Denmark Under-21 star Mikel Duelund has admitted that seeing the rise of compatriot Kasper Dolberg has “inspired” him.
Dolberg was one of the stars of the Ajax side that reached the final of the Europa League only to be beaten by Manchester United, and the manner in which the 19-year-old burst onto the scene is something that Duelund hopes to replicate as he prepares for the European Under-21 Championship with the national side.
“I know Kasper very well having played with him from the U16 to U19 for Denmark, and I am so happy for him for his success with Ajax. He has had an explosive development this season, and that gives me a lot of inspiration,” Duelund told Goal.
The Midtjylland youngster has been quietly making a name for himself in his homeland, having turned down the opportunity to play for a Premier League side earlier in his career. Despite playing largely as a central midfielder, he has carved out a niche for himself as a regular scorer. Indeed, only four teenagers have struck more in the history of Danish top-flight football and his scoring ratio for the Under-19s bettered that of Michael Laudrup and Jon Dahl Tomasson, two legends of the Danish game.
“It’s been great for my development to play a lot of games, scoring quite a few goals at the highest Danish level,” he explained. “It was important for me to reach double figures in all competitions this season, because I am a goal scoring type of player, even though I am a midfielder and not a striker.
“I am never satisfied with myself and would have liked to get more assists, score more goals. But I am happy with my development, and I am happy with the decision not to leave FC Midtjylland earlier to join a bigger club, where I could have ended up as a teenager in a youth squad with a long way to the first team.
“I feel that this season I have made my breakthrough into senior football in the Danish league, and I feel ready to take the next step if the right offer comes. On the other hand, I am sure that I could also develop myself for maybe one more year in Denmark. So I am not in panic to make a move here and now.”
Hitting 10 goals in all competitions was, indeed, an important milestone for the youngster but he is not ready to compare himself with the two aforementioned greats.
“It makes me proud, and it proves that I am moving in the right direction,” he said. “But I am only 19, and in Denmark they are both legends. Laudrup as our best player ever - and Tomasson for his goal scoring records for Denmark. So I can’t compare myself to them in any way.
“This winter I scored two goals for Denmark U-21 in a test game against the Uzbekistan A-team, and Jon Dahl Thomasson was there in the stadium in Dubai. I watched him scoring so many goals and admired him - and there he was watching me scoring goals. That felt great.
“The goalscoring stats for both my club and the U19 are important to me. I am a midfielder, but it has always - both as a youth player and in my first years as a senior - been an important part of my game to score goals and deliver assists for my team mates.”
It is little surprise, then, with a focus on attacking play, that he has attempted to draw some influence from compatriot Christian Eriksen, yet the Tottenham star is not the only player he seeks to learn from.
“Christian Eriksen is doing an amazing job for Tottenham, and he has developed into being such an important part of their attacking game, setting up so many goals,” he added.
“Eriksen is so decisive for his team, really clever and calm on the ball. When I watch him, I try to learn from him, and I have managed to turn my own game a bit in his direction, not only making goals and assists, but also by striving to make a footprint in every attack of my team.
“I want to make a difference in games. I admire midfielders like Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard for their goal scoring skills, and when I watch Liverpool, Real Madrid and Tottenham, I study Philippe Coutinho, Isco and Eriksen. Not to copy them, but to get inspiration for my own game.”
Now Duelund, who is one of the youngest members of the Danish squad, wants to catch the eye in the Under-21 competition, which will be fiercely competitive, with only the group winners certain of making it through to the semi-finals.
“It is a huge opportunity,” he admitted. “The Euros is a shop window, really, but it depends on so many things. I am quite new in the Denmark U21 team, stepping up from U19, so I don’t know what my role will be in the games.
“We have a good group of ambitious players, and most of them have been playing together for a few years now. I will do anything to grab my chance to show what I can do for the team on this level. It is a chance to measure yourself up against the best young players from the biggest leagues. If you can perform here, you can perform anywhere.
“Every tournament is all about hitting your top level exactly in this short space of time. This time the format of the U21 Euros is extremely competitive and could turn every group into a dogfight for first place.
“At my age it is all about developing, and being a part of such a competitive tournament is a great challenge - and a great experience to pick up. In the last U21 Euros, Denmark qualified for the semis, and even though that achievement will be even more difficult with this format, of course it’s our ambition to qualify from the group and go as far as possible.”
The Danes start their campaign on Sunday against Italy before matches against Germany and the Czech Republic follow on Wednesday and Saturday.