic through the youth ranks, and he made his first-team debut in 2016 at the age of just seventeen.

Pulisic started to set and break all kinds of records as he went about establishing himself under Thomas Tuchel. He became the club’s youngest ever debutant, the second-youngest ever Bundesliga goalscorer, and the youngest non-German goalscorer in the Bundesliga,

At the same time as pulling up trees at club level, Pulisic was also making his mark with the USA international side. Eligible to play for either the USA or Croatia, Pulisic rose through the American youth ranks, playing for the United States at U-15 and U-17 level, where he captained his country at the 2015 U-17 World Cup in Chile.

After making his full international debut against Guatemala in 2016, he then went on to set new records with the national team. He became the youngest American to play in a World Cup qualifier, the youngest American to score in the modern era, the youngest to score in a World Cup qualifier, and in 2018, the youngest ever player to captain the United States team.

Yet for all of these impressive records and achievements, Pulisic seemed to struggle somewhat in the first half of the 2018-19 season at Dortmund. Not quite the wonder-kid he had been before, Pulisic found that mantle being claimed by Englishman Jadon Sancho, and Pulisic subsequently spent some time on the bench.

With his contract due to expire in 2020, it made sense for Dortmund to cash in on him, and Chelsea won the race to sign the young American in January 2019, beating off opposition from Liverpool, who were said to have had an earlier £11m bid turned down for him.

Pulisic is a player who prefers to play wide and so could be said to be suited to Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri’s style of ‘Sarri Ball’. With a strong work ethic and an admirable athleticism, Pulisic would seem suited to the high pressing demands of Sarri Ball.

However, with doubts regarding Sarri’s tenure at Stamford Bridge lasting beyond the summer of 2019, the success or otherwise of Pulisic’s transfer to West London could depend on the identity of Sarri’s successor.

Chelsea felt duty bound to make their move for Pulisic in the January 2019 transfer window as it seems likely that Eden Hazard will move on at the end of the season, dependent on whether he fits into Zinedine Zidane’s plans now that he has moved back to Real Madrid.

The situation regarding Chelsea’s ban on completing transfers in the next two transfer windows also made it imperative for the club to take action early. This would account for their willingness to pay the inflated fee demanded by Dortmund.

Pulisic himself made no secret of the fact that it has always been his ambition to play in England, and the fact that he left America at the age of sixteen to move to Germany shows no lack of confidence on the young man’s part. In the months ahead he will be looking to re-secure his place in the Dortmund starting line-up so that he moves to Stamford Bridge on the crest of a wave.

At 5 foot 8 inches tall, Pulisic is on the short side and at twenty it should not be forgotten that he is still developing physically as well as emotionally. While the move to London should not faze him particularly, his slight frame might make him a target for opponents.

Pulisic’s move to Chelsea is one that could work out well for everyone, with the club having seemingly signed a player that can fit into their system, but it could also be seen to be a big risk, too. If Sarri is sacked or moves on at the end of the season through his own violation, the new manager, whoever he is, will have to solve the conundrum of whether and where to fit Pulisic into the side.

Only time will tell if Pulisic will make the grade at Stamford Bridge.

About the author

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David Nesbit

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