Safe to say Christian Pulisic didn’t envision his Chelsea career starting like this.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic upended our world, it was a bit of a rollercoaster: initial great impressions (and a very harshly ruled out goal against Liverpool in the Super Cup) followed by an extended benching, followed by a hat-trick, followed by a run of great form, followed by injuries, followed by injuries dragging on, followed by coronavirus. He was just about to make his return when everything stopped.
And that’s before we even consider the pressures put on his young shoulders, with an entire continent’s footballing hopes and dreams resting on them in addition to the weight of expectations brought on by his transfer fee and his new circumstances.
It’s perhaps no surprise that he considers those first few months in London the most challenging of his career yet.
“I started the first couple of games, I had pre-season and after that, I was benched and I was thinking ‘OK, maybe it’s just a game’. But I didn’t play for I don’t know how many games, six, seven, eight (games) — I felt like I wasn’t starting, I wasn’t playing and he (Lampard) wasn’t even subbing me in.
“When I went through that I was thinking in my head, ‘What am I doing wrong he’s not trusting me as he’s picking these other guys? That was really hard for me to work through.”
Pulisic’s only start in that eight-game stretch was against lower league Grimsby Town in the League Cup. But then, when he impressed in a game-changing substitute appearance against Ajax in Amsterdam, he was rewarded with a start in the next game, and he left no doubts about his quality and his intentions to prove himself at the Premier League level.
“But finally I got a start which was that Burnley game after a long time. In my head, I thought, ‘You know what if I’m going to start, just go in and play, don’t think’. Sure enough, against Burnley, I scored a hat-trick.
“It’s crazy how right after my biggest challenge is when one of my biggest moments happened.”
Pulisic would start the next eleven matches in all competitions but would feature just twice more after that, on Boxing Day and on New Year’s Day. He’s been out with a groin problem ever since — though as a bonus, if and when we do resume the season, he should now be fit to play at least.
With 6 goals and 6 assists in 23 games, Pulisic’s already made an impact in his debut season at Stamford Bridge. His direct style doesn’t always reflect as much on the scoreboard as it should, but as he told a group of youngster at the Philadelphia Union II recently, he’s still learning how to simply be himself on the pitch.
“In Dortmund, I almost felt like I wasn’t my full self there at times. I was kind of letting the pressure got to me and I expected myself to perform at such a high level.
“And that’s what I’ve been really happy with since I’ve been at Chelsea, I told myself, ‘Go play the way you know how to play, go dribble, take people on, and don’t be scared of anything!’
“In the end, it’s about me, my coaches and teammates, what anyone else says really doesn’t bother me anymore.”
Let’s hope he can be back on the pitch soon!