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January 22, 2023

This most unwelcome international break has little to recommend to the majority of Chelsea’s exhausted players and supporters.

But these end-of-season fixtures around the world offer at least an opportunity for potential summer transfer targets to grab some attention in a game, or for those already on the books at Stamford Bridge to provide some timely reminders of their quality as a club. get ready to do your shopping.

There could be no better example of the latter than Christian Pulisic’s assist for the United States in a 3-0 win over Morocco last week: effortlessly bringing a ball high over the line back under his spell with a touch on the run, then draw the attention of two defenders and the goalkeeper before going back and setting up new Leeds United signing Brenden Aaronson for a tap-in.

Pulisic’s sleek contribution established him as the fastest player to reach double digits in goals and assists in USMNT history, recording 21 and 10 respectively in 49 appearances – one game less than It didn’t take previous record holder Landon Donovan. He is increasingly taking on a leadership role under Gregg Berhalter as the World Cup approaches this winter and is enjoying his football to the full, with no signs of being affected by the uncertainty clouding his future at Chelsea.

With two seasons remaining on the five-and-a-half-year deal he signed to complete a £58m move from Borussia Dortmund to Germany in January 2019, there is still no indication Pulisic would be willing to consider an extension.

The 23-year-old’s frustration with a relative lack of opportunities since Thomas Tuchel took over as head coach in January last year is an open secret, and the briefest of glances at the minutes awarded to Chelsea forwards in all competitions in 2021-22 underscores that it is justified.

Pulisic is in Tuchel’s hierarchy

Speaking last week and with an eye on Qatar 2022 in November and December, Pulisic told US media: “Of course I want to have more playing time (for Chelsea). I want to be on the pitch as much as possible and be at my best and, you know, in shape too. I think I still have a lot of games, but it’s still something that I’m working on and trying to be, you know, a regular at my club to put me in the best position to be in good shape when I come here.

Settling what happens next with Pulisic is high on the list of key personnel decisions that Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital face in what promises to be a tough first transfer window for their Chelsea ownership.

It will not have escaped the new owners that Chelsea are due to make a three-match tour of the United States next month for the first time since Pulisic joined the club, playing in Las Vegas, Charlotte in North Carolina and Orlando, in Florida. Having the face of American men’s soccer front and center in their preseason advertising campaign would fit well with their explicit goal of driving business growth.

But it is above all a footballing decision. Letting another season pass without any assurance that Pulisic is ready to sign long-term risks lowering his resale value and giving the player leverage on his next destination at the end of the upcoming season.

It also seems like an unwise bet against all the current evidence that a mutually unsatisfying dynamic between him and Tuchel will improve.

Critics of Pulisic in Chelsea’s fan base point to costly misses – against Liverpool in the Carabao Cup final in February, away to Real Madrid in the Champions League quarter-final second leg in April and, most recently at home to Leicester City in his last appearance of the last season just under three weeks ago – as reasons why the American has failed to prove himself worthy of the regular starter status he desires so much.

Tuchel couldn’t hide his frustration with the latter, ostensibly calling him ‘more than a chance’ in a game that ended in a 1-1 draw.

Pulisic, Chelsea

Christian Pulisic laments his missed chance against Leicester in May (Photo: Harriet Lander/Copa/Getty Images)

The counter-argument is that Pulisic has never felt the level of coaching confidence and positional stability at Chelsea that usually yields peak performances. Certainly not under Tuchel, whose assessment of the teenage Pulisic he coached when they were colleagues at Dortmund as an impact substitute does not appear to have changed significantly in their three-and-a-half-year tenure. ‘interval.

Another season spent more on the bench than on the pitch would serve no one at Chelsea: not the new owners, who want to end the culture of wasted talent that permeated the Roman Abramovich era; not Tuchel, who urgently needs more players he trusts if he is to close the nearly 20-point gap on Manchester City and Liverpool; not Pulisic himself, whose personal development has stalled.

Don’t expect the shared nationality with new Stamford Bridge officials to affect the situation.

Boehly and Clearlake know that any business advantage Pulisic can provide will only be realized if he is a significant part of Tuchel’s plans, and nothing in the player’s character or career to date suggests he would be happy to stay. and collect his salary in a supporting role as the American face of Chelsea’s new era.

Pulisic met Boehly, along with the rest of the squad, last month as he introduced himself to players and staff at Stamford Bridge and the club’s training ground in Cobham, Surrey, but there is no still had discussions about his future.

That should change in the second half of this month once his United States service comes to an end with games next week against Grenada and El Salvador.

As Pulisic spends his off-season break in Florida with his family, Boehly, Clearlake, director Marina Granovskaia and Tuchel will step up their efforts to freshen up the first team.

Italy’s Juventus and La Liga giants Barcelona have both been speculatively touted as potential suitors in recent weeks, but there’s been no indication either would be willing to pay a fee. close to the £58million planned by Chelsea to acquire Pulisic.

Staying in the English top flight with Liverpool appears more viable on several levels.

Sadio Mane will leave a significant attacking hole if he leaves for German champions Bayern Munich in the coming weeks.

This season’s Premier League and Champions League runners-up made a bid for Pulisic as early as 2016 and Jurgen Klopp – a manager at Anfield at that time and Dortmund manager the year before when he signed for the club. ‘German at 16, although he didn’t. He didn’t make his first-team debut long after Klopp quit at the end of that 2014-15 campaign – publicly admitted he was a fan.

In terms of age and style of play, Pulisic fits the profile of the striker that Liverpool have been targeting throughout Klopp’s tenure.

But beyond the usual dilemma over potentially strengthening a rival, any approach from Liverpool is likely to give Chelsea some thought as well.

Why, if arguably the smartest elite scouts in all of European club football see him as a wise investment and one of the best managers in the world is convinced he can be maximized at Anfield, has- didn’t he thrive at Stamford Bridge?

Boehly and Clearlake will face a stark choice if a market develops for Pulisic this summer, but even if it doesn’t, convincing him that life in west London under Tuchel will improve could be just as much. delicate.

(Top photo: Lee Klafczynski/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

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