London: Christian Pulisic has grown up with people putting pressure on him, whether it be in the United States, where he was cast as the country’s best-ever footballer while still a teenager, or at Borussia Dortmund, where he quickly gained wunderkind status around Europe.
And the pressure promises to get even more intense now that Pulisic has arrived in England, as the 20-year-old could be Chelsea’s only new signing of the summer and be asked to fill the void left by Real Madrid-bound Eden Hazard.
Comparisons with Hazard are perhaps unfair, given Pulisic is so young and, by his own description, can play in a variety of different roles, but one senses he and Chelsea already know they are inevitable.
And should Fifa’s two-window transfer ban prevent Chelsea making any other new signings, apart from Mateo Kovacic who has spent this season on loan at Stamford Bridge, then the £58-million (Dh270.84 million) American will need to hit the ground running.
“I try not to allow pressure from the outside to affect me,” he said.
“I put enough pressure on myself to be good, to be great. That’s how I’ve always been. I’m very competitive. I want to be the best for myself.
“It’s quite easy to avoid the outside pressure; you just zone it out. I’m not saying I kill myself with pressure. I expect a lot of myself. For me, that’s enough. Obviously there’s pressure from outside — that’s to be expected. But I just try to focus on what I can do.”
Having remained at Dortmund for the second half of the season after completing his Chelsea transfer in January, Pulisic has been in England this week to meet his new teammates and sort out his living arrangements for next season.
He was slightly confused to be told he had caused panic among some Chelsea fans by failing to name Hazard among the players he is looking forward to working with at Stamford Bridge, with the Blues braced to lose their brilliant Belgian.
But Pulisic insisted there was no inside knowledge behind his comments and he would like the opportunity to play with Hazard for Chelsea, however unlikely that may be.
“Eden’s a fantastic player. We all know that,” Pulisic said. “If I can get anywhere close to him, I’ll be more than happy. He’s such a great player. But I’m coming in to be my own player and do the best I can.”
Asked whether he name-checked N’Golo Kante as the player he is looking forward to playing alongside because he knows Hazard will leave, Pulisic said: “That wasn’t the reason I said it. I really do want to play alongside Kante, that’s why I said it. I’ve watched him and he’s a great player. Obviously I’d be really excited to play with Hazard, too. He’s a fantastic player.
“I know what I’m good at. I want to just show my skills, my pace, my quickness and creativity to score goals and make assists. I’m a good team guy who’ll give it everything.”
Pulisic’s desire to entertain is underlined when he named the players who inspired him as a youngster.
“The main ones were Luis Figo, Ronaldinho and Zinedine Zidane,” he said. “They just loved the game. Something about watching them play, it seemed so simple, so fun to them. Something about that attacking, fun style.”
Despite briefly living in the tiny village of Tackley, near Oxford, and playing for Brackley Town as a seven-year-old, Pulisic is a newcomer to London.
He did, however, make a trip to Stamford Bridge to watch Chelsea with his father, Mark, and particularly recalls seeing Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba.
“I don’t know London at all, so it is a lot to take in. I was able to visit the training ground and meet some of the guys while I’ve been here. It has been a fun few days.
“We actually had a really strong team at Brackley. I remember winning a few tournaments. I recall I won this one MVP trophy that I was so proud of. It was like my biggest accomplishment. When I was little, if I did not get a trophy, I was mad.”
Pulisic will miss the start of Chelsea’s pre-season preparations because of his involvement in the Gold Cup with the US, but he is confident he will be ready for the start of next season.
“My season is over in Germany now, so I’ll get a nice little break before the Gold Cup starts and then I’ll be ready for the start of the Premier League.”
Chelsea will certainly need Pulisic to be ready.