Christian Pulisic: Is The American Wonderkid On The Road To Disappointment?
Christian Pulisic’s recent teary departure from the pitch as his USA side slumped to a humiliating 0–2 loss to Canada was as sad to see as it is telling of the form he currently finds himself in.
This is, ultimately, a player who has seemingly gained a lifetime’s amount of hype, pressure and expectation — all before his twenty-first birthday.
National side hero, youngest Bundesliga scorer, youngest Champions League scorer for Borussia Dortmund, record transfer to Chelsea and national team captain at just twenty years old, it’s important to remember just exactly how much Christian Pulisic has already achieved in his career.
If there is one word that should be attached over Christian Pulisic, it is ‘expectation’. Pulisic is increasingly looking like a player who has the absolute weight of the world constantly being thrown at him and is slowly cracking because of it.
Pulisic’s rapid rise began after 10 goals and 8 assists (in just 15 games) for Borussia Dortmund’s youth side brought him to the attention of the club’s hierarchy, who invited him to train with the first team during the winter break in the 2015/16 season.
A few appearances in Dortmund’s winter break friendlies led to him making his full debut in January, a 2–0 win over Ingolstadt. His first Dortmund goal came in April against Hamburger, making him the youngest non-German player to ever score in the Bundesliga at the time, aged just 17 years and 212 days.
The following season, Pulisic would set another record as he became the youngest player to play in and score in the Champions League for Borussia Dortmund, scoring in their knockout round win over Benfica.
On the topic of record-setting, Pulisic was called up to the US National side in 2016, having scored 20 goals in 34 games as the U-17 captain. He was, once again, the youngest player to feature for his side and remains the youngest player to ever captain the USA, having led them out against Italy in 2018.
“When he [Pulisic] plays, everything seems so simple and normal. I want to be like that too. He’s only two years older than me, but what he has already achieved with the USA, despite the huge pressure on him, is an inspiration for me.” — Jadon Sancho.
Transferred To Chelsea
What followed all of this, besides a hugely inflated level of expectation again, was a £58 ($71) million move to five-time Premier League champions and 2012 Champions League winners Chelsea in 2019. As if the burden wasn’t hyped enough because of their transfer ban, but the departure of the legendary Eden Hazard to Real Madrid immediately painted Pulisic as the go-to replacement for the Belgian, which he clearly is not.
The form of the likes of Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount and even Calum Hudson-Odoi since his return all seem to indicate the same patterns: Pulisic is struggling, and Lampard isn’t keen on giving him the time on the pitch to work it through.
Make no mistake, Pulisic is in serious danger of becoming another Chelsea reject. The club haven’t got the best record for giving their undoubtedly talented players time to come good, and manager Frank Lampard hardly has the luxury of a skilled squad to wrap around Pulisic in the meantime.
Whilst an individual like Mason Mount shows just how good a wonderkid can be and Federico Macheda shows exactly how bad they can be on the flip side, Pulisic is an important example of the third world of wonderkids that no one really addresses. At twenty-one, Pulisic has played more games than Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Neymar had all managed at that age, with the added pressure of carrying the hopes of a nation on his back.
“This generation can be tough, for young players especially, having people talk about you, having constant pressure on your back” — Christian Pulisic.
The talent to be a world-beating superstar, something the United States has seldom ever come close to producing, is 100% there. Absolutely no doubt about it. Pulisic’s pace, low centre of gravity, versatility and agility make him a player of the absolute highest level and he could seriously take the Premier League and international stage by storm soon enough.
However, fans and critics of Pulisic alike need to just take a step back and realise that they are still talking about a twenty-one year old. A twenty-one year old in a new country, a new league and a new set of challenges. The pressure put on him is something no other player in the world faces at that age, and it’s clear that it is beginning to rip his blossoming career away at the seams.