NEW YORK – Chances are that before too long American soccer will have a player valued at $100 million, and it is even more likely that player will be Christian Pulisic.
Thanks to the money madness engulfing global soccer, nine figures, once enough to get the purchaser not one but two international superstars, is now the kind of number being spent on elite prospects with a tremendous upside.
Pulisic, 18, most certainly fits into that category, given his meteoric rise with both German club Borussia Dortmund and the United States national team. Still young enough that he can’t remember a time when things were markedly different, the extraordinary fees washing through the sport don’t faze him.
“It's all I know really, I have just started my career,” Pulisic told USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday, as he prepared for Friday’s national team World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica. “You see these big money amounts going around. It is just today’s game, it is how it is.
"Of course it still seems like a lot to me, it seems like a lot to everybody I would think. (But the) sums going around don’t really affect a player too much. We are all playing soccer, we all make good money and it is kind of how the world works.”
Only this week, Pulisic has seen first-hand the extent of soccer’s new reality. His good friend and Borussia Dortmund teammate Ousmane Dembele, 20, was bought by FC Barcelona for a fee of $125 million, with add-ons that could take the amount to $161 million.
Dembele is an outstanding talent but was still playing reserve team soccer just two years ago. Cristiano Ronaldo cost Real Madrid less eight years ago, when he was already established as one of the best two players in the world.
For those who have been around soccer for a couple of decades and can reflect upon a time when even a $1 million transfer was significant, the escalation of the fiscal side of the game has been bewildering.
“It doesn’t make any sense to me,” said United States head coach Bruce Arena, shaking his head.
“The transfer fees are staggering, they are out of control,” national team goalkeeper Tim Howard added. “We would all agree on that.”
Players who have been bought for huge sums, such as former world transfer record holder Paul Pogba of Manchester United, have admitted that the price tag has brought additional pressure. But, joked U.S. captain Michael Bradley, such a burden could be mitigated by other factors, such as the reality that the figure will also translate to enormous wages. “There are some good problems that come with that,” Bradley said.
If Pulisic was to become a chief target for a major European team, the $100 million range would be a possibility. That’s not hype, it is just the state of the market, which became red hot at the end of last season and exploded this summer when Neymar joined Paris St. Germain from Barcelona for $265 million, smashing Pogba’s mark of $116 million.
Young players are at a premium, and Pulisic’s skill set and vision are rare. Dortmund, flushed with the Dembele money, would not be in a position of needing to sell, driving up the price further. Also, Pulisic's status as the great hope for American soccer would be a meaningful marketing opportunity for an enterprising European power.
If such a scenario arose, don’t expect Pulisic to be swayed by it.
“I hear about all this stuff, this kid and this hype and all that, but it doesn’t matter too much to me,” Pulisic added. “I just try to put it out of my mind. I don’t need all this outside attention and all that. I just try to do the best for myself and the people around me. I have a lot of things to improve on.”
Pulisic takes his responsibility to the future of American soccer seriously and on Tuesday announced his involvement in the Prospects Cup, an upcoming youth soccer tournament modeled on the Little League World Series.
For Pulisic, a native Pennsylvanian who attended the Williamsport event at age 12, the soccer tournament, which will be broadcast by Univision and distributed internationally, offers great possibilities. If it enjoys even a fraction of the success of its baseball counterpart, the game in this country will be the beneficiary, and Pulisic hopes others like him can filter up the pipeline.
“If we can get our kids playing soccer from a young age there is no reason why we can’t compete with any other country in the world in the near future,” he said.
With the U.S. undefeated since Arena took over for a second time, Dortmund atop the German Bundesliga and his own game improving, Pulisic has a lot to look forward to, regardless of what figure soccer’s insane financial marketplace values him at.