It’s no secret that Borussia Dortmund‘s Christian Pulisic is the most gifted soccer player the USA has ever produced.

The 19-year-old has all the attributes needed to scale world football’s summit, including the ability to play on both wings and as a No.10. There’s probably even a false 9 in there somewhere, too. But what is Pulisic really?

Could we be witnessing the birth of another Raumdeuter (‘space interpreter’), Thomas Müller’s self-appointed role for Bayern Munich and Germany? Or is he carving out his own inimitable path to the top?

He makes a good case for both…

Defensively, Pulisic’s work rate is more in line with a full-back or conventional wide midfielder. Statistics show he spends more than half his time on the pitch running without the ball, whilst covering, on average, 6.3 miles per game.

That’s not to say he’s about to usurp Lukas Piszczek as Dortmund’s first-choice right-back, but it does highlight a willingness and industry not completely within the remit of a pure-bred winger.

How often do you see Arjen Robben busting a gut to get back and help out Joshua Kimmich at Bayern?

Nevertheless, Pulisic is – like Robben – an attacking player by definition. He has the gumption to run with the ball at opposition players, create and take chances. At one point during 2017/18, he had even attempted more dribbles – granted with less success – than Lionel Messi and Neymar.

In terms of end product, the Hershey native’s nine goals and 14 assists in 70 Bundesliga appearances in his two-and-a-half seasons as part of a wildly inconsistent Dortmund side point to a player still searching for his niche. Not that anyone should be pigeonholed.

Pulisic hit four goals and six assists in 32 Bundesliga appearances in 2017/18. © imago / TEAM

Just ask Müller. The Bayern man doesn’t have the raw pace and power of a modern-day attacker or the tools of a typical wide man, yet his contribution is immeasurable. Creative, prolific, unorthodox and a bona fide workhorse, his gait masks one of the most intelligent footballers in history – that unparalleled knack of floating between the lines and exploiting spaces no one else sees.

“‘The space interpreter’ is a nice term, but I’m not sure I’ve done myself any favours with it,” Müller told Eight by Eight magazine. “Every good, successful player, especially an attacking player, has a well-developed sense of space and time. It’s not a phenomenon you only find in two or three people on earth. Every great attacker knows it’s all about the timing between the person who plays the pass and the person making a run into the right zone. It’s nothing new.”

Outwardly, Müller and Pulisic are two very different types of attacking players. Müller, by his own admission, “can’t dribble for toffee”, while Pulisic thrives in one-on-ones. But there are three conspicuous, albeit overlooked, similarities. One is work rate; the other is head-to-toe technique; and the big one – the ability to unlock opposition defences without even being in possession of the ball.

Watch: Thomas Müller – the best player in the world without the ball

So if Müller is the ‘space interpreter’, what does that make Pulisic?

Age and experience aside, Müller’s superior output – 25 goals and 24 assists in his first 70 Bundesliga games, 104/112 overall – boils down to playing regularly in a fully firing system, tailor-made for his skill set. Pulisic hasn’t always had that luxury.

Under ex-Dortmund coaches Thomas Tuchel and Peter Bosz, the American prospered in overtly attack-minded teams, where he had license to manipulate pockets of space and affect the game as he so freely does for the USMNT (he is currently averaging a goal or assist every 1.3 matches at international level). The conservative approach of Peter Stöger during the second half of 2017/18, on the other hand, narrowed his impact in the final third.

Happily, Lucien Favre – BVB’s new man at the helm – has a habit of striking the right balance between defensive discipline and free-flowing forward play. Individuals with all-round diligence, flawless technique and a touch of panache are essential. Potential to improve is desirable. Pulisic, apply here.

USA coach Dave Sarachan is building his team around Pulisic (l.), with qualification for the 2022 World Cup in mind. © imago / ZUMA Press

“We play because we always love the game. But it’s about figuring out what you need to take that next step. How can I be the best? That’s what I think about now,” Pulisic told Sports Illustrated. “It’s about: What can I do to change the game and the attacking aspect of the game? That’s how I look at it every time. Every single play is just doing what you can to keep your defender off balance so he has no idea what’s coming next. It’s being positive and going towards the goal because that’s my position. I’m an attacking midfielder.”

Müller probably held a similar opinion of himself when he was still a teenager. Deployed across the attack in his first couple of seasons with the Bayern senior team, it was only after taking the Golden Boot at the FIFA 2010 World Cup that he slipped “I’m a space interpreter” into the conversation.

Nowadays, the 28-year-old predominantly lines up on the right-hand side or behind the lone striker, but for the most part his starting position is just semantics. Müller does what Müller does. The intangibles breed tangible success. Nobody does it better – for now, at least.

Pulisic might not be the next Müller per se, but he could be the next Raumdeuter – or rather a unique rendition of a seemingly indefinable role.

Space interpreter, space invader or even space hopper: the next stage of his evolution will be fascinating.

Chris Mayer-Lodge

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