Two months later and that dream has become a reality for Pulisic. Well, almost. Chelsea have signed the 20-year-old for around £57million. He will, however, spend the remainder of the season on loan at Borussia Dortmund, the club he has been with since the age of 16.
It’s a big deal, one that will benefit the Blues on the pitch but also off it. Pulisic has been, and still is, the big hope of U.S. soccer. He’s been dubbed a prodigy, a wonderboy, and is already the star of the USMNT despite his tender years.
His arrival will significantly boost Chelsea’s profile in the States; something which will have been taken into account by the powerbrokers at Stamford Bridge. The commercial impact of his signing shouldn’t be underestimated.
But the Blues’ decision to buy Pulisic raises several questions. Far more than it answers.
Was he ready for such a move? Was he worth such a fee, especially given he had just 18 months remaining on his contract? Is he better than what Chelsea currently have? If so, who does he replace? Does he fit into Maurizio Sarri’s system? Is he a replacement for Eden Hazard? And what does this mean for one of the club’s own, the hugely talented Callum Hudson-Odoi?
There is no simple answer to many of the above. With time they will become apparent. It’s a waiting game for Chelsea. Only by giving Pulisic minutes will the club know if he’s capable of starring at Stamford Bridge. And he will get them, big-money signings always do.
Yet unless the Blues are extremely careful – and Sarri has a drastic change of heart – Pulisic jumping to the front of the first-team queue will send a hugely damaging message to the club’s young players, of which Hudson-Odoi is considered the crown jewel.
The teenage winger is wanted by a number of top European sides – Bayern Munich have even had a reported bid of £25million rejected by Chelsea – but he doesn’t play regularly at Stamford Bridge.
The reason? He’s not ready, in the eyes of Sarri at least. “He has to improve, I think, in movement without the ball,” the Italian told BBC Sport this week. “As a winger, he (also) has to improve in the defensive phase.”
Sarri, who did add that Hudson-Odoi is a player of huge potential, focused on what the 18-year-old can’t yet do. And that is the same as countless Chelsea managers that have come before him.
They know the talent the Blues’ academy players have but they can’t be risked. Consistent, seasoned professionals, such as Pedro and Willian, come first at Stamford Bridge because winning, no matter the circumstances, comes first.
But Pulisic is different. He isn’t the finished article. He isn’t an elite-level attacker. He is a young player with plenty to prove. Just like Hudson-Odoi. Just like Tammy Abraham. Just like Dominic Solanke. Nathan Aké. Nathaniel Chalobah. Josh McEachran. The list goes on and on.
All the above were, or have been, given minutes in the Blues first team. Yet the club, and the manager at the time, decided they weren’t ready or good enough. When it comes to one of their own, Chelsea have major trust issues. And that has never been more evident than with the Pulisic deal.
So over the next six months, before the American arrives, Chelsea have a lot of work to do. They need to convince not only Hudson-Odoi but the rest of the gifted players in their feted academy that a pathway to the first team does exist. That the dream can become reality.
But fail to do so and Hudson-Odoi will leave Chelsea. He will not be alone, either. Youngsters at big Premier League sides are no longer happy to sit around, picking up a hefty paycheque. Jadon Sancho, the man who has taken Pulisic’s place in the BVB first-team this season, and others have shown there are first-team opportunities available to those who want them.
In signing Pulisic, the Blues have picked up an undoubted talent. Yet in the process, they may have just irreparably harmed their own.