Pulisic's Transfer Says He's Already A Starter at Chelsea
2019 is off to a bang for American soccer as Chelsea announced on Wednesday the transfer and signing of 20-year-old US international Christian Pulisic. Although he will finish the year with Borussia Dortmund on loan and join the English side in the summer, everything about this transfer signals that Pulisic is a long-term plan for the club and will be a starter upon his arrival in the summer of 2019.
Pulisic will be in the starting XI from day one. Guaranteed. On the flip side, his starting role is also his to lose.
Why Pulisic Will Start?
#1 Massive Transfer Fee
The most important reason the young American joins Chelsea as a starter come August is the number 73. $73 million is the fee to buy Pulisic, making him the third most expensive signing in club history, and no one outside of a padded room would pay that much for someone to sit on the bench both on principle and precedent.
At Chelsea, they’ve shown in the past that big signings start immediately. In 2018, Kepa became the club’s record signing and went straight into goal while Jorginho who cost over £50 million also started right away. Halfway through their first seasons, both are mainstays on matchday and virtually undroppable.
In 2017, Alvaro Morata signed for a then club record fee and slotted into the center-forward role from the get go. Despite his struggles over a season and a half, he continues to get chance after chance to find his form and became the Number 9 that the Blues need to compete in the Premier League and in Europe.
Fernando Torres set the British transfer fee when he moved at the end of the January transfer window from Liverpool to Chelsea in 2011 and made his debut the following week, the first of 18 appearances over the remaining half of the campaign.
Even going back to 2006 Andriy Shevchenko moved to West London for a then English club record fee of almost £31 million and led the front line from the beginning. And the list goes on and on for Chelsea.
Chelsea, especially in the Abramovich era, buy players and put them directly in the starting XI. Granted, that’s not unique to the London club, but there’s no reason that the trend would end now with the signing of Pulisic.
If the Blues had spent 30 or 40 million, I wouldn’t be convinced of Pulisic’s inclusion from day 1, but $73 million, third highest in club history and highest for an American, almost four times higher than the previous record for an American? Yeah, he’s arriving as a starter.
#2 Outgoing Forwards
On the surface, Chelsea appear to have too many players standing in the American’s way, keeping him out of the starting XI. In reality he’s joining at the perfect time for him to come in and play right away with most of the forwards on Chelsea's books are heading for the exit door.
Pulisic may play on the opposite side of talisman Eden Hazard, but that’s not even the important factor here. Of course the Hershey, PA native won’t supplant the Belgian captain. Paying such a huge fee and securing the transfer six months ahead signals that Chelsea expect Hazard to leave for Real Madrid. And the club should sell Hazard for numerous reasons as I expounded on before.
Chelsea know that their star playmaker's day are numbered with his constant quotes about loving Madrid and seeing them as his dream club on top of not signing an extension over the past year. Chelsea wanted a playmaker and a 20-year-old with potential to become a global start might be the best place to start.
Even if Hazard stays, can Chelsea then pay him 300k or 350k a week? It seems too big an expense. Chelsea have spent a ton in recent years buying Kepa, Jorginho, Morata, Tiemoue Bakayoko, and Michy Batshuayi while also spending modest sums for Danny Drinkwater, Antonio Rudiger, and others. After adding Pulisic on top of that, the net spend seems too high even when factoring sales like Oscar, Diego Costa, Nemanja Matic, and others.
Hazard’s leaving and the club knows it. Therefore, his departure means that Willian moves to left and Pulisic goes in on the right. Or Pedro goes in on the left. Regardless, Hazard most likely departing in the summer removes competition for Pulisic.
Moreover, both Willian and Pedro are over 30 years old with contracts expiring after next season, the summer of 2020. Add in Chelsea’s strict policy of only offering one-year contracts to players over 30, and it’s easy to see most of the competition for forward spots are on their way out either this year or next.
What about Callum Hudson-Odoi, the promising young forward? Without having played much this year, either Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri doesn’t rate him or the club will send him on loan or possibly sell him as reports have said that Bayern Munich are interested.
If Pulisic joined Chelsea today, in January 2019, do I think he would start upon his arrival? No. Based on his form at Dortmund, lack of playing time, as well as the current crop of players like Willian and Pedro at Chelsea, I think Pulisic would have a tough time cracking the XI.
But that’s not the situation at bay. He’s coming in the summer with a big significant price tag, fresh campaign, full preseason, and most likely not a lot of guys standing in his way. Fast forward to Chelsea’s first competitive match in August and he’ll be starting as a wide forward.
Only Pulisic Can Lose His Spot
#1 Chelsea's Past Busts
The biggest fear surrounding this transfer is Chelsea’s poor record with huge signings and that this could turn into another data point. Both Kepa and Jorginho should be excluded as they’re in their first year with the club.
Alvaro Morata has proven a bust with only 22 goals and 6 assists after a year and a half with the club and has been relegated to substitute or unused sub several times. Chelsea bought Bakayoko for €40 million in 2017 and subsequently loaned him out to AC Milan after one year of underwhelming performances.
Fernando Torres defines the word “flop” for Chelsea signings as he only managed 45 goals in parts of 4 seasons at Stamford Bridge. Granted, he notched 35 assists and scored the winner late against Barcelona to send Chelsea to the Champions League Final in 2012 which they ultimately won so he does have a special place in many Blues fans’ hearts. He still though never reached the same level as he did at Liverpool and the club eventually loaned him to AC Milan in 2014.
Didier Drogba and Michael Essien became huge successes wearing blue after impressive transfer fees and expectations, but that was a decade ago so they don’t provide a counter to Morata, Torres, and others under the current board and transfer strategy.
Chelsea’s recent high profile incoming transfers never lived up to the hype so when it comes to Pulisic, he too could play himself out of the line up as the board have proven they don’t spend all that wisely. He’ll still get his shot from the beginning so he needs to buck the trend of recent signings at Stamford Bridge.
#2 Chelsea Doesn't Develop Young Players
The other big worry about Pulisic joining Chelsea at 20 years old is that Chelsea don’t boast the best track record with developing young players in-house or after buying them. Captain, Leader, Legend John Terry was the last academy graduate to become a regular two decades ago.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Andreas Christensen right now are trying their best as the latter started regularly under previous manager Antonio Conte, but both remain on the fringes battling for minutes.
Outside the academy, Chelsea notoriously hampers promising young players with a lack of playing time and patient, usually casting them astray quickly and regrettably. The club had Mo Salah at 22 and Kevin De Bruyne at 21, both of whom never really got playing time and eventually got sold. A few years after leaving the club, they went on to unquestionably become the two best players in the Premier League last season.
Chelsea bought Andre Schurrle in 2013 at 23 years old and he had the winning assist at the World Cup the next year while under contract in west London. He too never really rose to the level everyone expected and was sold after just two seasons with the club.
Current Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku at 18 years old joined the Blues but only made 18 appearances for club in three years between Chelsea and two loans. He eventually moved to Everton and then to United for £75 million.
Chelsea are infamous for letting young talented players slip through their fingers and any Chelsea fan now should worry that the same will happen to the US international before he reaches his full potential.
As I said in the beginning it’s his spot to lose. Of course Hazard, Willian, and Pedro can out do him and win the starting jobs if they stay or extend their contracts respectively. Hudson-Odoi may play out of his mind over the next few months and win a place in the team. Those can happen and it would be a shame, but those possibilities shouldn’t be the concerns of the club, Pulisic himself, or any Chelsea fan.
Pulisic's Future Is In His Hands
With Hazard’s imminent exit, Willian and Pedro’s age and expiring contracts, the club policy for 30+ year old players, and a possible transfer ban on the way, the board decided to bring in a young player that they believe will start and make an impact for the foreseeable future.
A huge money transfer and competition on the way out align perfectly for Christian Pulisic to come in and be one of the first names on the team sheet from the get-go. One of the attacking forward positions is his upon arrival without question. Unless he loses it.
With Chelsea’s recent past of transfer flops and young player stagnation, the newest American to grace to Premier League could very well find himself to be a bust.
I’m a Chelsea supporter and an American who feverishly roots for the US National Team. On both fronts, I want him to become the best American to ever play in England and he has the potential so I’m optimistic he can reach those heights.
August 2019 seems like an eternity from now. But when it arrives, Pulisic will be in the XI. He just needs to hold on to it.