For the last seven years, Eden Hazard has graced the Chelsea touchline with a spectacular brilliance, ebbing and flowing through midfielders and around defenders like water in a babbling brook splashes and curls around the rocks in its path.
With Hazard off to Real Madrid, Chelsea reluctantly must begin anew. A new winger has arrived, not to take Hazard’s place – an impossible task in and of itself – but to write his own legacy and build his own following at the London club, one that can blaze a trail no American has trekked before.
Premier League stardom.
Brian McBride, Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Brad Friedel, Tim Howard, DeAndre Yedlin, and others have proven Americans belong at the highest level, but none have achieved the kind of recognition that Pulisic is capable of achieving. None have done what Christian Pulisic hopes to do – shed his nationality and become not an American in the Premier League, but simply a goalscoring and creative force in England’s top flight.
Pulisic has the ability to produce enough brilliance that no longer will Americans have to “blaze a trail” in Europe or “reach new heights” because the Hersey-born kid will have set the bar high enough to erase those terms from the lexicon. This is not to say that Pulisic will win the Ballon d’Or, or that he will become a club legend with the likes of Lampard or Drogba or even Hazard – that much sustained brilliance is in and of itself impossible to predict, for that is precisely what makes a particular career so legendary.
No, the American simply has to be himself, for Borussia Dortmund and U.S. National Team fans have already seen what he can do when his excellence is allowed freedom of expression. If Frank Lampard and Chelsea allow Pulisic the same autonomy showed to Hazard, they shall reap the rewards of his inate exuberance and boyish glee. If USMNT fans have learned anything by watching Pulisic over the last few years, it is that he genuinely, authentically loves to play the game, and that love has both expression and reverberation on the pitch in both quantifiable and imperceptible results.
Yes indeed, this is unquestionably setting the bar extremely high for a player just 20 years old, a peril the American media has failed to traverse numerous times with countless talented players in the past. Yet Pulisic is intrinsically different – he no longer has to prove himself. He has withstood the beatings of CONCACAF and scaled the Yellow Wall where other Dortmund players have wilted under its immense pressure. This is as battle-tested as 20-year-olds come, and Chelsea now possesses a player capable of setting Stamford Bridge alight.
As a giant of the Premier League over the entirety of the league’s existence, the Blues have seen countless stars come and go, and Pulisic’s level of talent is not especially unique to the Stamford Bridge dressing room where so many world-class stars have come before him. Yet none of that should matter to the American youngster who doesn’t need to emulate any of the greats or look to club history for inspiration, as his best comes from within. Pulisic doesn’t need to reach the heights of Hazard to be considered a star, he just needs to do what he’s done the last three years at Borussia Dortmund and let the truly big stage and the truly bright lights do the rest.
Now, as the Premier League season draws nearer and Chelsea looks forward to its opening match against Manchester United on Sunday, all eyes will be on Pulisic – not that that’s anything new to him. Pulisic will succeed as long as he stays true to himself at Chelsea, taking with him the inspiration of his glittering predecessor but also putting his head down and doing what he does best.
Just play ball.