In the 2019 January transfer window, it was announced that Dortmund’s American boy wonder, Christian Pulisic was to join Chelsea FC in the coming summer from Borussia Dortmund for a fee of 57.6 million pounds. For the then 20-year-old with just about a year left on his contract, this transfer raised a lot of eyebrows all over the premier league and had, to a large extent, split the Chelsea fanbase. Fast forward to the appointment of Frank Lampard and the long-anticipated arrival of Pulisic at Stamford Bridge, the polarising views on his acquisition still lingered but were slightly overcome by feelings of excitement at getting to see exactly what Captain America was all about and how he would fit into the new youthful Chelsea. Getting used to life in the Premier League certainly was quite a big challenge for the former Borussia Dortmund man, however, after his perfect hattrick against Burnley at Turf Moor, he has never looked back. It is based on his constant upward trend in terms of massive improvement in his game that the question, “Is Pulisic underrated?”, comes up. I will try my best to assess whether or not Chelsea’s very own American superstar is given the credit he deserves or not.
Christian Pulisic’s last season at Dortmund was not without its challenges. After a series of muscle injuries, he fell behind Jadon Sancho in the pecking order for the wide attacking positions at the Signal Iduna Park. While he was out with muscle injury after muscle injury, there was Jadon Sancho, absolutely ripping up the Bundesliga with tons of goals and assists and ultimately replacing the American youngster as the German Club’s most prized young talent. This difficult period happened to coincide with a desire to leave Dortmund from the Pulisic camp that ultimately ended up in his pre-arranged summer move to Chelsea. Theoretically, this move certainly reduced the prospect of the American getting a significant role in the second half of Dortmund’s season with the club aware of his poor injury record and the possibility of an injury allowing Chelsea to ask for a discount. However, the brilliant mentality of the young player shone through as he forced his way into the team and made a host of valuable contributions, including a wonderful solo goal against Werder Bremen in the German Cup. With a wonderful low stooping header against Monchengladbach in front of the Signal Iduna park fateful in what was his last appearance for the Black and Yellow, Pulisic took his goal contribution tally to a quite impressive 13 in 30 appearances, of which 13 were from the bench. The young American’s display of desire and sheer talent certainly set him in good stead for his start to life in London.
Captain America was keen to make an immediate impact and work his way into the plans of Frank Lampard. He cut his holidays short, despite his major exertions at the CONCACAF Gold Cup for the USA, to join up with the rest of the Chelsea squad in Japan. Even though he did not quite get the warmest of welcomes, as he admitted his presence was mostly ignored when he boarded the team bus for the first time, Christian Pulisic had a very good pre-season. A quick-fire brace against RB Salzburg sent shockwaves across the Chelsea fanbase by adding to the growing excitement to see the American attacker in action in the Premier League. Life in the Premier League started with a few assists and flashes of brilliance from Pulisic, but it was clear he was having a hard time adapting to the pace and physicality of the league. Then came another testing moment in his career, possibly the most difficult. Frank Lampard decided to leave the youngster out of the starting XI for an extended run of matches, prompting doubts about his future at Stamford Bridge and increased suspicion of a soured relationship with the Chelsea manager. Once again Captain America came back fighting, successive game-winning assists in short cameos against Newcastle, and Ajax ensured he forced his way back into the Chelsea starting lineup. And not only did he prove Lampard right in his decision to recall him, but he also showed just how much of a wonderful talent he is with a hat-trick in Chelsea’s 4-2 win at Turf Moor last season. From there it was onwards and upwards for Pulisic with brilliant performances, most notably against Crystal Palace and Watford. Unfortunately, just as he was getting into his groove and giving a new dimension to the youthful Chelsea side, muscle injury struck again.
An adductor injury sustained in training sidelined the American for a little over three months spanning from late December to March. Just when he was set to return to the fold after months out of action, the Corona Virus Pandemic struck. Football was halted, and Pulisic had to go through what was remaining of his recovery indoors and mostly without family due to the global imposition of lockdowns. When football did return 100 days later, Captain America faced a new challenge. He once again had to prove himself to scores of Chelsea fans and Manager Frank Lampard. Prove himself he certainly did. Pulisic came flying out of the blocks with brilliant performances and goals against Aston Villa and Manchester City. He continued in this same vein throughout Project Restart and was key in Chelsea’s successful pursuit of a Top 4 place. His scintillating close control and outstanding dribbling ability even drew comparisons with Eden Michael Hazard, one of the best players in the history of Chelsea Football Club. However, Pulisic was quick to quash these and emphasize the fact that he was looking to become his own player. Then came the FA Cup final. Pulisic brilliantly lifted the ball over Emi Martinez after dancing through the Arsenal defence to put Chelsea 1-0 up early in the first half. However, this did not foreshadow what was to come. While he showed great acceleration to get past the Arsenal defense to create a 1v 1 situation with the opposition goalkeeper, he sadly picked up a muscle injury just before he could slot the ball into the bottom corner of the net. It was a crushing moment for the American and turned out to be the point where Chelsea lost the cup final.
Once again this season Christian has had to deal with injury setbacks but is still on course to establish himself in the team due to his immense attitude and mesmerizing talent. He is becoming more and more like the ideal modern-day winger who is a cold-blooded finisher alongside his ability to play in tight spaces and change direction with ease. Earning the number 10 shirt proves he is highly rated at Chelsea and is a deserved reward for all he has shown in West London so far. I believe the constant need for him to prove himself points to the fact that he is indeed underrated, however, based on his ability to always fight back and improve alongside his mercurial talent, those who continue to sleep on his progress and importance to this Chelsea team do so at their own peril. Christian Pulisic is the king of “Bounceback-ability”.
Written by Kwabena Budu @Kwabenzzz
Edited by Jai Mcintosh @jjmcintosh5