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Christian Pulisic went to Qatar hoping to establish Gregg Berhalter’s young USMNT team as a rising force before the 2026 World Cup on home turf. But there was also personal motivation: reminding the rest of football — and perhaps even himself — of his rare talent.
There have been too few opportunities to do that at Chelsea this season. According to FBref, Pulisic ranks 16th among outfielders in Graham Potter’s squad for minutes played across all competitions. His 616 minutes have included just five starts, with 13 of his 18 appearances coming from the substitutes’ bench.
It’s no surprise, then, that Pulisic is being widely linked with a move away from Stamford Bridge in the January transfer window. Manchester United have been credibly cited as suitors, and Premier League leaders Arsenal have also been mentioned.
Newcastle United’s interest has substance — Pulisic was one of several players who came up in conversation between Amanda Staveley, Mehrdad Ghodoussi and Chelsea co-owner Behdad Eghbali when they watched a Premier League match against Tottenham Hotspur together in an executive box at Stamford Bridge in August.
But at that time, Newcastle were only looking for a potential season-long loan, and there are also suggestions that any Manchester United approach in January would only be for a temporary deal.
That is a non-starter from a Chelsea perspective now, just as it was last summer. Pulisic is a high-level winger who, despite not consistently playing up to his £58million ($70m) transfer fee since arriving at Stamford Bridge in the summer of 2019, has legitimate value to Potter as a squad option. There is no reason to let him go for anything less than an amount that makes business sense — particularly to a rival in the Premier League’s top-four race.
Even for Pulisic himself, a loan move holds less appeal now than it did in August when the player and his representatives did all they could to try to convince Todd Boehly and Eghbali to sanction his departure. The concern then was that Thomas Tuchel would not pick him enough to put him in a position to head to this winter’s World Cup in peak form and fitness. That short-term consideration no longer exists.
It’s important to stress that Pulisic is happy at Chelsea. He has never had an issue with the club or the supporters, despite receiving online abuse during the more difficult moments of his career at Stamford Bridge. He likes London and has plenty of friends within the squad, frequently socialising with several of his team-mates.
Pulisic’s desire to leave has been driven overwhelmingly by the feeling that his career has stalled — a feeling felt most strongly during Tuchel’s tenure. The familiarity between the two men from their previous experience at Borussia Dortmund proved more of an obstacle than an advantage at Chelsea. Tuchel could not be moved to re-evaluate his opinion of Pulisic from the teenager he most often deployed as an impact substitute in Germany.
There are no such interpersonal issues with Potter, and Pulisic has spoken positively about Chelsea’s new head coach in recent weeks.
“He’s been good,” the 24-year-old said this month. “He’s come in and the way he’s worked with the players and communicated with the players has impressed me the most. We had a great start with him. We’ve had some difficulties in recent weeks (with results) but he’s working through it and the guys have received him quite well. We’re excited. There’s going to be good things going forward.”
But that doesn’t change the reality that Potter, like Tuchel, has generally favoured other forwards or attacking midfielders such as Mason Mount, Raheem Sterling, Kai Havertz and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in his front line.
His contractual situation is approaching a critical juncture. When the World Cup is over, he will have 18 months left to run on the deal he signed in January 2019. Understandably, with things as they stand, there is no desire to sign an extension. Boehly and Eghbali know they effectively have two transfer windows — this coming January and the summer of 2023 — to recoup significant value for Pulisic in the market.
That market has been slow to develop. Pulisic’s wages have been a sticking point for some clubs outside the Premier League, as is often the case when Chelsea or the division’s other giants look to sell players on the fringes of their squads. An asking price of £35million has been mooted and appears reasonable, accounting for his falling out of favour at Stamford Bridge and the clock ticking on his current contract.
Whether a resolution is found in January or beyond the end of the season is not entirely in Chelsea or Pulisic’s hands but, by the time he next hopes to be leading USMNT into a World Cup, it feels inevitable that he will do so as a representative of a different club.
(Top photo: Tim Nwachukwu via Getty Images)
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