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Superstar or supersub? USMNT ace Pulisic can prove Chelsea critics wrong at 2022 World Cup

14:00 GMT 20/11/2022
Christian Pulisic USMNT Chelsea GFX
The USMNT forward is viewed very differently in England, but he has an opportunity to convince the world of his talent in Qatar

They say that perception is reality, but when it comes to Christian Pulisic, the reality is that perceptions are quite different depending on which side of the Atlantic Ocean you reside.

On one side, Pulisic is seen as the golden child, the superstar, Captain America. He's a player that, at just age 24, has world-class potential.

The face of a program and country, Pulisic is as important as any one player can be, with England boss Gareth Southgate recently comparing the pressures Pulisic faces to those of David Beckham and Wayne Rooney.

And then there's the other side, the one where Pulisic is often seen as little more than a supersub or bench player for Chelsea.

He's considered a player that may be able to play at a top club, but probably not contribute much to its ultimate success. He's one of many, a small piece of a much larger puzzle.

Over the next month or so, those two perceptions will collide on the biggest stage possible, giving us a glimpse into which perception is closer to defining the real Christian Pulisic.

Is he truly that player with world-class potential that can shine under the brightest of lights or is he the one destined to hover around his current role?

As it often is in cases like this, the easiest answer is likely accepting the calmer, more measured take: the one that says Pulisic is a pretty good player that has the potential to get better.

He's neither the conqueror USMNT fans hope he can be nor the Chelsea benchwarmer, but rather somewhere in between.

There are loads of very good players out there, even in a world that so often defines them as either the GOAT or overrated.

In this game, there's rarely room for measured approaches, which is why this coming month will be so important to defining how Pulisic will be seen going forward.

That's how World Cups work. The fact that he has just one goal in 13 Premier League matches will be instantly washed away if he shows out in Qatar.

Countless players' club careers have been changed by their performances at a World Cup. James Rodriguez, Gilberto Silva and Mesut Ozil all turned World Cup heroics into life-altering transfers.

The ultimate results of those transfers, obviously, varied, but the way in which those players were seen changed drastically after a month-long stay with the national team.

And there's a pretty good chance it could be the same for Pulisic, who has long been linked with a Chelsea exit. There's been talk of interest from Manchester United, Juventus and Newcastle, and he will undeniably head into the World Cup with his Stamford Bridge future somewhat uncertain.

A strong tournament could see him claim a place at Chelsea that he has fought so hard for or perhaps seal a multi-million dollar move to a club of similar stature.

A poor tournament, meanwhile, could see him accept the option of remaining as a backup at Chelsea to fight for his place or maybe even a move down the ladder with the hopes of climbing and clawing his way back up.

Superstars have taken such moves, with players like Kevin De Bruyne and Mohamed Salah taking one step back to take one million forward after frustrating Chelsea stints.

But neither of those two had this type of opportunity to prove himself on the biggest stage and to show Chelsea why all three managers that have overlooked him have been wrong to do so.

Frank Lampard, Thomas Tuchel and Graham Potter have all been left unconvinced but, in Qatar, Pulisic has a chance to convince the rest of the world.
This is Pulisic's moment to show what he can do regularly as a focal point, a key player. And that's what he is for the U.S., a key player, although not the only player, as many would lead you to believe.

As much as people thrust the responsibility of being America's guy on him, he has the talent around him that he doesn't need to do it all.

He can trust the likes of Timothy Weah, Gio Reyna, Brenden Aaronson and Weston McKennie to help shoulder the load, much in the same way he could trust the likes of Mason Mount, Raheem Sterling and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to do it on the club level.

If Pulisic can thrive alongside his supporting cast, it will prove to the world exactly who and what he can be.

It will prove that he can accept more responsibility than he has been given at the club level and that he can contribute in those big moments where the biggest of players step up.

But if he falters, it will only offer more evidence to the detractors that say he may not be at the level Chelsea need him to be going forward.

Simplifying such a big decision to three, maybe four, games is cruel, but it's the world of soccer. And, in that world, one where perception is king, Pulisic's next steps will be defined by how he does in Qatar.