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Dejan Kulusevski: Serie A's Swedish teen star on Arsenal's radar

12:00 GMT 07/11/2019
Dejan Kulusevski NxGn
The 19-year-old has been in superb form for Parma after joining on loan from Atalanta and the Gunners are now circling around a player they know well

Tales of how close Arsenal had come to signing some of the world's biggest stars became synonymous with Arsene Wenger's time in charge of the English club.

The Frenchman claimed that the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Kylian Mbappe and Paul Pogba were all nearly brought to north London before they had become household names.

Dejan Kulusevski could be the next name added to Wenger's illustrious list of the ones that got away.

The 19-year-old Swedish youth international currently plies his trade at Parma, having been signed on loan from Atalanta during the summer, and has not yet proven himself a world-class performer.

However, if his early performances in Serie A are anything to go by, it is only a matter of time before he becomes another cause for regret at the Emirates.

Kulusevski's story begins in Stockholm, where he was born to North Macedonian parents and gained a love for football through his sister, Sandra.

Having been spotted playing on the street by a neighbour at the age of six, his parents enrolled him into the famous Brommapojkarna youth academy, which boasts a number of Swedish international players among its alumni, including Anders Limpar and John Guidetti.

From there, Kulusevski progressed through various under-age sides, beginning life as a defender before being gradually moved up the pitch into midfield.

At 16, he was scouted while playing in a youth tournament by the head of Atalanta's Zingonia academy, Maurizio Costanzi.

It is here where Arsenal get involved, with the Premier League giants also taking a keen interest in a player who was being tipped for great things by those in the know in Scandinavia.

The final decision was left with Kulusevski, and he eventually chose Atalanta, who paid €100,000 (£86,000/$111,000) to Brommapojkarna to secure his services.

During his first season in Italy, he scored 17 goals in just 22 appearances from midfielder for Atalanta's Under-17 side, while being used as a more attacking substitute within the club's Primavera, or U19s.

His big break came during the 2018-19 campaign as he helped Atalanta win the national Primavera Championship for just the third time in their history while also being awarded the Morosini prize for the best player in the final stages of the competition.

Kulusevski's performances at youth level also saw him catch the eye of first-team manager Gian Piero Gasperini and he was handed his senior debut in January 2019 as a substitute in a 5-0 win over Frosinone.

He went onto make just two further appearances off the bench as the Bergamo outfit closed in on, and eventually secured, an unexpected third-placed finish in Serie A.

However, figuring that opportunities in the senior set-up would again be limited following Atalanta's qualification for the Champions League, Kulusevski joined Parma on a season-long loan in July, and was immediately handed his first Serie A start on the opening day of the season against defending champions Juventus.

He lasted less than an hour against the Bianconeri before being replaced, but just a week later he showed Gialloblu boss Roberto D'Aversa exactly what he was capable of as he provided two assists from his position on the right wing in a 3-1 win over Udinese.

He has since gone from strength to strength, scoring his first senior goal against Torino in September before playing a direct role in three of his side's five goals (one goal, two assists) against Genoa a month later.

Even when not finding the net or providing a killer pass for a team-mate to score, Kulusevski can still shine, with his showing in the recent 2-2 draw with Inter from a more central position a true illustration of his ability both as a passer and a dribbler within the final third.

A real physical presence at 6'1" (1.86 metres), he has also struck up an excellent understanding with Gervinho, with Kulusevski's history of playing five-a-side as well as his defensive upbringing allowing him to know when to drop back and cover the spaces behind the Ivorian forward.

"If you analyse the data, you can see that he is a boy who in every game covers 13-14 kilometres," D'Aversa said of his young charge in a recent interview. 

"If he learns to manage himself, to be less frantic and more decisive, he can really become an important player. I have no fear of saying that he can become a top player."

Kulusevski's immediate future involves helping Parma remain clear of a relegation battle in Serie A, with his two goals and five assists in 11 league starts so far this season providing him with the perfect platform to really kick on as we enter the winter months.

He may also be a bolter for Sweden's Euro 2020 squad, having made his debut for their U21s in September, despite previously representing North Macedonia at schoolboy level.

Atalanta, meanwhile, are already looking forward to welcoming Kulusevski back at the end of the campaign, though keeping a hold of him could be difficult.

Manchester City have previously been linked with the teenager, but it is Arsenal – the team he turned down over three years ago – who are emerging as his most serious suitors.

The Gunners are rumoured to have held talks over a deal worth up to €25 million (£21.5m/$27.7m) and if Mesut Ozil has no long-term future at the Emirates and Dani Ceballos is not kept on a permanent basis, then Kulusevski may well prove to be the No.10 that Arsenal fans have been calling for.

They might just wish they had not had to wait quite this long to get their hands on him.