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Dejan Kulusevski’s positional versatility is key to Tottenham’s transfer window

The Swedish forward can operate in a variety of roles and areas for Spurs.

Juventus Press Conference Photo by Daniele Badolato - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images

It has all but been officially confirmed by Tottenham Hotspur that Swedish international Dejan Kulusevski will be leaving Juventus and join Spurs at least for the remainder of the season. Signed on loan with a buy option that would turn into a buy obligation depending on appearances and Spurs ending in a Champions League place, Kulusevski is the type of player and prospect that Spurs are hoping can alleviate some of the goal-scoring burden placed upon Harry Kane and Heung-min Son.

After weeks of a lot of capitulation in the transfer window, Spurs saw many of their desired transfer targets — from non-league Lewes’ Ollie Tanner to Porto’s-now-Liverpool’s Luis Díaz — fall through. With the transfer window ending on Monday and Spurs’ realistic chances in finishing in the Top 4 since the 2018-19 season, it was imperative that Spurs brought in some reinforcements to beef up and shape up the squad.

A lot has been made about Spurs’ transfers — both in terms of talent and their ability to take the next step in their development. From Tanguy Ndombele in 2019 to even Emerson Royal in 2021, Spurs’ recent transfer incomings have not quite lived up to expectations just yet. After appointing Fabio Paratici, the former Juventus man himself, to handle the football side of the things, many expected Spurs to have once again a busy transfer window, with tons of ins and outs looking to improve Antonio Conte’s options. And while it got nervy at times, Paratici seemingly crossed the finish line late in the window with his old club by prying away two players in Kulusevski and Rodrigo Bentancur.

We all know that the January transfer window provides for a lot of struggle and heartbreak and that occurred less than a few days ago when Spurs lost out on Díaz to Liverpool. Even when the news broke that Spurs were in for Díaz, it felt similar to the club’s efforts in procuring Milan Škriniar and Paulo Dybala in recent windows. It felt that it was the perfect transfer target to tip off their fans that they were trying, but ultimately not going to get there in the end.

And while Díaz has a ton of upside, the reality is that Spurs could have certainly done worse than Kulusevski. For starters, Kulusevski (21) is younger than Díaz (25). He comes from a league that is better for his progression and development playing against better competition in the Serie A. And, Kulusevski is a player that operates with comfort on the right side. Spurs have caught flack from their supporters in recent years for bringing in left-wingers who are primarily right-footed. Díaz falls in the aforementioned category, whereas Kulusevski, left-footed, can bring a certain dimension that Spurs have lacked for so long. As part of an article looking at five 2020 Euros players for Spurs to monitor, I had this to say about Kulusevski:

Another Juventus option, Kulusevski has become one of the more well-known attacking forwards in Italy over the past couple of seasons. When Atalanta had loaned Kulusevski to Parma, it gave him the ability to get a consistent stretch of games and the Swedish international took full advantage of it. Similar to [Mikkel] Damsgaard above, Kulusevski can also play a few different roles. Not only is he tall and strong, but Kulusevski is extremely quick. He is a quality passer of the ball and has serious potential to continue to grow and develop at just 21 years of age. A short time ago, Spurs had so much capital invested in wingers. However, with the future of Gareth Bale up in the air, Erik Lamela and Lucas Moura possibly leaving the club, Spurs could benefit by addressing this position to give a consistent threat across the pitch from Son Heung-min. Still young and improving, Kulusevski fits the profile. Add in the history with Paratici and a move for the Swede makes too much sense for Spurs.

In addition, Kulusevski’s greatest trait is his positional versatility. Conte’s Spurs have shape-shifted back and forth between a 3-4-3 and a 3-5-2 since the Italian was appointed. Of the two shapes, Spurs have predominantly featured the 3-4-3 shape with Son and Lucas Moura sitting off of Kane in the front three, but two of their best performances have come in the 3-5-2 shape (Liverpool home, Leicester away).

With Kulusevski in the fold, he gives Conte a lot of freedom to try out new options. Kulusevski’s most natural position falls as the right wing in the 3-4-3. However, he can play in a front two in the 3-5-2, at the 10, and he also has the range and showcases the work rate to play as a right-sided midfielder in the 3-5-2 should Spurs want to feature a lineup that has more of an attacking impetus. Due to that potential, Kulusevski will likely replace Lucas on the right flank over time as the Swedish international gets more and more accustomed to the club and the league. But Lucas’ impact can still be utilized elsewhere for Spurs, whether that is off the bench as an impact substitute or even in an additional role.

When Conte was appointed, many wondered if Lucas could possibly make a transition from a forward to a ball-carrying wingback as Conte did at Chelsea with Victor Moses. It has been known that Spurs want more of an attacking threat from their right wing-back spot. And should Kulusevski replace Lucas up the pitch, Lucas’ raw combination of burst, acceleration and dribbling ability could make him a prime candidate to chip in as a wingback for Conte.

And if that is the route that Conte does pursue, it could provide a stopgap solution there until the summer when transfer business is easier for the club to bring in another option. It is these little bits of Kulusevski’s game and potential that make him so versatile and valuable to the squad and the club as a whole.

It has been a tough ride for the Turin-based club this season, as they currently sit fifth in the Serie A. But at his age, Kulusevski has immense potential and is the perfect profile of player that Spurs should be investing in. After all, this was a player on loan two seasons ago at Parma that single-handedly kept the club up en route to winning the Serie A’s Best Young Player award. Also, quick reminder that Cristian Romero won Serie A’s Best Defender award just a season ago, too.

Spurs have been linked with Kulusevski for quite some time. And while Spurs have made strides in trying to bring in another goal-scoring threat by bringing in players like Steven Bergwijn and Bryan Gil, neither provide the potential and have showcased the playing impact at such a young age as Kulusevski has displayed.

Due to the timing of their transfers and their relevancy towards another, Kulusevski and Díaz are probably going to be compared by Spurs supporters for quite a bit. But to me, Kulusevski’s raw tools and goal-creating output paired with his positional flexibility provides for a perfect January transfer target. Additionally, this deal has the potential to be a really, really good piece of business for Spurs. The high-upside nature of the deal provides for Spurs to deploy yet another goal-scoring threat in a dimension they have not had in quite some time. If Spurs qualify for Top 4, this deal will truly and quite literally sell itself.

Follow me on Twitter @RyanSRatty.