One of Tottenham Hotspur’s biggest X-factors in the 2021-22 season, Dejan Kulusevski exemplified the adage of ‘hit the ground running’ when he arrived at the club last January. In this window, Spurs tried but ultimately failed to add a number of players they had targeted. Most notable was Porto’s Luis Díaz, who lost to Spurs after trying to ‘gazump’ Liverpool for the first time. Towards the end of the January window, Spurs chief football officer Fabio Paratici returned to the familiar Italy and Juventus well by adding the duo Rodrigo Bentancur and Kulusevski.
The duo immediately became key contributors to Spurs in their slim prospects of finishing in a Champions League place. Of the two, Kulusevski was the more attractive option. At Juve, Kulusevski was sputtering under new manager Massimiliano Allegri, his playing time dwindling. Since Cristiano Ronaldo left Juve, the Turin-based Serie A superpower has seen a fall from grace and Kulusevski has become a bystander. Even after Kulusevski was loaned out to Spurs, Juve fans were more than happy to see him go – in the hope that his move would become permanent over time.
Kulusevski’s arrival at Spurs became the perfect sliding-door moment for the Swede as he entered a much improved environment under Antonio Conte and with a team making the right adjustments and moving in the right direction. The marriage was not only perfect for Kulusevski, but also perfect for Spurs. Apart from Harry Kane and Heung-min Son, Spurs had been trying for years to find a perfect complementary piece apart from their two stars. Lucas Moura and Steven Bergwijn have been tried time and time again under multiple managers, but Kane and Son’s impact was taken to the next level when Kulusevski entered the fold.
To start, Kulusevski immediately grabbed the right-winger position and made it his own as part of Conte’s preferred 3-4-3 form. With Kulusevski there, Spurs finally had a striker playing on the right side who was left-footed. We know how important and critical that can be – Gareth Bale and Arjen Robben are two examples of recent players who have excelled on the right largely due to the threat they posed by cutting inside with their strong foot .
In the attacking position on the right side, Kulusevski, with Son on the opposite side, was essentially asked to play in two number ten roles. It was the perfect role for Kulusevski, who has the ideal characteristics for the spot. Although he is only 22, Kulusevski plays like an experienced veteran. He has exceptional decision-making skills, he is extremely strong on the ball and does well in holding off defenders. While he’s certainly not the fastest player, he makes up for it with his hold-up play and his unique ability to win one-on-one duels against defenders in dangerous areas. It’s been said here and there before, but Kulusevski is a lot like Kane in that he won’t beat you with his athleticism and speed, but he can find ways to manipulate defenses and defenders with his footballing intelligence and to his game. -reading ability.
Apart from being a unique player in the attacking third, “Deki” proved to be a perfect cog in Conte’s setup as he could not only do what was asked of him in the game patterns and tactics of the Italian manager, but he can ad lib and improvise on the spot. Kulusevski is also a constant runner. He spoke out about preferring to ‘suffer’ – a theme Conte reiterated at the start of his tenure at Spurs. With Kulusevski, Spurs get a player who takes no rest. He’s not only dangerous in attack or on the counter, but he’s a calm player in defense and bonds well with Spurs’ right-backs when playing at the back, especially Matt Doherty before the late injury. Irish season.
We’ve already covered how Conte simplifies instructions and directions based on what a player can do well and how those skills can fit in with the rest of the team. It’s no surprise, then, that Doherty’s best run of his Spurs career came after Kulusevski got used to the setup and the way Spurs were playing. After years of being a team mainly focused on building and attacking via the left side with Sergio Reguilón and Son, Spurs became much more balanced and dangerous when Kulusevski established himself at Spurs, as the opponents were not no longer able to focus on Spurs. left flank.
And despite all the good things we can say about Kulusevski, the truth is that he continues to be disrespected in the football media. When Spurs signed Richarlison towards the end of last week, many people seemed to forget about Kulusevski in this current iteration of Spurs. In just 18 games last season, Kulusevski had five goals and eight assists. If you extrapolate that over an entire 38-game league campaign, Kulusevski would be just outside the top 10 in goals and lead the league in assists by a pretty wide margin – Mohamed Salah finished with just 13. And that’s despite the fact he is only 22 years old and was officially registered in the Premier League on the very last day of January.
It may be because of the way he plays or the fact that his name has been circulating in European markets for some time, but Kulusevski seems to be forgotten when people think of the best players under 25 in the world. As mentioned, Kulusevski has been part of Europe’s elite club circles for several years since breaking through with Atalanta at the end of the 2019 season. I Nerazzurri, known for producing talent especially in Italy, sent Kulusevski on loan to Parma where he quickly made a name for himself – so much so that Juve splashed big on him in the January window of this season before sending him back to Parma on loan to continue with his development. In Parma, Kulusevski received the award for the best young player of the season in Serie A, with ten goals and nine assists. So, although Kulusevski didn’t enjoy the same form during his time at his parent club Juve (his playing time dwindled when Juve loaned out Federico Chiesa under Allegri), he was still a player believed in. at the time despite his young age and inexperience. It should perhaps come as no surprise that Deki’s move to Juventus was orchestrated by none other than Paratici himself.
So while Juve fans were happy to see Kulusevski go, he looks like the dangerous player many Serie A watchers saw during his time at Parma again. At Parma, albeit in a worse league, the whole setup was based on him as he was clearly their best player. At Spurs, Kulusevski isn’t even second fiddle and he has the perfect complementary traits and the perfect manager to develop him even further.
Kulusevski has all the intangibles managers can work with and he proves time and again how important he can be for Tottenham. There are abilities in his game that can make him one of the best players in the league as he continues to get used to playing in England. And with Kane (28) and Son (30 on Friday) getting older, Spurs have the perfect player in Kulusevski to relieve Spurs’ main pair. He has a perfect opportunity to become one of England’s best strikers.
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