High-profile player transfers involving European clubs are sometimes based on marketing values as well as playing ability. And off-field considerations were major factors in Christian Pulisic’s $73 million move from Borussia Dortmund to Chelsea FC, according to a source familiar with the negotiation.
Pulisic could become a drawing card, which is just as important to Chelsea as him becoming a possible difference-maker in the Premier League.
The deal gained attention because the price Chelsea is paying seems strikingly high, considering the previous richest transfer involving a US-born player was 10 million euros for Jozy Altidore. Also, Pulisic did not seem to be in demand, as he has started only three times this season in the Bundesliga. Another unusual aspect is that a solidarity payment could be rejected, despite being worth as much as $1 million to PA Classics, Pulisic’s youth team in East Petersburg, Pa.
Pulisic, 20, is proving to be the country’s most accomplished player of his generation and represents the future of the US national team. Pulisic has performed well in the Bundesliga and Champions League, and could fit in on many of Europe’s top teams. But Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri might not have a place for him, judging by the fact he was not informed of the transfer until after it was completed.
The transfer fee also seems excessive because Pulisic did not seem to have leverage. Other Premier League teams might have been interested in Pulisic, but none would have come close to the number Chelsea offered, so this really had not become a bidding war. Pulisic’s lack of influence on Dortmund’s season might have detracted from his value, rather than add to it.
Some clues to Chelsea’s maneuvering can be traced to the increasing role of director Marina Granovskaia in player acquisitions.
Boston University graduate Michael Emenalo had been involved in many of the Blues’ moves from 2007, when he was named chief scout, until 2017. Emenalo departed for AS Monaco partly because his influence was being diminished. That has allowed Granovskaia more say on transactions.
Since Emenalo left, Chelsea has brought in Pulisic, goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga ($92 million), Jorginho ($65 million), Emerson Palmieri ($23 million), and Ross Barkley ($19.4 million). Jorginho arrived along with Sarri from Napoli.
Sarri said he had been consulted about Pulisic about a month before the transaction, but not since. And how Pulisic fits into the plans — he will not join Chelsea until after the season — is likely far from Sarri’s thinking. Plus, there is good chance Sarri will not be there long, anyway. No Chelsea coach has lasted more than two seasons since Jose Mourinho (2004-07).
Meanwhile, PA Classics has the right to claim a percentage of the transfer fee for having been a part of Pulisic’s development, though director Steve Klein has said the club will not likely pursue the claim because the money would not make a major difference to its budget.
Klein should realize that Chelsea is quite willing to fork over such a relatively small sum — about the equivalent of paying for a couple weeks’ maintenance on owner Roman Abramovich’s yachts. It seems unwise to leave money on the table.
In the US, solidarity fees have often not been paid, partly because of an exception relating to the Fraser v. Major League Soccer antitrust lawsuit. This has been challenged and clubs are awaiting the decision of FIFA regarding a claim by DeAndre Yedlin’s former club, Crossfire Premier. Yedlin moved from the Seattle Sounders to Tottenham for 2.6 million euros in 2014 and to Newcastle United for 5.9 million euros in 2016.
Some believe solidarity payments will discourage player movement, but they certainly do not worldwide; hundreds of transfers are completed every day.
Pulisic, unlike Yedlin, moved to Europe for no transfer fee, joining Borussia Dortmund’s youth team in 2015. Pulisic had been attempting to move to Europe since he was about 11 years old, according to the Spanish daily/website Sport, which tracked him to a tryout with FC Barcelona’s Masia academy during the 2008-09 season.
Pulisic had to be persistent, and he also had to be an exceptional talent to achieve this position. But no matter how dedicated and skillful Pulisic might be, his career might not have progressed had he not procured a Croatian passport.
There are more than 100 American players in Europe, and many others are becoming interested in chasing their soccer dream overseas. Some possess the qualities clubs are seeking, but few will be in a position to succeed simply because without an EU passport they are considered foreigners.
If PA Classics does not know what to do with its cut of Pulisic’s take, the club could consider donating the money to charity or constructing an inner-city soccer field.
Parkhurst in a good place
Atlanta United’s Michael Parkhurst was among the lowest-paid central defenders on the final four teams in the MLS playoffs. Nor was Parkhurst up for a raise, despite captaining the team and making several key plays in the MLS Cup final.
Parkhurst, 34, recently re-signed with Atlanta for about the same salary he received last season: $340,008, according to the MLS Players’ Union.
“That’s not the way it works in this league,” Parkhurst said in a recent interview from Atlanta. “I was not too happy with [the negotiation] but I wanted to make it work here. I’m happy here, my family is settled here, and the fans and atmosphere are incredible.”
The New York Red Bulls recently rewarded defender Tim Parker with a raise from $115,935 to more than $800,000 annually. The Red Bulls’ Aaron Long, the league’s Defender of the Year, is likely to receive a boost from $73,125, or a lucrative transfer to Europe.
Parkhurst won the MLS Cup for the first time in five appearances as Atlanta took a 2-0 victory over the Portland Timbers Dec. 8. Parkhurst played for the Revolution in finals in 2005, ’06, and ’07 and for the Columbus Crew in 2015. Jeff Larentowicz, who started on the Atlanta back line, was a Parkhurst teammate with the Revolution and won the MLS Cup with the Colorado Rapids in 2010.
“He’s got his two and I’ve got my one,” Parkhurst said. “Three finals, I thought we were the better team. We didn’t go trophy-less [the Revolution won the 2007 US Open Cup] and making it to the final three years in a row is quite a feat.
“We talked about it, how we could’ve had such a dynasty there, but for one reason or another it never happened. When we talk, it’s more about [coaches] Stevie [Nicol] and Paul [Mariner] and the guys on the team and less about the three losses and what could’ve been.”