Matthew Schattner explains why Liverpool need to sign Christian Pulisic in order to cover for Philippe Coutinho, who will miss 5-6 weeks of football through injury.
American players are a risk for top level clubs. The list of failures and disappointments runs deep: Jozy Altidore at Sunderland, Brek Shea at Stoke, Michael Bradley at Roma, and most infamously Freddy Adu, once labeled “the next Pele” at the age of 14. All have since shuttled back to the United States, with Adu not even featuring in the top division.
But with Liverpool’s star playmaker Philippe Coutinho now out for at least five weeks after suffering an ankle injury against Sunderland on Saturday, reports have emerged that manager Jürgen Klopp has his sights set on Christian Pulisic, an 18-year old American attacker who plies his trade at Borussia Dortmund.
An American to be the answer to Liverpool’s playmaking needs? After the list of failures, it is a fair question. But while American fans have nothing but praise for the Dortmund attacker, the hype is appropriate in this situation. At only 18, Pulisic has proven his abilities and talent at one of the top sides in the Bundesliga and arguably Europe, making his signature a necessity if Klopp’s side is to emerge from Coutinho’s absence unscathed.
Pulisic has claimed a number of records since making his Bundesliga debut in January of this year. On April 17, Pulisic opened his goalscoring account with the opening goal against Hamburger, becoming the youngest non-German goalscorer in the Bundesliga and the fourth youngest goalscorer overall in the league’s history at just 17 years and 212 days old. He is also the youngest player to net two Bundesliga goals in one game.
On the international side, Pulisic became the youngest American to play in a World Cup qualifier, registering his first minutes for the United States senior team on 29 March of this year against Guatemala. He was just 17-years and 193 days old. Pulisic has continued to embed himself as a regular in the United States lineup, and he became the United States’ youngest goalscorer in a friendly against Bolivia in May and the nation’s youngest player to register a goal in World Cup qualifying, scoring two goals and adding an assist against Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in September.
“He’s very young, breaking into the squad of the first team at Borussia Dortmund and playing with the under-19s there as well,” said then-United States manager Jürgen Klinsmann following Pulisic’s first professional goal. “Getting that experience now and getting the feeling that he can compete with the older guys, it gives him a big boost confidence-wise. The fact that he’s in Dortmund in a very intense environment is very helpful because they put him in line right away.”
Pulisic has also proven his value at the peak of European competition. On 14 September, Pulisic became Dortmund’s youngest ever player to play in the Champion’s League, contributing an assist as Dortmund routed Legia Warsaw 6-0. In a Champions League match on 29 September, Pulisic ran through the Real Madrid defence to create a goal for Andre Schurrle that levelled the match and secured Dortmund a point three minutes from time.
“That’s the goal when you want to play professional soccer, you want to get to the highest level and that’s how you improve,” Pulisic said after the match. “As a young player, you just want to keep improving and be the best player you can be.”
Impressing at all levels of competition, Pulisic has become one of the top playmaking prospects in Europe. And with Liverpool sitting just one point below Premier League leaders Chelsea and possessing a genuine chance of challenging for the title, Klopp must ensure that his side maintains the scoring ferocity that has kept the Reds afloat in spite of a leaky defence.
Coutinho’s absence will be immediately felt, with the playmaker having contributed five goals and five assists across the campaign so far. In league matches that Liverpool have won by a single goal difference, Coutinho has been instrumental in securing victory. In a September visit to Stamford Bridge, the Brazilian playmaker provided an assist in a 2-1 victory that handed Antonio Conte his first defeat as Chelsea manager. Against West Bromwich in October, Coutinho provided the decisive winning goal, as well as claiming the joint-lead among Liverpool players in shots-on-target and successful dribbles, per Whoscored.
Klopp will also suffer from the loss of winger Sadio Mane, who will attend the Africa Cup of Nations in January. Mane, signed for £34 million over the summer, has provided six goals and three assists this season.
In the midst of Coutinho’s injury and Mane’s absence, Liverpool will need to look elsewhere for their goals in order to secure European football and push towards the Premier League title, and rising star Christian Pulisic could be the answer. But despite Liverpool’s reported interest and immediate need of a playmaker, Klopp may struggle to pry the American away from Borussia Dortmund.
“There have been some offers for him in the summer window from England and from German clubs,” said Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc to Sports Illustrated. “But we would like to have him here and develop him here. We didn’t educate him to sell him. We have a long-running contract until 2019, but because of his development the club is ready to speak to him to prolong his contract at any time.”