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Christian Pulisic

'Pulisic has matured so much' - Former USMNT boss Klinsmann thrilled to see 'fantastic' Chelsea star grow into leader

02:28 EAT 22/04/2022
Christian Pulisic USMNT Honduras 2022
The German manager handed the winger his debut back when he was just 17

Former U.S. men's national team boss Jurgen Klinsmann says Christian Pulisic has grown "so much" over the last few years as the winger now looks ahead to his first World Cup.

Klinsmann handed Pulisic his first USMNT cap in 2016, making the then-17-year-old winger the youngest ever American to play in a World Cup qualifier.

That qualifying cycle would, ultimately, end in heartbreak but, having helped the U.S. qualify for this winter's tournament in Qatar, Pulisic has proven that he has learned how to lead in the eyes of his former coach.

What did Klinsmann say about Pulisic?

"I think he's done fantastic," Klinsmann said. "Christian, over the years, you could see how he got more and more mature, how he took more and more responsibility onto himself on the field and off the field. He has a lot of character and a lot of personality.

"What he went through, starting at 17, is just wonderful. It's wonderful and he's still by far not there yet. He's just able to get better and he will become even more of a leader.

"The experiences that he has already now under his belt are fantastic: playing in the Champions League at Borussia Dortmund and then moving on to Chelsea and winning it and playing on the highest level week in and week out. The roster there, it's basically two national teams with the 22 players and having that battle every day in training, and then hoping to start on the weekend or maybe coming off the bench with players that are just top-class players.

"I think he went through an outstanding process over the last couple of years and he's definitely the leader figure for the U.S. national team going forward and he was it already over the last two or three years."

Klinsmann: Pepi needs patience

Klinsmann, a former striker himself, has also watched on as another American, Ricardo Pepi, has made the move to the Bundesliga.

Pepi has struggled to adapt to life at Augsburg, as the 19-year-old forward has yet to score as the club tries to avoid relegation.

But Klinsmann is continuing to preach patience with the young striker as he looks to solidify his role for club and country.

"Ricardo took that risk and he kind of jumped in cold water and now he started swimming," Klinsmann said.

"I was asked many times, 'Was this the right club? Was the right move?' There's no certainty! Before you get there, it is difficult, especially for him now.

"He's playing in a club that is fighting relegation, so probably out of a more defensive-minded structure because they cannot afford to lose the game and have to fight for every single point. You're not getting as many chances to score if you're on the field as a center-forward, so very little chances, very little time to prove yourself but it's a huge learning curve that he is going through and therefore, it will just take time.

"So what you can tell him is just take it one day at a time. Just take every training session 100% seriously and prove your point out to the manager, to the coach and then when you get your chance to be on the field, make the most out of it. But be patient, be patient."

During his time as USMNT boss, Klinsmann advocated heavily for American players to go overseas to test themselves, sometimes causing controversy with his views on progressing the American game.

And, over the last few years, Americans have indeed tested themselves in the way Klinsmann envisioned, with USMNT stars playing for clubs like Chelsea, Juventus, Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig.

But not every move is a success story, and Klinsmann says that it is perfectly OK for American players to fail as long as they continue to test themselves.

"There's nothing wrong with any American players going overseas and maybe it doesn't work out the way they think it should," he said. "If it doesn't work out, come back and play in MLS, which has grown wonderfully, as we all know now, more than 25 years in existence, adding teams, wonderful infrastructure, great stadiums, and all that stuff.

"It's always going to be a challenge for any American player to go overseas and prove his point. And sometimes it goes well right away and sometimes it will just take more time. In Ricardo's case, it could just take more time and I think the talent is there and the capabilities are there. He has a good attitude, is well-liked at the club, and he just needs to be patient."

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