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Christian Pulisic: ‘I am determined to showcase the potential of the U.S. to the world’

Christian Pulisic is perched on a bar stool in the old clubhouse overlooking the first-team training pitch at Milanello, AC Milan’s training ground. He makes a hand gesture, one he didn’t need the past six months living in Italy to learn. Pulisic is talking about himself as one of the “older guys” on the USMNT and, as he does so, he is sure to put air quotes around it. Nearby is a portrait of Milan legend Paolo Maldini lifting a trophy, a player who retired in his forties. Pulisic isn’t that age yet. He turned 25 shortly after joining Milan from Chelsea in August. But as the United States get ready to host the Copa America as a guest competing nation this summer, the first newly-expanded 32-team Club World Cup the following year and then the biggest men’s World Cup finals yet, with 48 countries taking part, in 2026, he is already beginning to think about his legacy.

“I remember watching World Cups as a kid and watching (Clint) Dempsey scoring goals in the World Cup,” he says, “(Landon) Donovan scoring the winning goal (against Algeria in South Africa in 2010). It’s moments like that, that stick in kids’ minds and can really inspire a generation, which is what those moments did for me.” Pulisic, though, is hoping to provide some of his own. There’s a monotone zeal when he speaks. For all the curiosity about his hobbies outside of football, notably golf and chess — the board game with which Italy’s top-flight Serie A, a league renowned for its tactics and strategy, often gets compared — his focus on his own game is unflinching; his self-awareness of his influence acute. “Watching someone that’s from where you’re from and playing at the highest level and showing the world we can compete and be the best; you know, compete with the best,” he explains. “For me, that’s what it’s all about. If I can inspire kids, especially back home in the U.S. but hopefully all over the world. There’s nothing… there’s no greater prize for me.” Pulisic recognises he has a platform. He is the most expensive American player of all time. He captained his country for the first time at 20 and was the first American to play in the Champions League final. A decade since he moved to Europe, he has only played for big clubs — Borussia Dortmund, Chelsea and now Milan. This is what, relatively speaking, makes him a veteran in football terms. Through the experience he has accumulated he hopes to emerge as a leader who is authentic to himself. Pulisic celebrates winning the Champions League with Chelsea, alongside father Mark and mother Kelley in 2021 (Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images) Publicly, he lacks the loquaciousness and affability of current national-team skipper Tyler Adams — “I’m not the most vocal person,” Pulisic concedes — but there are other ways to affect a group and a country. To Pulisic, that means action as much as words and being an example “in just doing what I do every day”. It means “when I’m with the (national) team, when I’m at club level, I’m just continuing to show people, like, ‘OK, he’s pushing the boundaries. He’s performing to a high level.’ Hopefully, I can lead that way as well.” The player who, in a meme, was framed as the LeBron James of soccer, is quite the introvert. He is the polar opposite, for instance, of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the transcendent Milan icon, who has returned to Milanello very quickly after his retirement as a player to take up a new role created by Milan’s owners RedBird Capital Partners as an operating partner for the group’s media and entertainment portfolio and as a senior adviser to Milan’s ownership and senior management. How then does Pulisic square his self-effacing character with the expectation his profile and ability generates? “I’ve had my difficulties with it,” he accepts. “It’s not something that affects my day-to-day life. I think I’m quite a simple guy. I’m not out in public all the time, so it doesn’t affect me. I’m in training every day. I come home and I can relax and speak to the people close to me and the people that I love, so it’s not something that bothers me in any way. It’s just some getting used to and I’m really grateful I have the platform to do what I want to do.”

Our interview takes place by the exit of the clubhouse at Milanello, where a member of Milan’s backroom team sits at a desk waiting to catch the players as they leave training to sign jerseys for one of the club’s commercial partners. Pulisic’s shirt instantly became the best seller following his move from Chelsea for €20million (now $21.9m, £17.2m). There was a 75 per cent increase in the number of Milan jerseys sold compared to a standard equivalent period. In the U.S. the sales uplift was 713 per cent, and Milan shirt sales in the U.S. increased from nine per cent of the total sold to 43 per cent. Personalised Pulisic jerseys represented 45 per cent of all match jerseys sold in his first month with them, according to the club. Americans are flocking to San Siro, the iconic stadium Milan share with city rivals Inter, like never before. The number is up 148 per cent on this stage last season. Pulisic is performing well in Milan (Alessandro Belussi and Pietro Vai) A commercial phenomenon, Pulisic is helping Milan, and Serie A, build their profiles in North America. The club’s new fourth jersey, about to be launched in ivory and black, is inspired by the city of Milan’s most famous landmark, the gothic cathedral in Piazza del Duomo. Unsurprisingly, it is a collaboration with a U.S. brand, a streetwear label from Los Angeles — which was a stop on Milan’s 2023 pre-season tour. The club made sure to sign Pulisic in time to participate to make full use of his pull and draw fans to games against Real Madrid at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena and Juventus at MLS side LA Galaxy’s Dignity Health Sports Park. “I think that’s just a win-win. That’s an extra thing,” Pulisic says of his impact off the pitch. “That’s not what I focus on. I focus on the sporting aspect, performing and winning games.” The old clubhouse at Milanello, arguably the most bucolic training facility in European football, was, in harder financial times, rented out as a wedding venue. Pulisic and his new team are still in the honeymoon stage. “I’m enjoying it a lot,” he smiles. “I’ve been given a great opportunity here.” That’s all he was looking for after Chelsea, where he became surplus to requirements: “A fair opportunity.” Did he feel he was no longer getting one at the London club? “I’m not here to talk about whether it was fair or not back then. I’m just happy to be where I am now, for sure. The first couple of years (at Chelsea) were fantastic,” he reflects. Pulisic was a member of their Champions League-winning squad in May 2021. “The last couple of years… I think a lot of things in the club changed. A lot of people also left this summer, got new opportunities and have done well.” Some of them are now at Milan, too. Pulisic followed Ruben Loftus-Cheek to San Siro and the pair of them have reconnected with former Chelsea team-mates Fikayo Tomori and Olivier Giroud, who had already made the move. “That made it a lot easier,” Pulisic says. His debut goal against Bologna in August, a screamer from outside of the box, came from a neat one-two with striker Giroud. “I know a lot of his tendencies, he knows mine. It’s been great to play off him. Things like that are only going to help with the chemistry within the team and get me accustomed to a new team, a new league.” The same goes for Yunus Musah, the USMNT midfielder, whom Milan signed from Spain’s Valencia in the same transfer window they acquired Pulisic. Pulisic and Musah at the 2022 World Cup (Marvin Ibo Guengoer – GES Sportfoto/Getty Images)
Musah was born in New York City but raised in Castelfranco Veneto near Venice and speaks fluent Italian. “He’s an incredible kid,” Pulisic beams. “I love playing with him in the national team. It’s great now to see him day-to-day. If I don’t understand something, he’s...

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