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Chelsea, USMNT star Christian Pulisic focused on finding spark again at Club World Cup

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Christian Pulisic is the youngest United States men’southward national team player ever to appear in a World Loving cup qualifier, score a goal and captain the squad. His transfer in 2019 from Borussia Dortmund to Chelsea was the well-nigh e’er paid (a reported £58 million fee) for a North American histrion.

He is the youngest American to score in the UEFA Champions League (while at Dortmund) and was the youngest to announced and assist in the same competition until Giovanni Reyna did it, too with Dortmund; in Federal republic of germany, Pulisic became the youngest U.S. international to win a major European trophy (the 2017 DFB-Pokal) before condign only the second U.S. homo in history to win the Champions League with the Blues final season.

It seems a shame, then, that he doesn’t ever allow himself to reflect on these personal milestones.

“I really don’t,” he says. “Maybe I should a bit more. It is cool to accomplish things. Dorsum when I was a lot younger, I felt similar I was accomplishing some of the ‘youngest to practice this, the youngest to practice that,’ merely I feel like I haven’t done that in a while. I feel similar I’m getting older.”

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Now 23, Pulisic has moved into a different phase of his career, a shift he examines when sitting downward with ESPN for an sectional interview at Chelsea’s training base of operations for the Club World Loving cup.

Fresh from luncheon at the team’southward Ritz Carlton hotel, Pulisic bumps fists before taking shelter from the stifling February oestrus to learn he stands on the brink of yet more history. Should Chelsea beat Palmeiras in Saturday’s last, the Hershey, Pennsylvania, native could become just the third American to win the Social club World Cup, alongside Jovan Kirovski with Dortmund and Julian Light-green at Bayern Munich.

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“I had no thought near that stat. I don’t know what to make of that. It is absurd, it is an laurels, but that’s non really why I play the game, for those personal goals, winning those kind of things,” he explains. “It is not really what matters to me.”

So what does?

“Winning trophies at the club level,” he replies without hesitation. “Winning games and winning trophies as a team is what really matters for me. This last year has been incredible for example with the Champions League and at present a chance to win this. That’due south always the biggest affair.”

There is perhaps another reason why Pulisic is less concerned well-nigh his place in history: his place in Chelsea’southward squad is far less certain these days. Pulisic was an unused substitute in Midweek’s i-0 win over Al-Hilal, his inaction theoretically explained past a shortness of lucifer fitness having been late to rejoin the group last week after enduring sub-zero temperatures in Minnesota, where the USMNT beat Honduras in World Loving cup qualifying.

The reality is different. “I was very ready to play [against Al-Hilal],” he says. “I wanted to play so of form I was upset that I didn’t.”

This rotation is threatening to go the story of Pulisic’s season. He has made but 10 starts across all competitions in a campaign delayed by an ankle injury that eventually ruled him out for three months from September to Nov.

“In that case, the injury was just more serious than I thought it was and I always tell myself, ‘I want to back off later this fourth dimension or this time’ and when information technology doesn’t happen, it is tough on me,” he says. “But I probably demand to set more realistic goals at times. I recall the injury was a bit tougher than I anticipated information technology to exist from the start so that’south why it took a flake longer but I’m back and healthy.”

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Put bluntly, some believe he is injury-prone, unable to trust a body undermined past a series of nagging issues.

“No, [that’due south not the case], now I’grand feeling good and I don’t worry about injuries when I play or anything like that,” he says. “There take been a lot of ups and downs. I have been on and off playing, different positions, kind of being moved around. It has been a tough ride for me personally, to be honest, and I am just trying to get back into some rhythm, go into the run of things.”

That’s where Thomas Tuchel comes in. There was an expectation that the German’south appointment in Jan 2021 would be an unalloyed positive for Pulisic given their prior human relationship at Dortmund. Although Tuchel has ofttimes spoken positively almost Pulisic, information technology hasn’t always reflected in his team selections. Pulisic told “The Crack” podcast in August that “it’s funny because people merely assume that because you lot had a bus in the past, then it’ll be perfect for you; it’ll exist groovy … it doesn’t necessarily mean that.”

So what is their human relationship really like?

“He gave me my debut at Dortmund, of course,” Pulisic says. “I was always very thankful for that. I recall nosotros have achieved a lot together so nosotros have that going together. What I’m saying there [in that podcast] is what it is. You are non ever going to get along the best or whatever, but I think nosotros have had a good enough relationship where we’ve been able to accomplish things together and I’ve been able to play at times. Now, I’m hoping to get back on that streak.”

Information technology’s possible his adaptability counts against him. Pulisic has been tried as a No. 10 in Tuchel’s preferred three-four-2-one formation, merely as well every bit a false nine and even as a wing-dorsum.

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“I don’t think it is a bad quality necessarily to be versatile but for whatsoever reason, I haven’t been given the full adventure to be in one position and gain some rhythm which is hard at times, which I would like at times, simply it is part of the sport I guess,” Pulisic says.

Tuchel seems to increasingly favour Kai Havertz and Hakim Ziyech every bit Romelu Lukaku’s principal supply lines, inevitably increasingly speculation over Pulisic’s long-term futurity. His contract expires in the summer of 2024, and clubs as shrewd equally Chelsea unremarkably begin negotiations equally the two-twelvemonth marker appears on the horizon to tie players down. Have those talks begun?

“No, I think I’m very focused on what’s going on with the team right at present,” Pulisic says. “I’1000 not thinking nigh that too much at the moment. Right now, I’m focused at Chelsea and I’thou enjoying it. I’m merely trying to assistance the team to win games at the minute.”

The next claiming is to become world champions. It is the 1 trophy Chelsea have never won, losing their merely previous final advent in 2012.

“Peradventure it doesn’t seem as big of a tournament in Europe equally it does to some of these other places but for u.s., we are taking information technology seriously,” Pulisic says. “For u.s.a., it is some other trophy that we 100% want to win. You accept to win the Champions League to get here, and now nosotros take the ability to play a semifinal and a final.

“One time yous are here, especially when you encounter everything going on and there’s a trophy at hand, everyone’s i board and we definitely want to win.”

Victory would, of grade, be another landmark moment for Pulisic. “I want to win this tournament, not considering I’k going to be the third American,” he says. “Simply just because I’grand hither with the team and we want to win.”