In a World Cup year, Pulisic needs playing time – and a transfer away from Chelsea. Keeton/EPA.
Expectations for Christian Pulisic as a Chelsea player have always been high. This came with the territory of being a €64m signing, as the American international was when he swapped Borussia Dortmund for Stamford Bridge three years ago. On top of this, Pulisic was signed to replace Eden Hazard, one of the best players to have ever worn the famous blue shirt.
As things stand, Pulisic has failed to live up to his billing. While the American started well at Chelsea, registering nine goals and six assists in 25 appearances in his first season in the Premier League, he has become a peripheral figure more recently, starting just five league games in the 2021/22 campaign to date.
Injuries have been a significant factor in Pulisic’s struggles, but even when the 23-year-old has played he has failed to make the most of the opportunity. Take the Boxing Day match against Aston Villa, for instance, when Pulisic started as a centre forward, but was shifted to right wing back at half time after failing to make any mark on the match.
Transfer speculation has recently swirled around Pulisic, with Barcelona reportedly interested in signing the American on loan until the end of the season in the January window. Other reports have claimed Chelsea are willing to cash in on the winger with Thomas Tuchel unsure of Pulisic’s role in his squad.
A hasty departure from Stamford Bridge would inevitably see Pulisic labelled a flop, but a fresh start in new surroundings could be what the American needs at this stage of his career. He is too good to be a bit-part figure for any team, even one as good as Chelsea. Now 23, Pulisic needs to take the next step forward in his development. That’s unlikely to happen at his current club.
The appeal of a switch to Barcelona would be clear. The Camp Nou club might be weaker than they have been in a long time, but they remain a European heavyweight. Xavi Hernandez is building one of the most exciting young teams in the sport and Pulisic could make himself a part of it.
However, Barca are at their strongest on the left side of attack, Pulisic’s preferred position. The American is capable of playing off the right wing, but the Catalans have just signed Ferran Torres to operate in that position, while Ousmane Dembele is also a good option there. It’s entirely possible Pulisic would be squeezed out at Barcelona just as he has been at Chelsea.
If Pulisic is to leave Chelsea, either permanently or on loan, he must make sure his next move is the right one. First and foremost, the American needs to play. He requires a team that plays to his strengths. Pulisic doesn’t currently have that at Chelsea, and without it there is only so much he can achieve in West London as an individual.
As a short-term solution, a loan move to another Premier League side might be the best option for Pulisic. The American international would improve West Ham’s squad, for instance, with David Moyes’ team in the hunt to qualify for the Champions League. Everton could also use an attacker of Pulisic’s quality, although Goodison Park isn’t exactly the healthiest environment at this particular time. Pulisic could find himself dragged down by the toxicity there.
2022 will be a critical year for Pulisic with the US men’s national team hoping to be in Qatar for the World Cup in a mere 11 months. This, if qualification is secured, will be Pulisic’s first World Cup after missing out in 2018 and it would be a significant moment in the 23-year-old’s career. He might never get a higher platform as an American sporting superstar.
But Pulisic mustn’t enter the 2022 World Cup short of game time. The USA will need the winger to be in top form in Qatar and he won’t be able to achieve this if he is cold before the tournament starts. This is why, in theory, Pulisic might consider a loan move away from Chelsea instead of fighting for his place at his parent club.
There’s still plenty time for Pulisic to fulfill his potential as America’s first true soccer superstar, but the next year or so might require him to make a difficult decision or two. A move away from Chelsea may seem like a wrench in his development, but it might be the best thing for him.