By signing Pulisic, Chelsea send message to their rivals... and Hazard
Chelsea have made two big statements by wrapping up a €64 million (£57.6m, $73.1m) deal for Borussia Dortmund forward Christian Pulisic. First and foremost, they have reminded football's biggest clubs that they remain a powerful force in the transfer market, an outfit with the ambition and capability to beat their rivals to the signature of a rising star such as the 20-year-old Pulisic. But they've also made it clear to Eden Hazard that they're not prepared to wait until he has decided on his future before executing their summer recruitment plans.
The signing of Pulisic, who will be loaned back to Dortmund for the remainder of this season before officially launching his Premier League career in the summer, is a clear sign that Chelsea are now planning for life after Hazard.
Maurizio Sarri went public on his own frustrations with Hazard's contract stand-off last week by telling the player that it was "time to decide" on whether he would be extending his deal, which expires in June 2020, or pursuing a move elsewhere at the end of this season. Hazard, who turns 28 on Jan. 7, has made no secret of his desire to test himself in La Liga, with the former Lille forward doing little to dampen speculation surrounding a move to Real Madrid.
Chelsea have attempted to extend his contract in an effort to secure Hazard's services for the rest of his career, but while there remains a slim possibility the player will put pen to paper at Stamford Bridge, the reality is that Hazard will move on if Real make a formal offer.
Sources close to Hazard have told ESPN FC that the player will either stay at Chelsea or sign for Real, but the only way he will stay at Chelsea is if Real don't make their move; it's a situation that the London club are unwilling to accept. They will happily give Hazard -- who is ranked at No. 4 among the world's forwards in the ESPN FC 100 -- the contract that he wants, but the time has come to plan ahead without him, hence the deal for Pulisic.
The Pulisic deal also represents Chelsea's bid to get younger. With several senior players, such as Willian, Pedro, Olivier Giroud, David Luiz and Cesc Fabregas in their thirties, the club has a clear gap in their squad for a young attacking talent.
Of course, it would be wrong to suggest that Pulisic is being signed as a direct replacement for Hazard. But as an attacking wide player, Pulisic has similar match-winning qualities to Hazard and will arrive at Chelsea at a similar age to the Belgian when he was signed from Lille in May 2012.
Back then, the 21-year-old Hazard had emerged as one of Europe's brightest young talents in Ligue 1 with Lille and Chelsea fought off the challenge of Manchester United and Manchester City to sign him. At the time, United and City had pulled clear of the pack in the Premier League and appeared to be more appealing destinations for Hazard. But Chelsea were prepared to outbid their Manchester rivals in terms of transfer fee and wages and that, combined with the lure of London, was enough to land their man.
In Pulisic, Chelsea believe they are signing a player with the potential to develop into a world-class performer as Hazard has done. The United States international, who has scored nine goals in 23 games for his country, made his league debut aged just 17 for Dortmund and has since gone on to become a key figure in the club's rise to the top of the Bundesliga this season. But while all of Europe's major clubs were monitoring Pulisic, Chelsea have been smart in identifying the opportunity to sign him at a time when their rivals were seemingly unable to make a similar move.
Liverpool, City and United have all watched Pulisic but each of them are well-stocked when it comes to attacking talent, both in terms of experienced world-class players and emerging youngsters. Arsenal have also been on Pulisic's trail but Unai Emery has other priorities right now -- namely in defence -- and the Gunners are not exactly short on attacking players themselves. Similarly, Tottenham do not have a vacancy in attacking positions and the same can be said on the continent, with Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona also deep in terms of forward depth.
Real need to refresh their squad in all departments but their preference would be to sign a recognised world star, such as Hazard, than gamble on a youngster like Pulisic. So Chelsea have moved quickly to tie him down now given their rivals' other priorities.
Pulisic may yet play alongside Hazard in a Chelsea shirt but that prospect appears increasingly unlikely. It is out with the old and in with the new, perhaps, and Chelsea have at least made sure that they are now ready for life after Hazard.