On 2 January 2019, Americans went into a frenzy, thrilled at the news that one of our international starlets, Christian Pulisic would be moving to Chelsea for the 2019/20 Premier League season.
This was the moment they were all waiting for, an American player, a nationality that has so often struggled in Europe, moving to one of the continent’s top clubs in a starring role.
The idea that this would happen, that this could be the breakthrough for Americans in Europe gained so much steam, that so much was anticipated for Christian Pulisic’s first season at Chelsea.
But, not all of that anticipation has come to fruition. Despite a promising start, where Pulisic nailed some assists and got everybody excited with his fast, smart play, the Blues’ third most expensive signing has dropped to the bench in the past few games, only making short cameos, such as his ten minutes against Southampton; or not featuring at all – in some cases not being in the matchday squad.
It’s a change of fortune to what was envisioned for the young lad coming into this high-profile role, and has led to a frenzy about his future with many of his fans and followers scratching their heads. But all in all, this shouldn’t be such a shock.
When Chelsea bought Christian Pulisic from Dortmund, they had spent around 65 million on an attacking winger with eleven goals combined in his last three seasons. If those numbers sound underwhelming, it is because they are. Pulisic has always been a young developing talent, but those attacking returns for what should be a goalscoring position are suspiciously low, and at the time Chelsea bought the player, he was relegated to the bench for most games.
So why did Chelsea buy an under-performing bench-warmer from Dortmund? Well, at the time this move was announced, American fans and punsits were too excited and hyped to really ask that question to themselves.
The giddiness that one of the USA’s top players would be making a huge move to a premier club blinded most from some facts, and those facts were that while Pulisic had exciting moments in his career (more so for the USMNT than Dortmund) he never justified that huge price tag that the Chelsea board of directors shipped out for him.
So now, when Pulisic is playing apprentice to Willian in Chelsea’s lineup, having lost his starting spot, those numbers, that context, and the stone-cold truth is settling in. Maybe he never was…that good? If that’s the case, than it’s a sad truth, and maybe an overreaction to state at a mere eight games into the season, but it’s a possibility that’s sinking on our shoulders as we grapple with this.
But the fact that Christian Pulisic isn’t starting and getting desired minutes for Chelsea shouldn’t be an outcry. While he had his chance during the first four or five games of the season, he didn’t seize it, letting fellow youngsters Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount grab the headlines with defining goals, whilst the American had nice moments, but nothing truly special. Willian comes in, and suddenly he’s been clicking a bit more fluently. It’s pretty simple, Chelsea are playing their best eleven, and Pulisic’s not part of that.
So the fact that American soccer journalists, and staunch supporters of the player are scrutinizing and yelling at Frank Lampard for benching him is ridiculous. Frank Lampard’s job as coach isn’t to appease the growing American soccer culture, and give Pulisic as many chances to prove himself as he needs, incidentally the treatment he received at Dortmund. Lampard’s job is to build a winning side, so it’s ridiculous that Lampard is asked an angry question every interview on why he’s not playing this young kid.
The hard truth is, Pulisic did enough during his Chelsea audition to warrant contention in the side, but not enough to nail down a starting spot, like Abraham and Mount did. Pulisic didn’t seize the baton with both hands, and now, that baton will be passed to Callum Hudson-Odoi, who will be getting his chance in these next few weeks to prove himself to Lampard. If Hudson-Odoi makes an impact and is successful, it spells more bad news for Pulisic, it means another one of his adversaries took their chance and got ahead of him in the pecking order.
And all in all, you might just ask why Chelsea would spend a ridiculous amount of money on a player with flashy, yet inconsistent performances on Dortmund. Some say they bought him to sell more Chelsea jerseys in the United States. Some say they bought him based on his USMNT form, and while his international form has been stellar in the games that matter, Pulisic’s middling club form is different, ranging from scoring a Champions League winner, to missing open nets and getting benched. But overall, it wasn’t Lampard who authorized the purchase of Pulisic, Lampard wasn’t coach at the time of the buy.
Pulisic will get another chance to prove himself. It’s a long season with plenty of squad rotation, but when he does get moments to play, he needs to take them. Contributing zero goals in a 7-1 Carabao Cup win over Grimsby Town won’t make a strong argument for an increased involvement for the American. Pulisic is a talented player, and possibly already the most technical player in American soccer history, but he needs a bit more in the ruthless waters of the Premier League.
In some ways though, this is good. The fact that Christian Pulisic has to struggle, stumble and work for a spot at Chelsea is fantastic. It’s better to experience setbacks at a top club, than be a star player in MLS, and I’m happy that’s the path Pulisic’s going down.
It shows that an American can be in the mix at a top level Premier League club, and even if his role isn’t the star we hoped it would be, it’s fantastic that he can contend and compete, regardless of nationality.