Press Box: Following landmark deal, Pulisic becomes most expensive American footballer

Illustration by Karly Andersen

Walter Chidozie Anyanwu, Contributing Writer

On Jan. 2, Borussia Dortmund confirmed that it completed a $73 million deal for the transfer of Christian Pulisic — a 20-year old American who prevailed exceedingly in the Bundesliga — to Premier League giant Chelsea.

Chelsea, which has 41 players out on loan across all major European leagues, has agreed to let Pulisic stay on loan at Dortmund until the end of the season. This comes at the end of rumors and suggestions that the midfielder was trying to force a move to England.

Following the announcement, Pulisic expressed gratitude for having a chance at Dortmund on Twitter and Instagram. Emphasizing his age, he said he was a “proud 16-year-old from a small American town called Hershey.” For him, it was an honor to play in the Bundesliga at such a high level. He arrived at Dortmund’s youth side in 2015 and credits his rise toward the senior squad to the “club and their belief in giving young players a chance.”

Months before the deal, he was linked with Liverpool, and, given the club’s stellar record across all competitions at the time, it seemed as though Pulisic would favor a move to Anfield more than anything else. Eventually, Chelsea beat out Liverpool by putting forward what Michael Zorc, Dortmund’s technical director, described as an “extremely lucrative bid.”

Compared to other Americans who have made waves in English football, Pulisic’s market price alone brought him to the top of the list of most expensive American-born players. Chelsea signed him for three times the price Wolfsburg paid to sign John Brooks — a German-born U.S. international — in summer 2017, making him the third-most expensive player the club has signed, behind Kepa Arrizabalaga and Alvaro Morata, the latter of whom has struggled constantly since his arrival at Stamford Bridge.

Dortmund has been in fantastic form this season. Pulisic, however, hasn’t been very instrumental to its success thus far — 42 points in the Bundesliga, six points clear of Bayern Munich — playing 11 out of 17 of their league games and coming on as a substitute for about half of those, but registering only 1 goal and 2 assists. For his country’s first team, Pulisic holds 23 Caps and has registered 9 goals — a record that could have faced the ultimate test at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, but the U.S. failed to qualify following its now-infamous defeat at the hands of Trinidad and Tobago.

This transfer is not without its critics. Many have likened Pulisic to Callum Hudson-Odoi — Chelsea’s 18-year-old winger who embodies most of the qualities that Pulisic demonstrated during his rise — and have criticized Chelsea for flagrant misuse or underuse of Hudson-Odoi. Bayern Munich has been keenly pursuing the youngster lately, but no progression beyond mere speculation has been seen.

One critic who has recently vocalized thoughts on the transfer is Rio Ferdinand of Old Trafford fame, saying that Chelsea would rather “spend £60 Million on an unknown quantity rather than give [Hudson-Odoi] some time and patience in the first team to prove himself.”

There are benefits to Chelsea on top of this landmark signing. The club could bank on Pulisic’s notoriety as being one of the best the U.S. has to offer in order to gain more fans from the country. His youth is also extremely valuable, and — despite Chelsea’s habit of procuring and abruptly dispatching young players — is important to a side that is now seriously thinking about ways to retain young players in the long term, much like other Premier League clubs are doing.  

Pulisic’s arrival at Chelsea could signal the immediate departures of one or more of the club’s players. With stars like Eden Hazard and Willian Borges da Silva looking to move to clubs outside England, it’s easy to see that this $73 million signing is a preemptive move to shore up the talent in their roster. Chelsea’s Belgian playmaker has been repeatedly linked to Real Madrid, though the Spanish club has yet to make him an offer. Willian, on the other hand, has reportedly been less satisfied at Stamford Bridge in recent times and has, just recently, been tied to rumors about a potential Barça move.

As it stands, Willian could be convinced to stay on at Chelsea if he is afforded more playing time; if all remains the same, Pulisic could have a difficult time finding his feet at Chelsea. If he is to be accommodated early on, however, it would mean the assured exit of one of Hazard, Willian or Pedro Eliezer Rodríguez Ledesma — as the Spaniard has been deployed in place of Willian or alongside him, but has been more involved in the squad since the arrival of Maurizio Sarri last summer.

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