FEATURE | Dejan Kulusevski reveals he didn’t think he was good enough to make it as a professional footballer

Dejan Kulusevski grew up in a suburban district called Vallingby which lies in the western part of Stockholm, Sweden. He began his footballing career at Swedish side IF Brommapojkarna before joining the Nerazzurri (Atalanta BC) as a 16-year-old in a €3.5m move.

In an interview with OneFootball as part of the FedEx Next in Line series, Kulusevski describes how he began his footballing journey.

“The first time I played football outside of our house, I played with the guys that lived there.

“Then suddenly one parent saw me playing and he went straight up to my mom and told her that I have to play football and that I’m really talented and that she had to write me into a soccer team.”

Kulusevski didn’t quite believe he had the ability to make it as a professional footballer during his formative years but he made his first breakthrough at a tournament in Sweden where he was spotted by an Italian agent.

He told OneFootball: “And in the beginning, I didn’t even believe that I could play, you know. But then, you know, after some years, it happened. I met an agent from Italy that saw me in a tournament, I’d be 15 or 16 years old, and then the idea came about maybe I have to go to Europe, you know, to leave Sweden and become a man and fight with the best players.

“The strongest interest was from Atalanta, and I went there. I don’t know if I was ready, but it was just the chance that I had to take, you know. So, I went there with, like, literally knowing zero Italian. I lived alone without my parents, but I could not give up because, like my biggest idols in life never gave up. I never saw my father complain so that was not an option.”

The Swedish international flourished in Italy during a loan spell with Parma before joining Italian giants Juventus in 2020 for a fee worth €35m. Throughout his time in Italy he was awarded the ‘Serie A Best Young Player’ of the season which places him alongside recent winners such as, Victor Osimhen and Dušan Vlahović.

The now 22-year-old resides in North London with Tottenham Hotspur where he has established himself as one of the brightest young talents in the Premier League. Kulusevski believes the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium is the best arena in the world and expresses his admiration for the Spurs faithful.

I love Spurs stadium, it’s amazing. I think it’s the best arena in the world and the love I’m getting from the fans is the best feeling like I’m so happy the day before I have a home game because I would meet the fans, I would play on my favourite grass. It’s really, really my home.

Despite transitioning seamlessly from the Serie A to the Premier League, the 22-year-old admits he was surprised by the physical aspect of training but insists he sometimes enjoys the suffering it brings.

“The thing that surprised me the most is the physical part, like doing gym almost every day, going out, doing sprints. After that, maybe he tells you it’s another training in the afternoon, like you think you’re completely finished and you left it out there, but then after two hours you are there running for two more hours and doing like ten kilometres again.

“That’s something that like, I think it’s fun. It’s crazy to say, but sometimes suffering is a nice feeling. What we’re doing in the gym is not normal strength training. It’s like you have to use your whole body and they don’t want to just be standing around and lifting weights.”

His imposing physical prowess is remarkable for a winger with the Swede standing at 6ft 1in tall yet he remains agile and fleet-footed causing defenders all sorts of problems in a ‘one versus one’ scenario.

Kulusevski emphasises how meticulous Antonio Conte’s preparation is before matches with the Italian coach tending to note the opposing left-back’s weaknesses.

“So, we do a lot because Conte, he wants to help us. He wants to like give you the tools before the games. He wants to tell you what can happen. They always come to me sometimes before the games, telling me about the left back. He’s good at this he’s bad in this, and you know it’s good information, it’s so much details in football so like everything can be a help.”

Kulusevski is blossoming into the complete winger and the ‘Next in Line’ series is a fitting title for a player who is targeting the most prestigious trophies in football.

“A winner, that’s what I want to be. I want to win and win the big titles, win the World Cup, win the Champions League. So, a guy that won a lot but respected everybody and was a good teammate and always brought energy every day to the training and always thankful for the life that that God gave me.”

Mark Marston | Get Football

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