Borussia Dortmund’s magical Christian Pulisic represents the American idol soccer is crying out for

James Piercy 26/09/2017
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Christian Pulisic.

You would imagine being a soccer fan in the United States is a labour of love. Largely ignored by the mainstream sports media, to truly love the game ahead of American football, basketball or baseball must invite ridicule.

Relatively-speaking, a niche breed, denied the ability to engage in proper sports chat beyond the internet, as NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL and college sports dominate the discourse. After all, why would you need to watch anything else? The USA is a country where the very best athletes in the world take to courts, fields and rinks each week.

And while soccer fans are a proud bunch who look after their own, for all the dedication afforded to the sport, a longing gaze must still be fixed on Europe and South America and the individuals who emerge and become superstars.

That’s not to say the country hasn’t produced some fine players, and their consistency in World Cups this century is testament to that, but they have all, to varying degrees, been of a certain ilk – honest, hard-working, dedicated.

Strong values in a team-mate but none that alone can make up a truly unique individual talent or a superstar they can call their own, alongside Tom Brady, LeBron James or Aaron Judge.

Christian Pulisic is different. Borussia Dortmund coach Peter Bosz has only been working with the teenager for four months, yet believes he deserves to win FIFA’s Golden Boy award, ahead of Kylian Mbappe and former team-mate Ousmane Dembele. There is significant bias, but the Dutchman, in speaking about his prodigy, reveals a continual theme: “He has great mentality, which is important.”

As Pennsylvania Classics director, the youth academy where Pulisic spent his formative years, told Sports Illustrated last year: “The thing that we always felt was going to help him through was he seemed to be very grounded and focused about his training and his goals.”

All this fits nicely into the lineage of Brian McBride, Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan and Eric Wynalda: diligent and dedicated professionals; talented to varying degrees but players whose attitude and teamwork ultimately rise above everything else.

Pulisic is all of this… and a whole lot more. He is industrious, combative and committed, whether in possession or when losing the ball, but even at his age – having turned 19 Sunday – there is some serious stardust in those boots.

In Saturday’s 6-1 hammering of Borussia Monchengladbach he collected the ball just inside the opposition half and glided past (or maybe more accurately, through) six players with a combination of blistering acceleration and, dare you say, Lionel Messi-like control; shifting from right foot to left foot, and back again.

The concept of wingers was thought to be a dying art at the turn of the decade. Dribbling, too, a fading concept in such a rigid tactical landscape, but whether it be FIFA’s commitment to altering laws on what constitutes a fair tackle, improvements in the quality of pitches or the influence of Messi and Ronaldo, Pulisic is among a few unique talents carrying the torch.

As expected with his style of play, age and lack of experience, there is significant risk with the reward.

Pulisic is fourth across Europe’s top-five leagues, in terms of attempted dribbles, with 33 but also co-leads the standings across the continent with failed attempts (18).

Refinement is obviously and inevitably required, but that will come over time from within, as he is a unique talent who already, between the ages of 17-18, has matured at an impressive rate.

Dembele’s departure to Barcelona has quickened his full integration into the first team – he has started five of six Bundesliga games, played 90 minutes against Tottenham and is a guaranteed starter for BVB’s match tonight against Real Madrid – but evidence suggests, Michael Zorc could have another protracted transfer battle on his hands next summer, especially if he has a fruitful World Cup.

Because Pulisic presents more than just an excellent footballer. A world-class individual from the planet’s biggest sporting nation, in the world’s most-popular sport equals serious bang for your buck.

Unsurprisingly, Nike have him tied down to an endorsement deal until 2022. But for any club looking to crack the emerging American market – and factor in the 2026 World Cup potentially being held in the USA, Canada and Mexico – Pulisic is the golden ticket.

All this is a lot to take for a teenager still in the very early years of his career but he seems to be taking it in his (exceptionally fast) stride.

If he hasn’t already, Pulisic will come to represent a numbers of things for Stateside soccer fans – hope, excitement, pride. But most of all, a justification for their peculiar passion – a superstar they can call their own.

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Kyle Walker sends warning to Manchester City's rivals

Andy Hampson 26/09/2017
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Kyle Walker says few teams will be able to stop Manchester City if they continue to get it right.

Pep Guardiola’s side have hit a rich vein of form, scoring at least four goals in four of their last five outings.

That has taken them to the top of the Premier League and got them off to a flying start in the Champions League.

Their European challenge continues tonight as they host Ukrainian champions Shakhtar Donetsk in their second Group F fixture.

Right-back Walker, who has made an impressive start at his new club since his summer move from Tottenham, said: “It is just about consistency.

“If we keep playing at the level we are playing at I don’t think we will come across many opponents that will cause us many problems with the strike force we’ve got and, more importantly for me, (if we are) keeping clean sheets.

“I think it will be tough and it’s a lot of work to keep doing and listening to the gaffer, his tactics, but hopefully that will see us across the line.”

Striker Sergio Aguero, who has scored six in six appearances this season, will go into the game at the Etihad Stadium needing just one more goal to equal Eric Brook’s club record of 177.

Walker saw the Argentinian score several against him while playing for Spurs and he is relieved to be on the same side now.

He said: To play against he is a nightmare. Facing him for numerous seasons, he always seemed to score against us. It was frustrating.

“Having him on the same team now is a big bonus. He is a quality player.”

While Walker has caught the eye for his charges down the right flank, fellow new signing Benjamin Mendy has done similar things on the left. The pair also seem to have struck up a good relationship off the field and have regularly teased each other on social media, highlighting each other’s mistakes.

Walker said: “If you know me relatively well, you know I do like a bit of banter – but he started it! He came for me first.

“As soon as he got the nutmeg in Holland, I had to jump back on it. But he is just relentless. He keeps coming with things.”

City face a Shakhtar side who opened their Group F campaign with an impressive win over the much-fancied Serie A leaders Napoli. Their form in the early part of the season has also been strong, as they have lost just once in 11 games.

City boss Guardiola said: “They beat Napoli – one of the three or four or five best teams, playing football, in the world.

“People say, ‘Napoli, it’s not Milan or Juventus’ and, ‘Shakhtar, it’s Ukraine’, but this group is tricky.”

Mendy faces a fitness test on a knee injury while captain Vincent Kompany is still out with a calf problem.

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Borussia Dortmund's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang headlines our African players round-up

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African stars were in action throughout Europe.

Gabon striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang continued his outstanding early-season form for German outfit Borussia Dortmund with a hat-trick at the weekend.

The treble for the 2015 African footballer of the Year came just a week after he bagged a 58-second Bundesliga brace against FC Cologne.

Scoring three goals in a 6-1 rout of Borussia Moenchengladbach lifted his Dortmund tally to 132 from 198 games.

Here, we look at how African stars playing throughout Europe performed at the weekend.

ENGLAND

OUMAR NIASSE (Everton)

Senegalese forward Niasse seemed unlikely to carve out a career at Everton a year ago after manager Ronald Koeman banished him to the Under-23s and then sent him out on loan to Hull City.

But Romelu Lukaku’s departure to Manchester United has created an attacking vacancy and after finding the net in the mid-week League Cup win over Sunderland, Niasse came off the bench to score twice and earn Koeman’s men a much-needed 2-1 success over Bournemouth.

Oumar Niasse

Goodison brace: Niasse.

MOHAMED SALAH (Liverpool)

Salah continued his fine start to life at Liverpool by scoring his sixth goal in nine appearances in an entertaining 3-2 win at Leicester City.

The Egypt winger squandered a good chance by shooting wide after Emre Can’s shot came back off the post, but he atoned in the 15th minute by putting Liverpool ahead with a powerful back-post header from Philippe Coutinho’s cross.

Mohamad Salah

In the goals: Salah.

SERGE AURIER (Tottenham Hotspur)

Former Paris Saint-Germain right-back Aurier had a full Premier League debut to forget as he was sent off in Tottenham’s 3-2 win at West Ham United.

Booked in the 64th minute for tripping Andy Carroll, the Ivory Coast international saw red six minutes later after launching himself into a wild and unnecessary challenge on the same player.

Serge Aurier walks off after being shown a red card.

Aurier walks off after being shown a red card.

SPAIN

FAYCAL FAJR, AMATH NDIAYE (Getafe)

Moroccan Fajr replaced Senegalese Ndiaye as a second-half substitute and went on to provide the free-kick from which Angel Rodriguez headed home his second goal, giving Getafe a 4-0 win over Villarreal.

Faycal Fajr

Provider: Fajr.

CEDRIC BAKAMBU (Villarreal)

Democratic Republic of Congo striker Bakambu fired Villarreal’s best chance over the bar in the first-half before being replaced on the hour in the midst of a three-goal surge from Getafe in 13 minutes early in the second period.

Cedric Bakambu

Didn’t enjoy best outing: Bakambu.

ITALY

ADEL TAARABT (Genoa)

Moroccan Taarabt was sent off in injury time along with Belgian of DR Congo origin Stephane Omeonga as the club from Liguria lost 1-0 to Inter Milan to remain winless in their opening six games.

Adel Taarabt (R)

Red mist for Taarabt.

ORJI OKWONKWO (Bologna)

Nigerian Okwonkwo scored a minute from time as Bologna snatched a last-gasp victory in the Emilia-Romagna derby. After Sassuolo captain Francesco Magnanelli was sent off, substitute Okwonkwo sealed the winner.

Orji Okwonkwo celebrates scoring the winner.

Orji Okwonkwo celebrates scoring the winner.

FAOUZI GHOULAM (Napoli)

Napoli had Ghoulam to thank as they stumbled to a 3-2 win at SPAL Ferrara, sealing a record-breaking start to the Serie A season.

The Algerian struck with seven minutes left, firing home a stunning left-footed strike after a run down the left flank. It maintained Napoli’s perfect record – six wins from six games – as the Partenopei remain top of the Italian top flight.

Faouzi Ghoulam

Sitting pretty at the top: Faouzi Ghoulam and Napoli.

GERMANY

PIERRE-EMERICK AUBAMEYANG (Borussia Dortmund)

The Gabon striker hit a hat-trick for Bundesliga leaders Borussia Dortmund in their 6-1 trouncing of Borussia Moenchengladbach – strengthening his partnership with Maximilian Philipp, who scored the first two goals.

This was Aubameyang’s second hat-trick of the season after netting a treble in Dortmund’s German Cup first-round clash at minnows Rielasingen.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

In the goals: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

FRANCE

RACHID GHEZZAL (Monaco)

The Algeria international notched his first goal for Monaco in a 4-0 rout of Lille.

Ghezzal, 25, drilled home a clinical finish from Almamy Toure’s driven cross on the half hour mark as the defending champions claimed a sixth win in seven matches.

Rachid Ghezzal (C)

On the scoresheet: Rachid Ghezzal (C).

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