For the majority of Christian Pulisic’s time at Chelseathe US national team star has effectively operated under some version of the same mantra that goes something like:
At a big club like Chelsea, you constantly have to prove yourself and perform. That’s what you sign up for at a place like this, and that’s what I’m going to do.
The narrative has remained a constant despite the vast amount of change that has occurred at Chelsea since Pulisic arrived in 2019. The club has cycled through three managers in that time: first Maurizio Sarri, then Frank Lampard and now Thomas Tuchel. Longtime owner Roman Abramovich was forced to sell the club amid sanctions after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year.
Throughout all of that, massive sums have been spent on players, especially attacking players, and some dwarf even the $73 million Chelsea paid Dortmund to sign Pulisic. Since his record-setting transfer for a US player, the likes of Hakim Ziyech, Kai Havertz, Romelu Lukaku, Timo Werner and, most recently, Raheem Sterling have all been brought to Stamford Bridge. That’s enough to make any player question where his future with the club lies, yet Pulisic, whose quest to lock down a regular starting place at the club has gone unfulfilled, has remained even-keeled about it all.
“I try to look at everything in sort of a positive way, even if things don’t go exactly as you had planned or you’re not getting all the minutes that you want,” Pulisic told Sports Illustrated last month. “I think you’re going to learn, and I think when you play at a club like this, that’s such a legendary club like Chelsea is, I think I really just continue to learn through it all.
“It’s not always going to be easy. I have to continue to prove myself and constantly perform. But that’s what you sign up for when you come to a club like this, and that’s what I’m just constantly ready for.”
This summer has surely put that resolve and mantra to the test, though. In addition to the Sterling signing—a player who operates in Pulisic’s preferred position on the left wing—Chelsea has reportedly and unsuccessfully gone after two more wingers, in Raphinha and Serge Gnabry. Another, Everton’s lesser-heralded Anthony Gordon, is reportedly on the wish list before the summer transfer deadline Sept. 1. While the previous attacking additions were not all like-for-like competition, this summer’s activity seems considerably more threatening, and even personal. It’s not leaving Pulisic, who has come off the bench in Chelsea’s first two matches of the season to play a grand total of 30 minutes (plus stoppage time), with much of a choice if he’s hoping to lock down a more regular role in the months leading into the World Cup.
Make no mistake, his Chelsea adventure should not be viewed as failure—he’s won UEFA Champions League and Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup titles after all, and has contributed significantly along the way—and the inability to stockpile consistent playing time has, at times, been down to a matter of poor injury luck. But his past with Tuchel at Dortmund has not proven to be as beneficial as most may have anticipated, and it does not appear that, barring injuries to teammates, that the run of regular game time is imminent. So it makes Wednesday’s reports that Manchester United is interested in taking Pulisic on loan—and that the interest is apparently reciprocated—all the more interesting.
Any move at this juncture, three months before the start of the World Cup, needs to be weighed carefully. As the clichés go, the grass is always greener on the other side, and better the devil you know than the devil you don’t. In the very literal interpretation of this case, the Red Devils are an absolute tire fire, and it’s not certain what Pulisic would be getting himself into by potentially heading to Manchester. That doesn’t mean going there, even temporarily, would be detrimental on an individual level, but it certainly isn’t a risk-averse move. If it’s made clear that Erik ten Hag would feature Pulisic regularly, then those consistent minutes in the Premier League and in Europe (albeit in the Europa League and not the Champions League) could be more beneficial for Pulisic, and by extension the US, than a wait-and-see game at Chelsea.
Then again, being thrown into what appears to be a toxic environment doesn’t sound particularly appealing, and the totality of his Chelsea career has not been a hindrance on his progress or stature with the US, either. What has been most important above all else has been entering camp healthy and fit. He has risen to the occasion with the national team in its most pressing moments and has embraced the leadership role that he has grown into since developing from the U.S.’s “next big thing” into its leading man.
“I’ve seen a lot of stuff in the last couple of years and with experience—just getting all of the experiences that I have at this club and some of the biggest games and some of the biggest moments—it just prepares me for down the line,” Pulisic told SI. “And this season, I’m hoping to go into it and have a really strong start, be myself and just have the best season that I can.”
Chelsea isn’t currently allowing for that to happen, which means his hand is being forced in one of two directions: Either stay the course, abide by the mantra and carry on without introducing any wild cards into the equation, or voice his desire to take a chance elsewhere and convince Chelsea to allow for that to occur. This ultimately comes down to whether Chelsea will acquiesce, and handing Pulisic over to an English rival might not sit well in owner/de facto sporting director Todd Boehly’s office. But whether it’s Manchester United or another club rumored to be part of the picture (Newcastle, Juventus, AC Milan and Atlético Madrid are supposedly among them), Pulisic appears to be at an inflection point at this most vital of junctures, and joining one of they could provide the necessary change of scenery so that repeating a statement about his outlook in London is no longer part of his regular rotation.
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