Almost from the moment that American wunderkind Christian Pulisic broke into the Borussia Dortmund first team, there have been rumors that the 20-year-old attacking midfielder was headed to the Premier League. This week, those rumors became fact as Dortmund announced that Pulisic had been sold to Chelsea for $73.1 million.
In these days of eye-popping transfer fees, $73 million almost seems like a bargain. As transfers go, this is the 25th-most expensive of all time. The old record for an American, paid by Wolfsburg for defender John Brooks, was $22 million. For a player who’s age 20 and under, Pulisic is in third place on the all-time money list, behind only Kylian Mbappé and Ousmane Dembélé.
I have written “Christian Pulisic” and “next big thing” many times in the same sentence over the past years, but time to drop “next.’’ For $73 million, Pulisic is now just a big thingt.
Chelsea, famously one of the richest clubs in soccer history and owned by a money-is-no-object oligarch, has only paid more for two other players. This is not a future speculation, the equivalent of a draft pick in American sports. This is John Tavares to the Maple Leafs, Bryce Harper to wherever Bryce Harper ends up, a major move for a team that wants to contend right now. Pulisic will finish out the season at Borussia Dortmund as part of the deal, but come next season, Chelsea will expect him to be a key performer.
When it comes to big clubs, Chelsea is among the biggest. The Blues have been Champions League winners and three-time Premier League and FA Cup champions in this decade alone. Plenty of American players have made their marks in the Premier League, but only goalkeeper Tim Howard was at the absolute top. He played a single season as Manchester United’s first-string goalkeeper and several more in which he was in and out of the lineup.
All players speak of reaching the top.The Pulisic move is what they mean.
The pressure’s on Pulisic now. It’s been on him before. He was a teenager in the Borussia Dortmund starting lineup as BVB struggled. At the same time, as the USA’s hopes for its men’s national team were overwhelming every other American player, Pulisic was the only one to come through the failed 2018 Wolrld Cup qualifying campaign with anything approaching dignity. Now, at 20, he’s the best hope for an American recovery. Pulisic is used to big expectations.
He should be an excellent fit in manager Maurizio Sarri’s system. Sarri’s most beloved players are attacking midfielders who can press and swap places and just generally cause defensive problems for opposing teams. Pulisic, who can dribble through four defenders in a phone booth, is perfect for this.
It’s the next step for youngster, a step that’s seemed inevitable for the few years he’s been on the international stage. But making a mark at the top is far more difficult than reachingit. The better he does there, the better he’ll be for the United States, too. That’s a cause all American fans can get behind.
• The American soccer world was saddened by the death of Sigi Schmid on Christmas Day at age 65. Schmid coached UCLA for nearly two decades, then moved on to MLS, coaching for Los Angeles, Columbus and Seattle. His teams won the MLS Cup twice and the Supporters’ Shield three times. His squads also won five U.S. Open Cups, making him one of the most decorated managers in American soccer history.
• In a different sort of sad, Serie A chose to play games the day after Christmas hoping to attract more attention for the Italian league. The marquee game of the day between Inter Milan and Napoli proved to be a disastrous black eye for the country. A group of Inter “ultras” ambushed Napoli fans outside the stadium. In the ensuing melee, a fan was run over and killed. Inside the stadium, Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly was racially abused for the entire game by Inter’s fans. Inter is being punished by playing its next two home games without fans in the stadium.
• The saga of Argentine rivals River Plate and Boca Juniors captivated the soccer world, and now two of the major figures in that long-delayed Copa Libertadores final are headed for the United States and MLS. River Plate midfielder Pity Martinez is (likely) headed for Atlanta. Boca Juniors coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto will manage the Los Angeles Galaxy.
WEEKEND WATCH GUIDE
La Liga: Atletico Madrid at Sevilla, 9 a.m. Sunday, beIN. Sevilla seems like it is teetering on the edge of chaos. Will the club be sold, against the fans’ wishes? Will coach Pablo Machin last all year? But Sevilla is also in third place, only two points behind second-place Atletico. Meanwhile, if Atletico is going to compete with Barcelona for the title, it needs to start winning big games like this one.
Writer Jon Marthaler gives you a recap of recent events and previews the week ahead. • firstname.lastname@example.org