Christian Pulisic completes blockbuster $73 million Chelsea transfer, but will it work out for him?
There’s a transfer window upon us. And we now know United States star Christian Pulisic is headed to Chelsea.
For almost as long as the 20-year-old American prodigy has been playing in Borussia Dortmund’s first team, and it’s been the better part of three seasons now, he’s been linked to moves away from the club that convinced him to leave Hershey, Pennsylvania, as a 16-year-old. His meteoric rise is responsible for that, as is his obvious remaining upside and comfort playing anywhere as an attacking midfielder or winger. And maybe his commercial potential in a market most European clubs would like to crack plays a significant factor as well.
Now it’s reported that a $73 million move to the Blues has already been agreed on, with Pulisic to be loaned back to Bundesliga leaders Dortmund until the end of the season.
The thing is, for Pulisic to go to Chelsea now feels like entirely the wrong move at the wrong time.
For starters, there’s an awful lot left for Pulisic to learn at Dortmund. He hasn’t yet grown into the sort of player who dominates games in Germany. Which begs the question where the rush is in him leaving and taking a step up to the only league bigger than the Bundesliga.
What’s more, Pulisic has hit a rough patch at Dortmund. He isn’t a regular at the moment. Last season, his first as a full-time first-team pick, he made 27 Bundesliga starts and five substitutions. Halfway through this season, he has made just five starts and six substitutions. He’s been displaced from his customary spot on the right wing in the lineup by the 18-year-old English sensation Jadon Sancho.
It feels like leaving now, Pulisic will be shirking a fight for playing time with Sancho. There will be more of those fights, wherever he goes. Especially at a big English club, where most every summer will see the recruitment of some new threat to his spot in the team. There’s no sense in running away.
Pulisic’s stock is down. If Dortmund cashes in on him, taking an enormous $73 million reward on an investment of close to zero, as per the report, it will nevertheless be shedding an asset that is mostly surplus to requirement. That puts Pulisic in a weaker position at his new, would-be club, no matter the dizzying height of the sum paid for him.
And that’s just the thing. Unlike at most other clubs, your transfer fee doesn’t buy you any guarantees at Chelsea. The list of promising and expensive young players who flamed out at Chelsea, were endlessly loaned out, or stagnated before breaking out elsewhere, is frightfully long. A sample from the last eight years: Lucas Piazon. Kevin de Bruyne. Romelu Lukaku. Oriol Romeu. Marko Marin. Wallace. Andre Schurrle. Marco van Ginkel. Christian Atsu. Mohamed Salah. Kurt Zouma. Juan Cuadrado. Kenedy. Baba Rahman. Matt Miazga. Nathan. Michy Batshuayi. Tiemoue Bakayoko. Even the club’s record transfer, striker Alvaro Morata, isn’t a regular anymore in just his second season in West London.
Chelsea has spent lavishly on young players and mostly found it to be beneficial. Of the many players who didn’t work out at Stamford Bridge, many were nevertheless sold at a healthy profit when they developed out on loan. But that’s hardly the situation you want to find yourself in by choice, especially when there’s really no need to risk it.
Because joining Chelsea is a risk. The club has had a dozen managers in the last 10 years. The last manager to complete a third season was Jose Mourinho from 2004-05 through 2006-07. And while the lack of continuity is universal in soccer, the situation at Chelsea is so perpetually fickle that not even the biggest stars are assured to thrive there.
Pulisic isn’t a big star. At least not yet. Aside from what’s surely a big payday for him, and especially a few people around him, the incentives to go to Chelsea are alarmingly small. The upsides of more exposure to a higher level are dwarfed by the perils of going to a club continually in transition.
Especially now. This doesn’t appear to be Pulisic’s time to leave Dortmund just yet.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist and a sports communication lecturer at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.