A Letter to Spurs Fans

Sam Maller/The Players' Tribune

Dear Spurs fans,

It’s never been a big deal for me to tell my story. To some people in England, I’m probably still the Swedish guy with the funny name who came over from Italy. 

But I’ve spent more than two years at this club now, and I have some things that I’d like to share with you. Some crazy stories. Some life lessons. Maybe some stuff that can inspire a kid or two. It’s funny to look back now, because when I came here, I don’t think many people in England expected much of me. 

To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect of myself either. 

As a footballer, I was in a bad place. 

I had barely started a game at Juventus for six months. You feel terrible, because you’ve given your life to play this game, training as hard as you can, and you end up watching players play in your position that are not even wingers. Honestly, I felt embarrassed, even worthless. Some people began saying that I wasn’t good enough, that I was too slow. And it affects you, 100%. It’s normal, it’s human. When you begin to believe them, that’s the devil right there. 

I should have shut out the noise, because the only critic I respect is my older sister, Sandra. And she is brutal. Even when I’m scoring, she’ll be like, “You’ve lost it. You don’t have the hunger. You’re too comfortable.”


But Sandra is telling the truth. She has seen me play since I was a kid, and when something is bothering me, she can tell. When I was struggling at Juve, she said, “Deki, when did you become weak?” 

I knew I had to get away.

Dejan Kulusevski | A Letter to Spurs Fans | The Players' Tribune
Sam Maller/The Players' Tribune

One day I asked my agent Ale, “Can you find me something?”

He was like, “Yeah, it’s gonna be hard,” because it was January 2022, a few days before the transfer window closed, and we were running out of time. But then he called me back and said that Tottenham were interested. 

I was like, “Yes! We’re leaving. When’s the next flight?”

He said it left in an hour, so I ran to my room and started packing. I was there with my girlfriend, Eldina, and I just started crying. And then she started crying. We had no idea why. There were just so many things happening at once. We kissed, cried some more, and I left for the airport. No way was I missing that flight. 

After a few days at Spurs, I realised how tough this challenge was going to be.

The Premier League goes 300 times faster than any other league in the world, and in the first training session I didn’t understand anything. Players were flying past me, Conte was shouting and pointing. I had joined Spurs on an 18-month loan with an “option to buy,” as they say, so if I was going to get a permanent deal, I had to perform. But my first game was an absolute disaster. 

You remember it, right? I’ll never forget it. 

We were leading 2–1 at home to Southampton, and my job was to lock up the win. 

76th minute: I come on. 

79th minute: Goal Southampton. 

82nd minute: Goal Southampton.

Full-time: Spurs 2–3 Southampton.

Nice start, Deki. 

My sister completely killed me. Even my agent was like, “Hey, come on … it happens.” Just trying to be nice, you know?

Four days later, I go again. Wolves at home. Got to be three points. I start on the bench, but Conte puts me on after half an hour.

Dejan Kulusevski | A Letter to Spurs Fans | The Players' Tribun
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About an hour later, I have zero goals. I have zero assists. 

I have one yellow card. 

Spurs 0–2 Wolves.

What the f*** is going on?

My sister calls me, and she just starts to laugh. 

“Hopeless, Deki…. Hopeless….”

You know, I used to be like most kids. I would look at the pros and think that dreams never came true for normal people like me. 

My only advantage was that I knew a superhero: Balkan Dad. 

If you want to understand who I am, you have to know about my father, Stefan. He was born in Sweden to Macedonian parents, and he has the original Balkan mentality. When I began playing for Brommapojkarna, my team in Stockholm, he would drive me to games in the morning, but he also worked night shifts at the Arlanda Airport, supervising the shuttle bus service. He’s been working there for 25 years, and his mother drove the same bus. If you have flown to Stockholm, there’s a good chance that you’ve caught a ride with Grandma. 

When my father came home from the night shift, he would go straight into the kitchen, make me breakfast and drive me to the game. Without sleep.

And he never complained. Never

One day I had this game where I was barely running, and at halftime you could tell that my father was angry. Of course, this is Sweden, so the normal thing would have been for him to take me aside and have a quiet word. But in front of everybody — parents, coaches, teammates — he started screaming at me. 

He said, “I swear on my life, if you don’t start doing more, I’m gonna drive home and leave you right here.” 

Bro, I was so embarrassed I could have died. 

But he was right, you know? He had stayed up for 20 hours to be there. He wanted me to give everything, because he was giving everything for me. 

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Courtesy of Dejan Kulusevski

When I started travelling with Brommapojkarna to play teams abroad, he was always there, alone — Azerbaijan, Italy, Germany. He would save up money to take my sister and me to Champions League games in London and Milan. “Kids, take some time off school next week, we’re going to London.” That was it. 

And that’s the Balkan way. My father never talked about how hard he worked or how much he sacrificed. He just did it. 

As a footballer, and as a person, watching him was the best education possible.

I don’t know when, but at some point a switch flicked inside my head. A few years ago someone dug up a video from a presentation I made at school. We had a teacher who made us write about what we wanted to do, and then we would go up in front of the class and do our own little TED Talk. I was talking about my dream to become a footballer, but the crazy thing is that I was 10 or 11 years old, and I was already saying the things I’m saying now. 

I was like, “To me, succeeding is doing it my way, and not someone else’s way. Nobody decides what or how I’m going to do it.”

“If you’re failing, keep going until you succeed.”

“Nothing is impossible. The impossible just takes a bit longer.”

I still get emotional when I watch it. I actually feel sorry for that kid, because he wanted it SO much. 

Five years later, that kid moved to Italy to play for Atalanta. 

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Courtesy of Dejan Kulusevski

I wish I could tell you that Italy was easy, but I have to be real here. The first six months, I wanted to go home many times. There was a problem with my registration, and I got injured as well, so I didn’t play a game for a whole year. I was living in a tiny room with a bed, a TV and a toilet. I went to school seven hours a day, but I didn’t understand anything, so I’d sit there and write down rhymes and football formations, bored out of my mind. Once I got home, I would watch TV or speak to my mother for hours. Stuff like, “How was your day? How’s Sweden? What are you doing?” 

We spoke every single day. My mother, Katica, was born and raised in Macedonia, and like my father she has so much love for her family. We still speak every day. Even before I was doing this article, she was like, “Don’t say nothing stupid.”

When I was in Italy, she was like, “Come home! Come back to Sweden.” But I had this voice telling me no

Giving up is what everybody does, and you can’t do what everybody does. 

I just had to dig it out. 

Thank God for Joel Asoro, my best friend. We had been playing football together since we were kids, and when I was in Italy, we would connect online and have these all-night PlayStation marathons. We’d put on our headsets, hook up on Skype and play Pro Clubs and NBA 2K. My Park was basically our lives. And we were so bad! We went on a losing streak of 30 games. There must have been kids out there going, “Jeeeeeez, who are these guys?”

Well, I’ll tell you who we are. Joel and I are grinders. We don’t stop. Joel is playing at Metz now in Ligue 1, but back then he was at Sunderland trying to break into the first team, and every night we would hype each other up. 

Joel would be like, “Yeah, in training today I did this crazy move.”

And I would go, “Bro, you’re crushing it. Listen, in a few years we’re gonna play for Sweden, and we’re gonna kill everybody.”

Things got better once I learned Italian. When I started training with the Atalanta first team, that’s when I really, really started to believe that I could become a football player. And that was a sick team. I’ve never in my life seen a team play like those guys. They scored like 100 goals one season, and I’m so happy that I got to start my career there.

Dejan Kulusevski | A Letter to Spurs Fans | The Players' Tribune
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The first senior game, I played well. 

Second game, bad. 

Third game, bad again … and I was out! 

They sent me back to the U19s. I was like, What happened? Am I not good enough? Everybody thought I had gotten into a fight or something. When I played with the U19s, people were like, Ah, he doesn’t give his best anymore. Like there must have been a reason. Some people were basically saying, “Look, he’s gonna f*** up.” 

But when everybody is against me, that’s when God gives me the most power. 

This was in early 2019, and the next three months I played unbelievable football. If we had lost, I’d go back to my room and dribble around with a small ball for an hour, put on J. Cole on max volume and do a hundred pushups. We won the U19 Campionato Primavera 1 for the first time in 21 years. Then I went on loan to Parma, I was named the Serie A Young Player of the Season, and I was signed by Juventus.

What can I say? I guess I get easily inspired.

Dejan Kulusevski | A Letter to Spurs Fans | The Players' Tribune
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There is one more story I have to tell you about my time at Atalanta. In 2020, COVID broke out and Bergamo was one of the worst places to be. We couldn’t go out on the street, so I was playing NBA 2K like 26 hours a day. Luckily I found a flight back to Stockholm, and there everything was open. One day I’m out on the football pitch where I used to play as a kid. It’s me and some friends chilling and playing rondos … but then I see this girl. She’s training with her team. 

I ask my friends, “Hey, who’s that girl?”

They’re like, “No, no, Deki, she’s way older than you.”

I’m just like, “Oh … O.K.”

But I keep looking at her. I don’t care about the rondo anymore. You know that feeling when you get a crush, and your whole body shuts down? It’s totally crazy. You can’t think of anything else. When I come home, I do what my generation does: I follow her on Instagram. 

A bit later…. PING! 

She’s followed me back. 

Now I’m really sweating. You see, when I’m on the pitch, I have this confidence. I’m The Man. Almost too confident. But talking to a girl? I turn into a shy little Swedish boy. I can’t help it. After a lot of thinking, I’m like, O.K., I’m gonna write to her … but I’m gonna talk about football


I write, “Hey, you are a really good player.”

Press send and wait. 


She replies! We begin talking. Things happen quickly, and long story short, that girl is now going to be my wife. Eldina used to be the captain and number 10 at Brommapojkarna, and she is an unbelievable player. We have been together for four years now. How we met is still a miracle to me. 

Nobody can write a script like life itself. 

My period at Juventus was a chance to learn from legends. I got to know Zlatan when he made his comeback for Sweden — at the age of 39 — and he was like, “Listen, I'm too nice to you guys. You should see me in Milan.”

I didn't know what he meant until I visited his house one day and he told me he was training seven hours a day. Seven hours! The guy is 42 now and he’s still posting pictures and videos of himself training like an animal. What the hell is he training for?! Nobody knows. He’s just being Zlatan. 

And Cristiano? What a guy, man. After training everyone would be on their phones, tap, tap tap, but not him. You could see how hard he worked, how much he wanted it, even though he had nothing left to prove. I gotta be honest, I have never been the type to ask teammates for favours, but I asked Cristiano to sign his shirt, and I gave it to my mother.

Five years earlier we had been talking about me moving back to Sweden, maybe get a normal job. Now I was playing with one of the greatest of all time. 

Dreams do come true for normal people. 

Dejan Kulusevski | A Letter to Spurs Fans | The Players' Tribune
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I know the feeling is that I failed at Juventus. Well, I think that’s a strange thing to say when I won two trophies, played in both finals, and decided one of them with a goal and an assist against my former team Atalanta. But in those last six months, it is true that I had a difficult time. When I came to Spurs, I didn’t know how to get out of this negative spiral. 

“Hopeless, Deki … hopeless.”

So what happened? After the Wolves game, Conte told me that I would start my first Premier League game … away to Man City. 

Honestly, it felt like a joke. I was happy that I was going to start, but I was very nervous, and when we were lining up before the game, I remembered the stuff from Italy. 

“He’s not good enough.”

“He’s too slow.”

“Look, he’s gonna f*** up.”

The devil’s work. 

We all remember that game. Three minutes in, I score, and it’s like 30 kilos fall off my shoulders. Then in injury time, at 2–2, I put in a cross for Harry, who heads it in. Everyone starts running to him, but I’m on the other side, so I turn, I watch the fans and I scream as loud as I can. 

“I’m him! I’M HIM!”

Just hyping myself up. 

Dejan Kulusevski | A Letter to Spurs Fans | The Players' Tribune
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And I’m not exaggerating: That moment was one of the happiest of my life. It’s the most alive I’ve ever felt in my life. I remember thinking, I don’t care about nobody anymore. Nobody can tell me again that I cannot play this game. Nobody can tell me what I can and cannot do. 

Well, except Sandra, but even she was happy. She told me.

“Finally, your first good game in three months….”

In June last year, I signed a permanent deal at Spurs. 

It’s one of the easiest decisions I’ve made. 

Playing for this club is like being part of a family. Going into training, you love everybody. I’m going to become a father soon, and many of my teammates just got a kid, so we talk a lot about parenthood. I already know that the day I leave Spurs, the part I’ll miss the most is the dressing room. 

I think a lot of our family atmosphere is down to Ange. 

Dejan Kulusevski | A Letter to Spurs Fans | The Players' Tribune
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Ange is brave, and he makes you brave. He doesn’t say a lot, but when he speaks, we can listen for hours. You can tell that he’s been through a lot, and he often talks about what he learned from his father. He is different from any other coach I’ve had. Everybody talks about tactics and winning, and that’s good, but with Ange it means a little bit more, because it’s about you as a person. It’s about you as a man and what you believe in. 

Ange says, “I don’t care if we lose, because everyone loses in life. If we lose, we’re going to lose on our terms. Never go away from being you.”

And that’s how I want to live my life. O.K., we’re gonna face the best, but we’re gonna do it our way. We’re gonna play like we did all our lives. 

Let me be clear: We want to win. We are fighting so hard to give you the trophies you deserve. We train for you, we eat for you, we sleep for you. We know that this club changes lives. It’s a huge deal to me when I see people wearing my shirt, because that means we connect on some level. And I still find it incredible that I can simply score a goal and send 60,000 people home happy.

But we are also a young team with many new players. We’re not gonna win every game. And actually, Ange never speaks about trophies. He says, “Yes, we’ll get there, but first of all we have to become us. We have to find ourselves.”

Dejan Kulusevski | A Letter to Spurs Fans | The Players' Tribune
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That’s why that Chelsea game back in November was so special. 

Maybe it’s weird to talk about a game that we lost, especially when we just beat Villa away, but that Chelsea game said so much about what we are trying to do. When it was half-time and 1–1, Ange was very calm. Romero had been sent off, but he didn’t tell us to sit back and defend. He just said, “We know who we are.” 

Then Destiny got a red card, and things got very difficult. I know that a lot of people thought we were crazy for playing such a high line with nine men. 

We were naive. We were Spursy

But you know what I remember from that game? 

I remember the moments near the end when we almost made it 2–2. I remember Vicario saving shots with an energy that was bigger than the entire stadium. I remember that we kept attacking, and not because Ange had told us to, because when Destiny got sent off he had no way of talking to all of us. No, we kept attacking because we felt it was the right thing to do. 

Ange was proud of that. We never stopped being us. 

But my favourite moment was after the game. When we had lost 4–1, and we went over to the fans. You didn’t boo us. You didn’t whistle us.  

You applauded us. 

You understood what it meant. 

Yes, we had lost a game. 

But we won in life. 

Dejan Kulusevski | A Letter to Spurs Fans | The Players' Tribune
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I’m so grateful that this journey has led me here. I’m so happy that this is the place where I’m gonna start my life as a father. When I look back, life has given me everything I’ve needed from so many amazing people. 

So to my parents, for always being there.

To my sister, the only critic who has ever helped me. 

To Eldina, for making my life so incredible.

And to you, the fans, for your unbelievable support.

From the bottom of my heart.

Thank you.

– Deki