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What next for Christian Pulisic?

The 24-year-old forward dubbed “Captain America” remains linked with a move away from Stamford Bridge in what could be a critical summer for the United States international’s club career

As one of the most recognizable faces in the history of football in the United States, 24-year-old Chelsea forward Christian Pulisic has had the weight of a nation on his shoulders for quite some time.

Since his move from US-based youth outfit PA Classics to European giants Borussia Dortmund in 2015, his ultimate progression into the senior squad at the Westfalen Stadion on the back end of the 2015-16 campaign subsequent explosion onto the German footballing landscape during the 2016-17 season, millions of American’s have viewed the Pennsylvania native as the next great hope for the US Men’s national team.

After what was an overall impressive stint in the Ruhr Valley irrespective of how it ended, his reported £58m move to Stamford Bridge in the summer of 2019 – making him the most expensive American player in history as well as Dortmund’s second-biggest sale – added further weight on the shoulders of the then 21-year-old, especially given the explosion of Premier League interest back across the pond long before his arrival on European shores.

Fast-forward to the current 2022-23 Premier League campaign, the reality that Pulisic could very well be jettisoned in the summer in the wake of Chelsea’s rampant £600m-plus spending spree under Todd Boehley and Behdad Eghbali in order to avoid potential FFP sanctions while thinning-out a senior squad of over thirty players is a real possibility.

Being the preeminent face of football in your country – especially one such as the US – comes with a weight of expectation that often far exceeds the scope of rationality. Instead, it is habitually replaced with broader ideological fallacies that are usually championed by mouthpieces the likes of Fox Soccer pundit and former US international Alexi Lalas, who recently spent what seemed like hours of air time during the 2022 World Cup reminding millions, if not billions, of viewers that America is the greatest country in the world. A nonsensical notion he is wholly convinced will inevitably transition into the realm of football.

Be that as it may, it is that very chest-pumping rhetoric that my adorable birthplace has done its best to push on all fronts as more and more US internationals have begun to flood into European markets as part of a current crop of young talent that, in all truth, do have potential to redefine the sport on American shores.

Sometimes it is tough. I still haven’t completely learned. Especially going back to the U.S., sometimes I put too much pressure on myself that I need to do something special where I just need to play the best I can, do what I can do and hopefully people recognize that.

It is just about playing my game, doing it to the best of my ability, and not worrying about what any outside sources say because that’s not what really matters.

For example, in the last national team games, the first couple I’m going into it thinking, ‘I need to over-perform and do something to save the team,’ but there’s no need for that because we have a very strong team.

I think at times I was overthinking it and trying to be too good in a way that’s not necessary. I don’t need to, whatever, overcomplicate things.

It has been a lot [to live up to]. Especially in the U.S., I think I do have pretty high standards that people set for me, and it can be tough at times.

—  Christian Pulisic when speaking with ESPN and cited by NBCSports

All of this comes to a head this summer should Pulisic himself look to relocate for the third time in his career, or if Chelsea not-so-subtly pushes him out the door at the Bridge to when Professor Ratigan was fully prepared to sacrifice his loyal confidant Fidget the Bat for the greater good.

The one question on the mind of anyone invested in football from an American perspective will unquestionably be where the Hershey-born versatile forward can plant roots next. And this is where that famous way of thinking mentioned above must be tempered.

There are some that are of the opinion that “Captain America” could walk into the starting XI of clubs the likes of his former employers Dortmund, as well as Serie A pace-setters SSC Napoli, and current Scudetto holders AC Milan. If Pulisic was consistently at his very best and leaving on a high and in form? That may be the case, though even that is a stretch when you consider the notion that, despite his level of ability, he has remained inconsistent for various reasons for quite some time now.

But perhaps more importantly, maybe the best thing amid so much uncertainty regarding his own direction would be a landing zone that does not come with massive expectations from either club fans or US supporters alike.

It was not all that long ago when the best and brightest the States had to offer in the vein of Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Brian McBride, Tim Howard, and Brad Friedel, all plied their trades for smaller clubs the likes of Fulham, Everton, and Blackburn, while current friends and international colleagues Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, and Brenden Aaronson have come together in Yorkshire at Elland Road.

On the domestic level, there is no denying that Everton and Leeds United are massive inside of England’s borders, with fanbases that unquestionably expect big things not just in the Premier League, but in domestic cup competitions as well. But most importantly, those are names that do not carry the weight of pressure on Pulisic that would be sure to continue if he did rock up to the San Siro, Stadio Diego Armando Maradona, or even a return to the Westfalenstadion.

With the 2026 World Cup set to take place in North America as CONCACAF giant trio United States, Canada, and Mexico have come together as triumvirates to welcome the tournament back for the first time since 1994, Pulisic – who will be twenty-seven and entering his prime years – will still be looked at to lead his country in what many will hope could end up in a shock on par with Lake Placid.

What matters the most, at least in this writer’s opinion, is for Pulisic to go where he can solely focus on re-honing his craft and getting back to his very best, without the added weight behind it. Whether that is joining his compatriots at Leeds, going to American ancestral grounds at Craven Cottage, committing to a sneaky move to the south coast under a brilliant young tactician in Roberto De Zerbi, or a return to Germany at institutions like Eintracht Frankfurt or SC Freiburg, America’s top talent must be gauged on how well and how often he performs, not who he is – maybe – performing for.

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Andrew Thompson

US-based Football writer. German football guru with a wealth of experience in youth development and analysis. Data aficionado. Happily championing the notion that Americans have a knowledgeable voice in the beautiful game.

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