Spotlight: The rise of Dejan Kulusevski

Linn_FPL has been a huge part of the FPL community this season. She has taken a look at Spurs’ new signing Dejan Kulusevski. She considers his career so far and why he has found his football home in North London.

Dejan Kulusevski is a 21 year old Swedish midfielder. Because he plays for Sweden I’ve been following him for a few years now and it’s been quite the journey to watch him grow into the player he is today! Here I’m going to have a look at his growth as a player, his potential and what different roles he has been playing during his career. 

The early years in Sweden

He was raised by Brommapojkarna, a club that is famous for its youth academy. They have produced numerous top-quality Swedish players throughout the years like Anders Limpar and John Guidetti. Kulusevski played with Brommapojkarna from the age of six until 16 when he moved to Atalanta. Brommapojkarna likes to play the ball from the back and control the matches. This fits Dejan very well as he likes to get the ball and drive forward. Here he mainly played as a number 10 in an attacking midfield position behind a forward or two forwards.

The Atalanta & Parma years

Dejan got a move to Italy and spent two years in the Atalanta youth academy before being called up to the first team. Here he mainly warmed the bench but got three appearances over the season until he was loaned out to Parma. This loan made him explode into the football scene as one of the most promising young footballer players in 2019/20. At Parma he was moved to the right wing in a 4-3-3 and it is in this position that he has shown his best. Still just a teen he emerged as the best youngster in Italy and was named Serie A Young Player of the Year.

Courtesy of Sofascore: Playing for Atalanta in a central number 10 role in 18/19 (left) Parma 19/2: How we are more used to seeing Kulusevski – on the right wing making run in towards goal and into the box. (heatmap from sofascore.com

Juventus enters the scene 

This performance made Juventus’ want to dig into their pockets and they ended up buying him in January for the sum of 35 million euros. He was then loaned back to Parma for the rest of the season.

However, Dejan failed to live up to his potential at Italy’s biggest club. He didn’t manage to nail down a regular starting spot in the first XI. He started just 19 Serie A games that season and only five the year after. Juventus did try him in different roles and formations. He played up-front, as well as in a wing-back role while Andrea Pirlo was boss in 2020-21. While he had a decent start to his time at Juventus, now nothing seemed to really click and with a managerial change he saw his minutes cut. New manager Allegri tending to use him as an impact sub.

Dejan was low on confidence, you could clearly tell by his body language. He often chose to pass the ball rather than dribble past opponents like he used to. But he kept working, kept on pushing. A fantastic workrate and being stubborn are some of his best traits. 

Courtesy of Sofascore: Playing as part of a front two and on the right wing for Juventu under Pirlo.

Playing for Sweden 

During his Italy days he was also playing for Sweden. He didn’t have a clear role at first either, but was deployed on the wing as well as up top as second striker. However, he did well during the European Championships and has cemented his spot in the Swedish team. Being of double citizenship he could also play for North Macedonia but made a decision early on to play for Sweden, which us Swedes are very grateful for! 

Tottenham comes knocking

Dejan was frustrated at Juventus and he was looking for a change. When a loan deal to go to Spurs was offered he jumped right on it, no hesitation, this was his chance and he was going to take it! 

For Dejan it is very important to have a manager who believes in him, that’s when he thrives. Kulusevski’s versatility has been highly appreciated by Conte. Something Allegri failed to make the most of his qualities at Juventus. 

With a manager who believes in him and world-class teammates like Son and Kane, what can we expect from Kulusevski at Spurs? 

I think Spurs is the perfect team for someone like Dejan to blossom. He is not the most explosive player but he’s got a very good eye for the game. He makes progressive runs, drives the game forward and he’s a strong ball carrier. He’s also very versatile and as we’ve seen he can play as a number 10, wide forward or on the wing.

He’s exactly what Spurs need and have been lacking. 

Underlying stats

His biggest strength lies in his forward passing. He regularly attempts final third passes behind the last line of pressure and is an elite passer in transition. He is able to ombine those long strides with a proactive and selfless attitude. Dejan loves to play football and it shows.

If you’re worried about Dejan regressing and that his fine form will come to an end after the initial excitement of a new move, worry not!

Statistics show how Dejan’s playing style has changed a from playing under Allegri to Conte. He is

  • Taking more shots per 90 minutes (2.09 to 2.70)
  • Attempting more passes per 90 (28.4 to 34.6)
  • Providing more shot-creating actions (2.68 to 2.96)
  • Playing less of a role in the defensive phase. His tackles dropping from 1.98 per 90 to 0.81 and his blocks going from 1.28 per 90 to 0.54.

These numbers highlight how Conte is playing Kulusevski as more of an attacking mid. His lower defensive stats are similar to the ones he posted during his breakout season with Parma in 2019-20. This suggests that he’ll continue to return to his best in a more attacking system!

Kulusevski was also asked about why it didn’t seem like he needed any time to gel with the Spurs team. Why did it click straight away when it didn’t at Juventus? Dejan replied:

Sometimes it’s like that in life. I don’t really know, but I can say that the coach was amazing to me. The sports director, I knew right away when I came in that they knew who I was. I did not have to prove anything. But they let me work on time. The players gave me a lot of time, always gave me the ball and I enjoyed it. I knew some from before and we just love playing football together. So I got to play against City and scored a goal and after that you just have to drive, you do not have to think about anything. You just have fun and enjoy.

Dejan Kulusevski

Overall

Dejan seems to have found his football-home and he has scored two goals and four assists in nine Premier League games. I suspect that what we have seen so far is only the beginning.

Spurs have got a special player in Dejan. If they manage to maintain his confidence and let him have the space to grow I believe he can become one of the best players in the Premier League!

Treat him well, please you Spurs fans, because in 2026 I’m fully expecting him to help Sweden to win the World Championship!!

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