Christian Pulisic is expected to make his Serie A debut for AC Milan tonight against Bologna, and the inside story on his arrival at the club has been revealed.
The Athletic‘s James Horncastle recalls how Pulisic was busy preparing for the CONCACAF Nations League finals in Las Vegas when he heard through his agents that Milan were interested in signing him from CHelsea.
A video call involving Milan’s CEO Giorgio Furlani was set up. He acted as the interpreter for Pulisic during a discussion with head coach Stefano Pioli in which they talked, rather unsurprisingly, about football.
It was that dialogue with Pioli that ‘opened Pulisic to the prospect of moving to Italy because the coach had explained his plans for the USA international not just in terms of how he would fit in, but how the entire forward line would work.
Milan thought about an attempt to sign Pulisic last summer when Paolo Maldini and Ricky Massara were the directors in charge. They saw Chelsea throwing money around, while they also tried for Rafael Leao and even opened talks.
During those negotiations, a ‘series of possible deal structures were sketched out in the hope one might lead Milan into temptation’, one of which was ‘a cash-plus-player exchange with Pulisic thrown in’.
Milan decided it was ‘too late in the transfer window to do business’ and thus they decided to keep Leao, who ended up renewing a few months ago, but in those discussions they did plenty of groundwork on potentially landing Pulisic .
Back in May, Chelsea executives reopened talks with Milan but their interest switched from Leao to Sandro Tonali. Pulisic, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Cesare Casadei were offered as potential counterparts, but Tonali went to Newcastle for €70m.
With that sale, Milan’s transfer budget effectively tripled and they set about trying to revamp an attack that had struggled, particularly on the right hand side. Pulisic was back in the sights.
The first offer Milan made Chelsea was a €14m fee plus bonuses getting towards €25m which was the asking price set by the Blues, and Horncastle explains that bid.
“The proposal can be interpreted in different ways. First, the need for Milan and all clubs operating outside of the Premier League to get maximum bang for their buck.
“Second, an acknowledgement that Pulisic’s contract with Chelsea had only a year left to run. Third, Milan knew Chelsea didn’t want him anymore.
“Chelsea had made that clear by offering him to Milan as a bargaining chip, not to mention buying one player after another in his position, from Mykhailo Mudryk and Joao Felix to Raheem Sterling and Christopher Nkunku.
“Each of those transfers showed the little regard Chelsea had for Pulisic and how much his stock and star had fallen since his €64m move from Borussia Dortmund five years ago.”
The bid was rejected and Chelsea believed that Milan would come back in with a better offer, which they did over the next 10 days. The London club were banking on the Rossoneri wanting Pulisic for their USA tour, and so a package of €22m was agreed.
The signs in preseason have been encouraging from the 24-year-old, who has shown himself to be a real creator who can play on either flank or even down the middle, but off the field the impact can be seen too.
Shirt sales at Milan are up 75% on a standard equivalent period as per the report, while in the USA the increase has been a staggering 713%.
The share of shirt sales in the United States has risen from 9% of Milan’s total to 43%. Ticket sales for the tour in the US spiked after the announcement, while there is a feeling it could even feed into the talks regarding Serie A broadcasting rights across the Atlantic.
Shirts customised with Pulisic’s name on the back account for 45% of all shirts sold since he signed. Of course Milan signed him for what he can do on the field, but the commercial impact has been an added bonus.
“It’s a fresh beginning,” Pulisic said. “Hopefully, I can be back to where I want to be and take it to another level.”