Photo Credit:Ezra Shaw / Getty Images
On Wednesday it was announced that Christian Pulisic was officially heading to Stamford Bridge, joining Chelsea for an astonishing $73.1M USD. Chelsea will in turn “loan” Pulisic back to his current team Borussia Dortmund for the remainder of the 2018-19 season. Pulisic will turn in his black & yellow for blue for good in the summer.
Is Pulisic Really Worth That Much Money?
The Argument for No
Nobody disputes Christian Pulisic’s upside and talent. However, critics of this deal will point out that Pulisic doesn’t even start for his own team. He gets regular playing time, yes. But he’s been overshadowed this year both in playing time and performance by 18 year-old Englishman Jadon Sancho.
Pulisic has obvious attacking potential, and he’s been exceptional for the USMNT. But he’s far from a complete player (in his defense, he’s 20). The good news is most of his weaknesses are fixable and somewhat rooted in his manager’s schematics. For example, Pulisic’s off-ball movement under previous BVB manager Thomas Tuchel was upper-class. Under current skipper Lucien Favre, the style of play simply fits Sancho’s strengths better. It happens.
The biggest argument for “No” though comes from a value perspective. Even with Neymar’s record $263M USD transfer fee resetting the market, Pulisic’s $73.1M is massive. Just look at these other transfer fees from the past year:
- Xherdan Shaqiri: $17.2M
- Mohamed Salah: $47.7M
- Riyad Mahrez: $77.1M
- Jorginho: $64.8M
- Richarlison: $44.5M
Would you rather pay $73.1M for Pulisic or $47.7M for Salah?
Of course, the caveat here is Pulisic’s age. Of the above list, his closest comparable would be Everton’s 21 year-old forward, Richarlison. In 19 matches so far this season, the Brazilian has tallied 9 goals and an assist in 19 Premier League matches. In 32 Bundesliga matches in the 2017-18 campaign, Pulisic tallied 4 goals and 5 assists. These are by no means apples-to-apples. They have different roles on their respective squads. But finding comparables and value does matter.
Just like being a #1 draft pick in the NFL recalibrates expectations for a young QB vs. one drafted in the second round, being purchased for $73.1M adds a certain unfair weight of expectations to Pulisic’s shoulders. By all accounts he’s a solid young man with a good head on his shoulders, but the weight of expectations isn’t going to make his life easier. He’s got enough of that for being the savior of American soccer.
The Argument for Yes
First, the obvious: opening up the U.S. market to Chelsea.
You’re going to see a lot of blue Pulisic jerseys in the next few years (hopefully they continue the yellow third kit too, it’s much cooler).
Second, Pulisic is a good player. The amount of money Chelsea forked over is clouding opinions of the deal. If the price had been, say, for Arsenal’s reported initial $35M bid, would reactions be this extreme? He’s young and if he’s on the squad and producing for 5-7 years, then the absurd $73.1M will seem like money well spent.
Now, if Eden Hazard really goes to Real Madrid (finally) this summer, then there’s a big gaping hole needed in the Chelsea line-up for a wing attacker like Pulisic. Although replacing Hazard are mighty big shoes to fill and won’t help much in the expectations category. To paraphrase Lloyd Benson to Dan Quale, “I know Eden Hazard, Eden Hazard was a friend of mine, and you are no Eden Hazard.”
Third and from an American perspective let’s not lose sight of this: THIS IS FANTASTIC FOR AMERICAN SOCCER AND THE USMNT.
While Clint Dempsey, DeAndre Yedlin, Brad Guzan and Joze Altidore have all recently spent time on bottom-table Premier League teams, the U.S. hasn’t had a field player (likely) starting for a top 6 team since, ever? Dempsey had a forgettable year at Spurs and Claudio Reyna at City, but nothing of impact or consequence. Pulisic potentially starting for Chelsea next year is high profile af.
The move certainly ramps up Pulisic’s potential developmental arc, and provides him a higher ceiling based on the level of competition he’ll see both at Stamford Bridge and in the Premier League.
All of this will be for naught if the new USMNT implements some non-Sarri anti-possession style of play. The team should be built around Pulisic’s strengths (as well as up-starts Timothy Weah and Weston McKinney, among others). But the benefit by osmosis of Pulisic competing in the deepest league in the world will only lift his, and our national team’s ceiling.
While Chelsea has a history of cutting bait too early world-class talent (Kevin de Bruyne or Mo Salah, anyone?) there are definitely more incentivized to make this one work. For the sake of U.S. soccer, let’s hope they do.