In April 2017, FourFourTwo visited Germany’s misty Ruhr valley for an exciting cover feature profiling Borussia Dortmund’s latest crop of thrilling youngsters.
After watching Ousmane Dembele mischievously knock-a-door-run his team-mate Raphael Guerreiro, the Frenchman was himself given the classic bunny-ears by Julian Weigl as we photographed BVB’s new kids on the block merrily bouncing around on some space hoppers.
Christian Pulisic was a tad more reserved. Even then, at 18, the American already had a year’s worth of experience at Dortmund having broken into the Bundesliga side’s first team as a remarkably fearless 17-year-old.
But he was already well travelled – Pulisic had in fact spent some time in England before that, “where I really started to get serious”, as he told FFT. Looks like it’s time to crank that up a notch…
Please note: This is an untouched excerpt from that cover feature.
Pulisic is only 18, but he already has a year of first-team experience with BVB and 11 caps for the United States. At 17 years and 212 days old, at home to Hamburg last season, he became the youngest-ever non-German goalscorer in the Bundesliga. A month later, he became the youngest player to score for the U.S. in the modern era. Put simply, he’s one of the hottest prospects in the world. Before he signed that new contract, there was much talk of a possible transfer to Liverpool.
“I have respect for Klopp and I know him – he was very welcoming to me here – but I was never really thinking about going to Liverpool,” Pulisic says. “Dortmund have given me everything. If I work very hard here, I will play, and I love this club. I’m happy in the city, I’m just really content with everything here at the moment.”
What is immediately obvious is that Pulisic is mature beyond his 18 years. Speaking to him, you’d be forgiven for thinking he was 28, and straight after this interview he’s off to buy a kitchen – not your typical teenager’s purchase. You sense a laser-like focus on making the most of the potential he clearly has – potential that’s already led some on the other side of the Atlantic to predict he’ll become the greatest U.S. player of all time.
No pressure then, Christian…
“In the USA they’re always looking for a star soccer player because we haven’t had one for a long time, since Landon Donovan,” Pulisic says. “I try not to look at it like that. I don’t need to be a star figure for the USA – there’s no point putting the extra pressure on myself. It gives me great pride to play for my country and I’ve just tried to live in the moment, not think too much about the future and what you can become, but enjoy the time now.”
He’s certainly doing that, having been scouted by BVB at the age of 15, after previous trips to European shores to train at other clubs.
“I had a few training sessions with Tottenham and Southampton,” he reveals. “I played for the U.S. national team in some tournaments in Europe, and Dortmund had scouts there. They liked me, I suppose. I knew about how Dortmund developed young players. I came here, liked it a lot and they offered me something that I couldn’t refuse.
“If you’d asked me three years ago when I started with the youth team, I didn’t think I’d be in this position today. Ever since I signed, I’ve just set small goals for myself, wanting to get onto the field as much as possible. Scoring my first goal was incredible – you never forget your first goal. I celebrated by doing a dab because I didn’t know what to do! My family were extremely proud of me. They’ve always been very supportive of me, so it must have meant a lot to them, too.”
Of Croatian descent, Pulisic was raised in Hershey, Pennsylvania – a small town once specifically created for the workers in the eponymous chocolate factory. When he was seven, his family moved to England for a year, with his mother on a teaching exchange in the UK. While based in the Oxfordshire village of Tackley, he joined non-league Brackley Town’s junior setup.
“I enjoyed it so much and I’m still in touch with a few guys from the team,” Pulisic says. “I’d started playing soccer in America before that, but England is where I really started to get serious and enjoy it a lot more, and that’s what brought on my real passion for the game. Every day after school I played with my friends for hours in the park.
“I got to go and watch all sorts of different matches: Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal… I remember going to Fulham, too. Seeing those games, I wanted to play.”
On his own
Pulisic is nicknamed ‘Figo’ by his dad – the Portugal star is the teenager’s idol and the player that he has always aspired to be like, particularly now he’s playing in a wide attacking role at BVB, having also operated centrally in the past.
Cousin Will is a goalkeeper in the club’s youth team but his father is now back in the US after initially moving to Germany to help him settle in.
“It’s not easy moving your life to a different country and I do miss my family every day,” Christian admits. “After a hard day, not having someone to talk to can be difficult, but there are a lot of people here who have helped me – even when I couldn’t understand German at first. Nuri Sahin [the Bundesliga’s youngest-ever player when he made his Dortmund debut in 2005] was one player who always talked to me about how things worked in the first team.
“The coach told me not to go into the team like a fan, be your own man, earn your own position and respect in the team, and don’t just look up to the other players as people who are bigger than you. Every time you get onto the field you get more and more confidence. Now my team-mates are also my good friends.”