As the final week of the summer transfer window rolled in, with Liverpool looking set for a quiet conclusion tying up loose ends with the departures of Mario Balotelli, Lazar Markovic, Tiago Ilori, Luis Alberto and Andre Wisdom, manager Jurgen Klopp looked to serve up a surprise for supporters with an audacious £11 million bid for Borussia Dortmund forward Christian Pulisic.
In a move that would make the young American the most expensive teenage signing in the Reds’ history, Klopp’s last-ditch bid seems designed to exploit an uncertainty in Pulisic’s position at the Westfalenstadion—but despite the 17-year-old facing a challenging 2016-17 campaign under Klopp’s successor, Thomas Tuchel, a move to Merseyside still seems like a farfetched reality.
Pulisic joined Dortmund at the age of 16 from Pennsylvania Classics, migrating from the United States and swiftly progressing to the status of star of the BVB academy, and this didn’t escape the attention of a youth-focussed Klopp, with the charismatic German promoting him to his first-team setup for training in the final months of his tenure.
Klopp has showcased a faith in young players throughout his time as manager—be that a Mainz with Neven Subotic, Dortmund with Mario Gotze and Mats Hummels, among others, or Liverpool with the likes of Sheyi Ojo and Cameron Brannagan—and Pulisic stands as something of a legacy of his in the Ruhr.
While Klopp took a shine to Pulisic, however, it wasn’t until Tuchel’s appointment in the summer of 2015 that the youngster was given his opportunity in the first team—making his debut in the Bundesliga at the end of January, before starting his first league game against Bayer Leverkusen in February. Many Liverpool supporters will have been given their first glimpse of the talented prospect during April’s Europa League quarter-final first-leg clash at Westfalenstadion, with Pulisic coming on to replace Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for a second-half cameo, quickly finding himself on the receiving end of a late challenge from Alberto Moreno.
Days later, Pulisic scored his first goal in the German top flight, netting in a 3-0 victory at home to Hamburg, before following this up with another strike in his next outing away to Stuttgart—he now stands as the youngest non-German player to score in the Bundesliga, underlining his status as a high-potential attacking talent.
Able to operate on either flank and in a number of roles in the midfield, Pulisic is arguably at his best behind the striker, with his father nicknaming him Figo as he oversaw his development as a young player in Pennsylvania. Meanwhile Steve Klein, his coach while with the Classics, provided a glowing reference ahead of his move to Dortmund.
“His strength is he can use both feet. He’s very technical. He’s got quick acceleration, so one-on-one he can get around players. And he’s just very smart with timing of passes, when to play balls, creative play,” Klein explained. “He can score goals with both feet and he can pass with both feet, so he is truly a creative No. 10-type player and that’s where he’s making a name for himself is in that area of the game.” Bulking up during his short spell with Dortmund so far, Pulisic is pairing this attacking flair with a robust, industrious edge—and in many ways, this will make him an ideal player for the Premier League in years down the line.
However, quite where he’d fit in at Liverpool is something of a quandary, as while Klopp is said to believe him capable of shining from the offset if he moves to Merseyside, the German has a plethora of attacking options already at his disposal. Utilising a 4-3-3 formation throughout 2016/17 so far, Klopp has called upon Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, Philippe Coutinho, Divock Origi and Daniel Sturridge as regulars in his attacking line, while Adam Lallana, Georginio Wijnaldum, James Milner, Danny Ings and Marko Grujic are among the other options available to him in these roles. Even in terms of youth, Klopp has Ojo, Harry Wilson, Toni Gomes, Ben Woodburn and Ovie Ejaria available, along with another highly talented young US star in Brooks Lennon.
However, Pulisic is a player with world-class potential, and with under two years left on his current contract, now could be the time to move for the youngster. Finding himself behind Gotze, Shinji Kagawa, Marco Reus, Andre Schurrle, Ousmane Dembele and Emre Mor in Tuchel’s attacking ranks, Pulisic may well be questioning whether it is worth staying with Dortmund—particularly given Gotze, Schurrle, Dembele and Mor were all signed after his opening season in the first team.
Of course, an £11 million bid shows Liverpool chancing their arm somewhat, with Pulisic’s market value arguably much higher given a projection of his potential and his current standing as one of the Bundesliga’s finest young talents, but Liverpool have clearly been given some indication of intent from the player’s end—as, according to reports, have fellow Premier League side Stoke City.
Luring Pulisic to Merseyside this summer would likely take a much-improved offer from the Reds, but if Klopp is able to seal a deal in the final days of the transfer window—and crucially, find a place for him in his first-team squad—it would be a real masterstroke from the 49-year-old.