Pulisic: The Dortmund Playmaker With The World At His Feet

 • by Matt Gault
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Such has been Christian Pulisic’s seamless integration into the first-team at Borussia Dortmund, it’s easy to forget that he is still just 19-years-old.

The USA international broke through at the Bundesliga club in January 2016 and, since then, has established himself as one of the hottest properties in European football.

Pulisic, who was included in our list of the ten best teenage footballers in Europe, decided to stay at Dortmund this summer but is expected to be one of the most in-demand players in the next couple of transfer windows, with reported interest from Real Madrid, Arsenal and Liverpool among others. Manchester United are the latest club to be linked with a move for the teenage sensation.

Although the teenage sensation couldn’t guide his country to the World Cup following a disastrous qualification campaign, he was the subject of a 60 Minutes special in his home country. For those who might not be familiar with that programme, that is a big deal, especially for a football (or soccer) player.

During the programme, USA head coach Bruce Arena said Pulisic has the potential to ‘become the first American superstar of the sport.’ Judging by Pulisic’s trajectory over the last two years, we’re inclined to agree with him.

Meteoric Rise At Dortmund

Being thrown into the mix of a first-team at an elite club like Dortmund in the middle of a season is never easy. Pulisic took a few games to acclimatise to the demanding rigours of top-flight football in Germany but, before long, it became abundantly clear that this was a player destined for great things.

He started that first season strongly, scoring in consecutive weeks against Hamburg and Stuttgart. His strike against the former was a particularly revealing snapshot of his ability, bursting through two defenders before confidently slotting his effort inside the far post.

Every time Pulisic did something of that nature: a quick turn, an incisive pass, a delightful piece of skill, it became clear he was developing into one of the Bundesliga’s most exciting and sought-after prospects.

During his second season at Signal Iduna Park, Pulisic began to develop under the tutelage of Thomas Tuchel. Terrorising Bundesliga defences with his speed and low centre of gravity was one thing, but doing it on an elevated stage like the Champions League was another.

Dortmund’s youngest ever player in the competition, Pulisic changed the game when he came on as a second-half substitute against Real Madrid. Trailing 2-1 to the reigning champions, Pulisic weaved his way around Danilo before ghosting past Toni Kroos and clipping a ball towards André Schürrle, who fired into the roof of the net to make it 2-2.

With that, Pulisic had come off the bench and changed the game in thrilling fashion, salvaging a crucial point for Dortmund as they edged ahead of Madrid in the group standings. A week on from celebrating his 18th birthday party by attending a Justin Bieber concert, Pulisic left Madrid, the best team in Europe, in his wake as he changed the complexion in what was a huge occasion.

Creating Schürrle’s equaliser may ultimately become a minor footnote in Pulisic’s career, but it remains a moment that catapulted him into the wider footballing consciousness. It was a pure, unfiltered hit of Pulisic in the space of three seconds: speed, agility, vision and presence of mind. These are the attributes that, combined, make him one of the most exhilarating prospects in world football.

“I like to think of myself as a creative player,” he said during an interview with Sports Illustrated. “I try to have an impact on every game, whether it’s by making runs or using quick moves to try to get by defenders or making a nice pass to help my team.”

An American Superstar In The Making

Help he certainly has. Last season, he made 29 appearances in the Bundesliga – 15 of which were starts – and scored three goals while notching six assists. The competition for attacking places at Dortmund is fierce, with Andriy Yarmolenko, Shinji Kagawa, Mario Götze and Schürrle all in the squad. Last season, there was also Ousmane Dembele, who has since moved on to Barcelona.

While Pulisic has not quite made that leap, the consensus is that it’s only a matter of time before he blossoms into one of the most devastating attackers in world football. And that’s not to say he hasn’t signed mega-deals of his own. Last year, the midfielder inked an enormously lucrative five-year deal with Nike. In doing so, he followed in the footsteps of illustrious sporting compatriots LeBron James, Tiger Woods and Serena Williams.

That’s how highly he is rated in his own country. No pressure, then.

The United States alone cannot take credit for him. He was first introduced to football by his father, Mark, while he lived in Oxford for a year at the age of seven.

He also had three unofficial stints at Barcelona’s fabled La Masia academy. Rather than being an exceptional product of the US youth system, Pulisic is reaping the benefits of a father immensely dedicated to ensuring his son succeeded.

Thanks to that paternal guidance, as well as the direction of some of Europe’s finest coaching minds at Dortmund, Pulisic is coming of age. It’s important to preach patience when it comes to a prodigiously gifted player still on the tender side of 20. Not everyone can be Kylian Mbappé and sign for Paris Saint-Germain when they are 18. In continuing his education at Dortmund, Pulisic is taking a different route to the top.

Pulisic does not need to be at Real Madrid or Barcelona right now for him to be considered one of football’s premier wunderkinds. He has provided enough evidence over the best part of two years to prove that he’s headed right for the top.

As the mega-rich heavyweights at European football’s high-table circle menacingly, Pulisic remains focused on trying to help guide Dortmund to edge bitter rivals Bayern Munich in the race for Bundesliga supremacy. If Die Schwarzgelben are to depose Munich at the head of German football, the craft, skill and pace of Pulisic will play a central role.

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