Well, it has finally happened. Christian Pulisic, the American boy-wonder, will be leaving Borussia Dortmund. In what seems like the expected ending to his story in the Bundesliga, there has been little negativity amongst the Dortmund faithful regarding this deal. If anything, most seem to agree that Hans-Joachim Watzke and Michael Zorc have, once again, committed grand larceny.
In his move to Chelsea, the Pennsylvania-native has taken a massive leap in his career. Not necessarily in terms of levels, but regarding expectations. Far less pressure exists in Germany for young players, where it is understood that development is a process. The nature of the beast in the Premier League, however, is that you are given only so much time to justify the price that was paid for your services. This sentiment is exacerbated ten-fold when you arrive at one of the big six clubs.
For Pulisic, expectations will undoubtedly reach fever temperatures. What can the Shed End and the Matthew Harding Stand expect from the newest blue come next season? Big questions, and potentially big answers.
Pulisic has a mountain of potential in him, but the question that has surfaced this season is just how likely is it that he will hit the heights many have come to expect. Injury aside, the fact that he has been displaced by Jadon Sancho, and a combination of Raphaël Guerreiro and Jacob Bruun Larsen, makes the €64 million received a brilliant piece of business. Cashing in while your chips are high is a tried and tested path in transfer dealings and regardless of what happens, Dortmund sold at the right time. What will be asked now is if it was justifiable business by Chelsea.
As a player, Pulisic has the ingredients to be a success on English shores. Being brought up in the German football youth factory, he is very much a continental player despite being an American. Very comfortable on the ball, direct in his approach, technically gifted and with a very quick first step, his overall package is tailor-made for being a successful Premier League winger. What sets him apart from most players in his age bracket is his high level of reading the match in front of him to create and exploit space. This trait alone makes him a valuable commodity in a league where exploitation of space, especially against deep defensive blocks, is key.
His tactical flexibility is another plus point of the signing. Though a recognised right-sided winger, he has seen time on the opposite flank as well as through the middle behind the center forward. Such flexibility may make it that much easier for Pulisic to settle at Chelsea, especially if Eden Hazard jumps ship to Real Madrid in the summer, which undoubtedly would signal additional spending in its wake.
For all his current ability and the high ceiling that comes with it, there are still justifiable questions surrounding the American international. The biggest concern will likely come by way of why he so easily lost his place at Dortmund. Under Thomas Tuchel, and for spells under Peter Bosz, Pulisic looked as if the hype was justified. Since then, not only has Sancho well and truly usurped his place on the right wing, but his chances on the left have dried up thanks to a converted left-back, and a player in his first real season in a first-team.
Whether this is simply down to Sancho, Bruun Larsen and Guerreiro being a better fit for Lucien Favre, or if Pulisic truly stagnated at Dortmund is the focus of the debate. But for a player who was so highly lauded, to lose his place in such short order will not help him plead his case.
Another question surrounding him will be the nature of his end-product return. Pulisic’s personal ability remained unquestioned, both by Dortmund supporters and pundits alike, but its his output that must be put under the microscope. All-told, his 10 goals and 16 assists in 81 Bundesliga appearances are, in truth, relatively short for someone who some consider one of the brightest young talents in Europe. Sancho (6 goals 8 assists) has already eclipsed Pulisic’s best-ever campaign (4 goals 6 assists) in the black and yellow this season with half the fixture list still to negotiate. In just a third of Pulisic’s first-team appearances, the English starlet is also breathing down his neck in overall goals and assists production.
For a side with the aspirations of Chelsea, in a league such as the Premier League, Pulisic will have to markedly increase is productivity if he is to be labeled a success story.
Marketing potential and an avenue with which to help Roman Abramovich corner the American market aside, the money that the Blues have shelled out will need some level of return on the pitch. Christian Pulisic has quickly catapulted himself from promising youngster to a player that now must truly make good on his ability ceiling. This is a deal that will either end up looking like a bargain three seasons from now or one that Chelsea fans will lament.
By Andrew Thompson.