It seemed, in theory at least, relatively simple. Friends already in the team, the Champions League awaits and one of the biggest and most prestigious clubs in Europe, playing in a famous stadium in a renewed league.
Throw in some wealthy American owners, and it looked like USMNT international Christian Pulisic was ready for a move to AC Milan that ticked every box. But transfers for top players are rarely linear and another storied European club trying to revive its fortunes has come up with a differently compelling offer.
the athlete It reported on Sunday that French club Lyon are offering serious competition for Pulisic’s signature after placing an offer of €25m (£21.5m, $27.3m), plus a targeted sale clause still being negotiated.
Lyon’s rival Milan rivals by making an offer of 25 million euros to buy Christian Pulisic
The proposal is at a level Chelsea would find acceptable and they are reluctant to let the 24-year-old go out for less. Chelsea have a very good relationship with Lyon after they signed in January full-back Malu Justo, who is smitten with the project being overseen by his American owner, John Texture.
It remains to be seen if Milan will increase their opening oral bid for the striker, which was worth €14m, but the Londoners will now want to.
In the background there is mid-level interest from Premier League clubs and staying in the UK was Pulisic’s initial preference, but concrete offers that would allow him to do so, such as those on the table from France and Italy, have yet to materialize.
So what do the contenders have to offer a player with 60 senior caps and willing to put the slump at Stamford Bridge behind him in order to reset his career?
Milan appear to have developed a taste for Chelsea players, formalizing their interest in Pulisic soon after luring Ruben Loftus-Cheek down a path from Stamford Bridge to San Siro recently trodden by Fikayo Tomori and Olivier Giroud.
Pulisic has good relations with his three former team-mates and can’t fail to note how Tomori and Giroud in particular have thrived in Italy, helping Milan win the 2021-22 Serie A title and then reach the Champions League semi-finals. Last season.
Remaining competitive with Europe’s elite clubs is an important attraction for Pulisic should he decide to leave the Premier League. AC Milan, whose fourth-place finish last season guaranteed them brilliance in the Champions League group stage in September, offers them the chance to play a prominent role on club football’s biggest stage as they try to position themselves in the best possible position to shine for their country in the coming season. World Cup 2026 on home soil.
But the most attractive is football fitness.
Coach Stefano Pioli has sparked Milan’s interest in Pulisic and wants to use him primarily as their number 10 player – a role in which he has often shone at international level but was rarely trusted to play for Chelsea and former club Borussia Dortmund.
The idea of being such a key attacking figure in the big European side is very tempting. There is a newness in the fact that Pioli holds such an appreciation for Pulisic and has a detailed plan for how he will maximize his talents.
It was Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri who provided a similar pitch for the player before his move from Dortmund in January 2019 – but he was replaced by the time Pulisic had already arrived six months later, having been loaned back to the Germans to see through the 2018-19 season.
Having taken the bold step of leaving the United States for Europe before his 16th birthday, Pulisic has already shown an openness to new experiences in different countries and will support himself to quickly adapt to Milan and Italian football.
Part of him has always been intrigued by the possibility of playing in all four major leagues in Europe, Serie A would be third, with only La Liga left.
A significant cut from his lucrative salary at Chelsea is inevitable in any scenario that sees him move this summer, and Pulisic won’t let wage demands be an obstacle to an agreement with the club he wants to join. Above all, his desire to leave Chelsea is based on his desire to play regularly and feel important to the team again. It’s hard to imagine a better destination than AC Milan to help him become, at club level, the kind of mascot the USMNT has relied on for years.
The big questions to answer now are whether or not Milan are ready to improve on their opening bid, and whether or not Chelsea are willing to drop their asking price to draw a line in a situation that has become complex for all involved.
Then there is Leon.
The first thing to admit is that Laurent Blanc’s side finished seventh in Ligue 1 last season, so they didn’t qualify for any form of European competition this season. For Pulisic, who has played in the Champions League over the past seven seasons with Dortmund and then Chelsea (his only other year of big football saw him in the Europa League with the Germans in 2015-16), that will be a huge consideration. The best players want to play in the best competitions, and they do so all the time.
Unlike Milan, Lyon have never won the European Cup or Champions League – although they did reach the semi-finals for the second time in their history three years ago, beating Juventus and Manchester City along the way.
Nor have they won the French title since the end of a seven-year era of Ligue 1 dominance in 2007-08. Like most of their domestic counterparts, they have struggled to deal with PSG’s success fueled by Qatar, but Textor aims to change that.
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Since becoming majority shareholder in December 2022 and then taking over as long-term Chairman Jean-Michel Aulas in May, Textor is planning a bright new era.
However, this installment has not been without snags so far. The Missouri-born businessman has taken control of the club through his Eagle Football Holdings LLC, which oversees his other football investments: Premier League club Crystal Palace, Brazil’s Botafogo and Belgium’s Molenbeek.
Even before the Lyon deal was sealed last year, the 57-year-old had to fight fires when one of his main funding sources pulled out during the closing stages, but Textor has still amassed enough supporters to successfully finalize the takeover.
The investors behind Eagle Football Holdings have big pockets and respectable pedigree, and Textor needs them to stick around since they’ve been asked to find more money to keep his Lyon vision on track. Reports in France earlier this year claimed he needed to raise €130m to avoid a penalty from the country’s football financial watchdog, the Direction Nationale du Controle de Gestion (DNCG).
French media said it came after his initial business plan, which owners must share with the DNCG for approval, was based on Champions League qualification. Lyon’s failure to achieve this resulted in a shortage. The DNCG called for this to be addressed either through additional funding or player sales. He has made noises around Textor indicating instability, with threats of official sanctions if Lyon does not resolve the situation, although he has complied with the financial authorities and is confident of the club’s future.
It’s still early days in Textur’s reign at Lyon, but his successes elsewhere – Botafogo have gone from near bankruptcy to being currently seven points ahead as Brazil move up 13 Ligue 1 matches in their season, and Molenbeek won promotion to the Belgian top flight last month. Current evidence that he can make things right.
Football fans in Pulisic’s home country know all about Lyon, too; Especially their successful women’s team. Olympique Lyonnais Feminin rose to prominence in 2010 with top USWNT stars like Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe on their squad. She has won the UEFA Women’s Champions League eight times, including five consecutively from 2016 to 2020.
So for the soccer-loving crowd back home, a move to Lyon wouldn’t go off the radar by any means for the most iconic player in the American men’s game.
On the pitch, Lyon has an attractive mix of pedigree and potential. Their 59,186-seat stadium, which opened in 2016, could be a massive arena. Youngsters Bradley Barkola and Ryan Cherky – the latter linked with Chelsea in recent days – are rising stars to impress with the France Under-21 side.
Meanwhile, the club’s UEFA coefficient ranking, which is based on performance in Europe over the past five years, is outperforming: Lyon are 26th in Europe, and Milan are 37th.
Leon’s offer could also be Textor’s public relations sage — a signal to investors that his plans are still afoot and that these tales of financial trouble are overblown.
Simply engaging a player with Pulisic’s ability could move the narrative in the French media away from Textor as a disruptor in his head and into a more positive story. Even if he eventually loses out to fellow American investors in Milan, Pulisic has token value and a bold push to bring him to Lyon makes Textor look strong. It can be considered a losing project.
If they are serious, Lyon’s biggest challenge will be convincing the player that joining a Ligue 1 club outside the Champions League trumps Milan’s proposal with more obvious appeal.
But for Pulisic, the growing competition for his signature is food for thought in the days ahead as he waits to see how Milan react. Chelsea will hope Milan live up to their assessment.
Will San Siro’s life and being be part of the push to reform champions like Napoli, Juventus and city neighbors Inter to once again become Italy’s premier club, while playing in its preferred position?
Will he join ambitious Lyon, playing for World Cup winners Blanc, intent on catching up to Paris Saint-Germain and returning to European competitions in 2024?
Or will another surprise showrunner emerge from the shadows of the summer transfer market?
Whatever happens next is bound to be intriguing.
(Top photo: Visionhaus/Getty Images)
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