Christian Pulisic will move to the Premier League for the 2019-20 season after Chelsea agreed a deal with Borussia Dortmund – but will the American rue the fact Liverpool did not enter the running?
There is something vaguely unnerving about Christian Pulisic’s £58million move to Chelsea. It’s as if the headline is already haunted by sniggering ridicule from the future. After all, Chelsea aren’t exactly renowned for nurturing their young players, for offering a tender fatherly presence to skinny teenagers who don’t immediately take to the brash reality of the Premier League.
Pulisic leaves the warm comfort of Borussia Dortmund for one of England’s most unstable homes, a path of managerial changes and ignominious loan spells – perhaps – ahead of him.
Or Pulisic could turn out to be the next Eden Hazard, and his instant impact will kick-start a new era of trusting in youth, of identifying world-class talent and acting sharply to turn Chelsea into Europe’s most exciting club.
If that’s the case, then Liverpool will rue deciding against making a bid. Last summer Jurgen Klopp was seriously interested, but unable to hash out a deal and Liverpool instead turned to Xherdan Shaqiri, clearing the path for Chelsea.
Were Liverpool right to let Chelsea take Pulisic, or have they just missed out on the final piece in the jigsaw? Only time will tell… but we couldn’t be bothered to wait that long so we fired up Football Manager 2019.
Here’s what happened when Pulisic was given to Chelsea for three years, and then Liverpool for three years.
Note: In reality, Pulisic will not join up with Chelsea until before the 2019-20 season, but rather than risk too much changing in the game before then, we ran the simulation from the start of the current campaign.
Year One (2018-19)
It was a quiet debut season for Pulisic in west London. He managed just two league starts and a further 11 substitute appearances, scoring twice and assisting one more as Chelsea finished fourth.
Emerson played more times. Jamaal Lascelles, signed in January, got more minutes. It was pretty bad.
Chelsea reached the Europa League final and it would prove to symbolise Pulisic’s first year. The Blues lost 2-0 to Arsenal with Pulisic sculking onto the pitch in the 71st minute, Chelsea already trailing at the time.
Within 120 seconds of his introduction it was 2-0. He attempted six passes, completing four, and that was that. Wholly forgettable.
Year Two (2019-20)
He’s too lightweight for the Premier League, fans began to murmur. Clearly Sarri never wanted to sign him, pundits say. Nine league starts across the 2019-20 season – with a further 26 off the bench – appear to confirm our worst fears about Pulisic’s fit at Stamford Bridge. He gets three goals and two assists in all competitions.
But the bigger story at Chelsea is Sarri’s demise. The Italian was sacked in mid-December with the club looking set to miss out on Champions League football again.
Zinedine Zidane was his replacement. He didn’t much like the look of Pulisic either. Chelsea came fourth and lost the Europa League final, again.
Year Three (2020-21) – loan to AC Milan
A loan move made sense for all parties. Pulisic, still only 21, has time to turn his Chelsea career around, but he could do with a break from the limelight; AC Milan was the perfect destination to prove his talent again.
Impress in Serie A and Chelsea would surely welcome him back with open arms. Fail, and Pulisic’s career threatened to become a sad footnote.
It was the latter. He made 21 appearances in the league, scoring three and assisting three more as Milan dropped from runners-up the year before to fifth.
And that was that. Pulisic slinked away, his Chelsea career surely over and, judging by his withering attributes, his time at the top limited.
Year One (2018-19)
What a contrast. Liverpool romp to the Premier League title in Pulisic’s debut campaign at Anfield, and while the American doesn’t play with the same regularity as Liverpool’s more established attackers he does feature in 19 league games – more than enough to pick up a title winners’ medal.
On a personal level, however, it’s more of the same for Pulisic, who only scores once across a frustrating campaign that suggests Klopp sees the teenager as one for the future.
But never mind all that, Klopp has his arm around the kid and is all smiles. It’s a team game and we’re a family, etc.
Year Two (2019-20)
Same again for Pulisic and Liverpool: another 19 appearances (but four goals this time) and another Premier League win.
Klopp’s side become the first to retain the title since Manchester United in 2009, and even though Pulisic is still a fringe player, the club’s success puts his role in an entirely different context.
He isn’t an expensive flop but rather a versatile squad player that adds to Liverpool’s strength in depth. He isn’t too lightweight for the Premier League, rather a jinking Plan B to change the tempo of a game and help get Liverpool over the line.
There’s no way Pulisic is going on loan in year three, and that says it all.
Year Three (2020-21)
The now 22-year-old still only manages to feature in half of Liverpool’s league matches, while three years into his stay at Anfield Pulisic is yet to start a Champions League match.
Liverpool finish second and Pulisic’s long-term future doesn’t look particularly secure. He really ought to have made the grade by now.
Then again, even if he leaves the club this summer Pulisic can only be seen as a success, improving as a player and winning major honours at Liverpool. The fans don’t exactly love him, but anyone who wins the league is remembered fondly.
A comparison of his attributes from the end of our simulation at Chelsea and Liverpool reveals the American has taken more personally from Anfield than Stamford Bridge.
In the first simulation Liverpool don’t win the title and in the second they win it twice. In the first simulation Chelsea stumble badly and in the second they are equally poor.
Clearly, our experiment provides irrefutable evidence that Liverpool have made a terrible error in failing to sign Pulisic; he will be devastated to read of his greater success in an alternate reality at Anfield.
If only we had run our simulation a few days earlier and faxed it over we could have prevented him from joining Chelsea. This is our fault. Sorry Christian.
By Alex Keble