In the first major move of European soccer’s January transfer window, on Wednesday Chelsea signed Christian Pulisic from Borussia Dortmund for £58 million—the most expensive purchase of an American player ever and the third-highest fee for a player 20 years old or younger. The winger, who has already tweeted a farewell to his current club, will play out the rest of the season with the Bundesliga leaders before joining Chelsea next summer.
The move makes sense for both squads. The highly touted Pulisic had seen his stock drop in recent months with the emergence of Englishman Jadon Sancho in his favored position. Pulisic has made more than 100 appearances since joining Dortmund at age 16, but has started only four league games so far this season. And with his contract set to expire in June 2020, Dortmund, as is their wont, cashed out early on a young player’s potential. For deep-pocketed Chelsea, meanwhile, the urgency of the Pulisic deal was heightened by the prospect of a potential transfer ban for improper dealings with underage players.
Pulisic’s arrival next summer could signal the long-rumored departure of Chelsea star forward Eden Hazard, who has been heavily linked to Real Madrid. But Pulisic wasn’t necessarily purchased by the Blues as a like-for-like replacement. Over four years at Dortmund and with the USMNT, he has been deployed at an array of attacking midfield positions, though his preferred spot is on the right wing. At that position, his main competition at Stamford Bridge will likely be with over-30 players Pedro and Willian. (Chelsea’s other attacking starlet, Callum Hudson-Odoi, is more comfortable on the left.) So, despite Chelsea’s less-than-stellar reputation of being patient with young talent, Pulisic should have every opportunity to crack the starting XI.
Whether he’ll seize that chance remains to be seen. Pulisic is not the first American to play in England, but he will be the highest-profile U.S. player ever in the Premier League, and he is joining a club with title aspirations. With all due respect to the Bundesliga, Pulisic’s move to Chelsea is something akin to a blue-chip college basketball star making the jump to the next level—if not quite that seismic a leap in level, then certainly similar in terms of exposure. The pressure to succeed will be immense, as will the media coverage. (NBC Sports execs are probably as excited about this transfer as anyone.) Pulisic’s high price tag and U.S. background will not only raise expectations, but also the desire of some to see him fail. But remember that this is a player whose ambitions led him overseas at 16 and saw him playing Champions League football and captaining his national team. Now at 20 years old, Pulisic will start his next chapter on world soccer’s biggest stage.