Inside the Timing, Reasoning and Potential of Christian Pulisic's Chelsea Transfer
It’s official: U.S. men’s national team star Christian Pulisic has been sold to Chelsea by Borussia Dortmund for €64 million ($73.1 million), shattering the record transfer fee for a U.S. soccer player. The 20-year-old Pulisic, a native of Hershey, Pa., will stay on loan for the rest of the season with Dortmund, which is leading the German Bundesliga, and will join Chelsea in the summer.
You’ve got questions. I’ll try to provide some answers and context. Let’s go:
How big is this news in American soccer?
Massive. Pulisic has served as the U.S. captain, has been a regular for Dortmund for the past three seasons and has been the best player on the USMNT for almost two years. He’s not there yet, but he has a real chance to become the first global U.S. men’s soccer superstar. Pulisic’s transfer fee obliterates the previous records for a USMNT player—John Brooks for €20 million ($22.4 million) to Wolfsburg in 2017—and a U.S.-born player—Jozy Altidore for $10 million to Sunderland in 2013.
Pulisic now has the third-highest transfer fee ever for a player 20 years old or younger, behind Frenchmen Kylian Mbappé and Ousmane Dembélé. Most of that fee is due to what Pulisic can bring on the field. But the price no doubt got a bump as well from Pulisic’s young age and his status as an American; like so many European clubs, Chelsea wants to get bigger in the U.S., and buying the best U.S. player can only help.
A number of top clubs showed interest in Pulisic, including Bayern Munich, Tottenham, Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool. But Chelsea made the offer that was closest to Dortmund’s asking price of €70 million ($79.8 million). From Chelsea’s perspective, the club was looking for a young wide midfielder. Eden Hazard may leave for Real Madrid (or somewhere else) in the summer, and Willian (30 years old) and Pedro (31) are on the wrong side of their primes.
From Pulisic’s perspective, he wanted to move to the Premier League, which he grew up watching. (His family even spent a year in England when he was a child.) Though Chelsea does have a history of making regular coaching changes, Pulisic will be managed by the Italian Maurizio Sarri, who’s well known for his tactical nous. The American will get every opportunity to earn a starting spot—and become a focal point of the attack—next summer. Otherwise Chelsea wouldn’t have paid so much money for him.
There will be surprise in some quarters that Pulisic did not go to Liverpool and manager Jürgen Klopp, who has a relationship with Pulisic that goes back to the days Klopp coached Dortmund and Pulisic was on the youth team. But Liverpool didn’t approach Chelsea’s bid, and Pulisic will likely have a better opportunity for playing time at Chelsea.
Why make the Pulisic deal now?
Pulisic was never going to play out the entirety of his contract with Dortmund through the summer of 2020, and by going to England this summer he would move at a time that was good for him (when he could integrate with Chelsea in preseason and not have to make the difficult midseason transition) and good for Dortmund (which could still earn a big transfer fee for him). BVB had said publicly that it did not want to move Pulisic in the middle of the season, because he can still be a significant part of the club’s chase for trophies.
Even though Pulisic is effectively a lame duck at Dortmund, the club knows him well enough to believe that he’ll give 100 percent the rest of the season. What’s more, Pulisic and Dortmund avoided the messy public exit that accompanied the Dortmund departures of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Dembélé.
From Chelsea’s side of things, locking up Pulisic now provides some security. That’s especially important because Chelsea currently has a case before FIFA involving allegations of the transfer of underaged players. It’s possible that Chelsea could face a transfer ban beginning this summer, and acquiring Pulisic now is a hedge against that possibility.
Will Pulisic make a major impact in the Premier League?
For better and for worse, the young American will now become associated with a pricetag—$73.1 million—that means you are expected to become a real star who helps lead his team to the trophies that matter the most in world soccer. That’s what Pulisic has always dreamed of, and now he’ll have that chance. The ingredients in his game are there: The ability to break down players one-on-one, to set up goals, to score goals.
But even Pulisic would tell you that he is not yet the finished product. From a personal perspective, this season has often been a frustrating one for him at Dortmund. Pulisic has dealt with three different muscle injuries, and he has lost playing time at BVB to the emerging 18-year-old English phenomenon Jadon Sancho. The highest levels of European soccer are a cutthroat business, and Pulisic has learned well by now that you have to earn everything on the field.
At Chelsea he’ll have the opportunity to become the first global American men’s soccer superstar. But he has to make the most of it.