STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Dejan Kulusevski’s calm and confident nature will be key if the Swedish midfielder is to succeed at Italian giants Juventus, having already displayed a maturity beyond his years in his break-out Serie A season, his former coach told Reuters.
Kulusevski was sold to Juve by Atalanta on Jan. 2 for an initial fee of 35 million euros ($39 million) but Andreas Engelmark, who coached him at Stockholm side Brommapojkarna (BP), says the price tag will not change him.
“He’s still the same guy, calm and with great confidence in himself, and also very humble. That combination has taken him where he is now. It’s taken him to Juventus,” Engelmark told Reuters.
The 19-year-old is expected to see out the season at Parma, where he is currently on loan and has scored four goals and created seven more in 17 appearances, before joining up with the Turin club.
“When he starts to play games for Juventus in six months, before he goes out on the field I think he’s going to be like he was going out on our home ground at Grimsta, or Parma or Atalanta - he’s just going to play. That’s how he is,” Engelmark said.
The coach first met Kulusevski in 2012 when he took over BP’s youth team for boys born in 1999, and though the attacking midfielder was born a year later than most of his team mates, he still stood out.
“I had him until he moved to Italy (to Atalanta in 2016). He was a good dribbler, a good attacking player, but over the years he became better and better at learning the whole game,” said Engelmark, who is now first-team assistant coach and technical director at BP.
“The year before he left for Atalanta, things started to happen with his body. He became physically stronger, his play developed, he became a much more complete player.”
Brommapojkarna is one of Europe’s biggest clubs in terms of the number of registered players, and has previously produced internationals such as former Arsenal and Everton favourite Anders Limpar and former Manchester City forward John Guidetti.
Kulusevski’s coaches realised how far the youngster had come when BP demolished a Hammarby youth team in a tournament in the spring of 2015.
“We won 6-2, Dejan scored three goals and had two assists. He was fantastic, and we said to ourselves, ‘something is happening here’. That spring until the summer, he was dominant,” Engelmark recalled.
Shortly afterwards Kulusevski pulled the strings as BP defeated Atalanta 1-0 in a friendly and the Italian club later snapped up the talented left-footer for their youth academy.
He went on to make three senior appearances for Atalanta before being loaned out to Parma, where his superb start to the season resulted in Juve’s decision to buy him.
Engelmark revealed that he had met Kulusevksi recently while he was home in Sweden from Italy over the winter break, and that the player is keen to keep on improving his all-round game despite his big-money move.
“He’s still very young, so there’s a lot he can get better at. As an offensive midfielder it’s about being even more consistent, dominating matches for 90 minutes at this level,” Engelmark explained.
“He is a very calm and decent guy ... he has all the qualities, physique, game intelligence, technique, but in Juventus they will demand even more,” he added.
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Reporting by Philip O'Connor; Editing by Toby Davis