The transfer window is closing soon, and that would normally mean a pretty furious avalanche of rumors, requests, bids, and stories. Deadline day has become the sport’s free agency day in the NHL or NBA (or even election night), with masses of reporters spread out across the European continent breathlessly covering physicals and car types arriving and not arriving. Only on the one day in August and the one in January do you see a cavalcade of journalists standing in a parking lot in the rain hoping to see a car with tinted windows roll by. It’s a little more entertaining than TSN reporters standing in the baking sun outside of empty arenas and practice facilities on Canada Day, but probably only because of the accents.
This August’s window is even more fraught, because not only clubs like Barcelona and Manchester United scrambling and clawing for anything they can find on the shelves, and the clubs they eventually buy from needing to find replacements and on down the line, but players are frantic in trying to secure bigger roles to solidify either their spot on a World Cup roster or be as sharp as possible when that tournament rolls around in November. Normally with a summer World Cup, players would be doing this in the January transfer window, and would have a much more solid handle on where they fit with their current team and manager with the season already half-over. Trying to do it in August means trying to do a lot of projection of where you might fit, and then having to guess if that will be enough before everyone decamps to Qatar.
Which brings us to Christian Pulisic. Captain America, at least when Tyler Adams isn’t wearing the armband. Still the US’s most accomplished player, and likely still their most talented. When the chips are down in Qatar, and the US need a goal after the 80th minute, he’s still the one you’d count on to do some shit, unless Gio Reyna’s legs stop being made of graham crackers. Both Pulisic, Gregg Berhalter, and every USMNT fan would prefer that Pulisic is playing regularly, at the top of his game, and most importantly healthy come the World Cup.
For once, the last part is in place, for now. It’s always “for now” with Pulisic, who has his own graham-cracker ligament tendencies as well. You can never be sure with Christian. And while very few US fans would admit this, the idea of Pulisic just being a super-sub and spot-starter for Chelsea the next two and a half months is a-ok, because the chance of something going TWANG! is that much lower. Maybe he won’t be as sharp as possible, but he’ll be on the field, and given Pulisic’s history, on the field is a relief. Of course, we can all easily imagine the mainstream media’s loudest gaping maws who just drop in for a World Cup belching their pollutant takes about him if he doesn’t rack up a hat trick against Wales. We’ll worry about that then.
But Pulisic himself isn’t content to just be a bit-part for Chelsea and Thomas Tuchel. He’s never been able to lock down a spot in the first 11 (even though he played for Tuchel at Dortmund), either due to his spotty injury history or his spotty performances. Pulisic had just 13 starts last year in the league last season, another four in the Champions League. Mostly having his campaign known for this. Hasn’t started in either of Chelsea’s first two games so far this season. This is after Raheem Sterling was brought in to bolster the front three, though Romelu Lukaku was subtracted from it. So was Timo Werner. The numbers are still just about the same. But there are rumors that Chelsea are hot after Everton’s Anthony Gordon, apparently feeling they need to fill out an “awkward looking ginger who dives all the time” quota. Pulisic is feeling the crunch.
It’s not that Pulisic would ever lose his place in the USMNT squad, and likely not even the starting lineup. But Pulisic has waited four years for this tournament, to play in it for the first time, and thanks to 2018’s full body dry heave from the entire set-up, he’s only got maybe one or two after this one left. He doesn’t want to go there and be off.
And it’s that level of desperation that led to the rumor that not only have Manchester United calling about a loan, but that Pulisic didn’t laugh them out of the building. You know you’re down bad and maybe not thinking straight when you consider the offer of the biggest basketcase team in the league, on the continent, and quite possibly on the planet. Yeah, Pulisic might get to play a lot, and in that playing he may completely lose his desire for the sport or fall into a sinkhole on the Old Trafford pitch, such is the way they’re going.
Would Pulisic play at United? That would depend if Marcus Rashford departs for PSG, which is another rumor. That would essentially leave Anthony Martial as just about the only competition on the left side of United’s attack. And though Martial is on his fourth or fifth consecutive year of “best shape of his life!” stories advertising a bounce back campaign to come, if it were going to happen it, would have happened. Pulisic can likely nail down a spot ahead of him. Even if Rashford doesn’t move, he’s been so woeful for so long he’s not a huge obstacle either.
But playing in what? Erik Ten Hag is only two games into the season and can’t decide if he can play the way he wants with the players he has or has to rejigger everything to get results to stay high enough in the table to get the players he needs to play the way he wants. Christian Eriksen was trotted out as a defensive midfielder last time out, and he’s in his 30s with a heart defect. This is where they’re at. If Ronaldo stays, Pulisic can look forward to some combo of Ronaldo dropping into his space and then bitching at him when Pulisic doesn’t pass him the ball. Oh, and he’ll have to do Ronaldo’s running and pressing for him while Ronaldo scowls and huffs and makes sure the cameras pick up just how dissatisfied he is and how beneath him he thinks the rest of the team is. And given the pressure already on Ten Hag, one or two iffy performances could see Pulisic rotated out of the team anyway and something else hurled wall-ward.
Here’s another thing: Chelsea have 21 games (at least) between now and the World Cup. Fourteen in the league, six in the Champions League, and a League Cup game. Starting at the end of the month, Chelsea will only have basically one week where there isn’t a game midweek until the World Cup. Twenty-one games in 83 days, with an international break thrown in. Pulisic will get starts. The five subs assure that he will likely get on the field a lot, even if it’s just for 20-30 minutes at a time. He’s one injury away from starting regularly. And in a team that has a clear plan, a clear style, where his role will be strictly defined. And it’s not all that different from what he is assigned to do with the US. That sounds a lot better than turning out regularly for a team that each week looks more like a community theater production of Marat/Sade.
Don’t do it, Christian. Patience, son. Just because the abyss might be staring back into you doesn’t mean you have to dive headfirst into it.
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