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Evelina Duljan: The ‘unbelievable’ Juventus & Sweden teen who made her debut at 14

12:00 EAT 15/12/2022
Evelina Duljan NXGN GFX
The 19-year-old Swede only started playing football at the age of 11, making what she has achieved so far even more remarkable

Sweden’s women’s national team has been incredibly close to winning a major title on several occasions, and going into the women’s European Championship in 2022, they were a popular tip to lift the trophy.

In the end, that dream was crushed by eventual champions England in the semi-finals. It meant another chance of glory went begging for this generation of players – featuring legendary midfielder Caroline Seger, iconic playmaker Kosovare Asllani and Chelsea captain Magdalena Eriksson, among others.

With the Women’s World Cup to come in the summer of 2023, there may well be another chance for them to triumph, but there will not be many more opportunities for some of those players, with only two of the 23 in Peter Gerhardsson’s Euro 2022 squad under the age of 25.

It raises curiosities, then, over what the next generation will look like for Sweden. NXGN 2021 winner Hanna Bennison is already fully integrated into Gerhardsson’s plans, but there are plenty of talents bubbling under the surface, too, ready to explode onto the scene.

One of those is Evelina Duljan, the versatile 19-year-old who signed for Juventus in August. She didn’t believe she would see much playing time in her first year in Italy, but that she’s already defying that expectation tells you a lot about her talent.

But what is it that makes the teenager so special? Allow NXGN to explain…

  • Evelina Duljan Elisabet Gunnarsdottir Kristianstads 2018

    Where it all began

    Born in Kristianstad, Sweden, it's perhaps no surprise that Duljan’s story doesn't start with football. The city's handball team was founded way back in 1899 and is one of the best in the country - and that is the sport that Duljan would play throughout her childhood.

    Remarkably, considering where she is today, the Juventus starlet only took up football when she was 11 years old. Yet, her obsession with it would see her excel, and she signed for Kristianstad’s women’s football team two years later.

    “Automatically, the first thing you see is her technical ability,” Elisabet Gunnarsdottir, head coach of the first team since 2011, tells NXGN. “What she can do with a ball is unbelievable and has always been.

    “I remember every single moment of seeing her outside the football fields, she had a ball. You would never see her without a ball - or having something that looks like a ball to kick.

    “I've seen her kicking socks, making a ball out of them and just juggling and kicking that. I've also seen her with a rock, a small rock, juggling. Every single time there's something. I remember it being like this since I saw her the first time.”

  • Evelina Duljan Kristianstads

    The big break

    This wasn’t just a football-mad kid, though. Duljan was, despite her late introduction to the sport, also very good at it. She was so good, in fact, that at the age of 14, she was given her senior debut by Gunnarsdottir in the Damallsvenskan, the Swedish top-flight.

    “Her speed and strength were like maybe a 16-or-17-year-old's,” the coach explains, believing that was down to “a lot of spontaneous football out in the streets”.

    “She could do the same things as the 16-or-17-year-old players were doing. She started training with them as well when she was 14, so I wanted to try [her in the first team].”

    Her debut was one of eight appearances she would make for Kristianstad in the 2017 season, as they finished fifth in the league. More chances would come Duljan’s way in 2018 and 2019, along with a starring role in the youth national teams.

    With her club and national teams maintaining good communication to take each step "at the right speed", she continued to develop well.

  • Evelina Duljan Juventus 2022-23

    How it's going

    Given her talent, it’s no surprise there has always been a lot of interest in Duljan from different clubs and, after the UEFA Under-19 Women’s Championship in the summer of 2022, her big move abroad would come – to Juventus.

    “I know that in the first year there probably won't be much playing time and I don't have high expectations, but being able to step in or start wouldn't be bad,” the teenager said in an interview with Fotbollskanalen ahead of her first season with the club.

    However, she’s already doing exactly that. She would be given her debut from the bench in the opening game of the season, made her first start as early as September and has now become a regular impact sub.

  • Evelina Duljan Kristianstad 2018

    Biggest strengths

    Duljan’s dribbling is certainly her stand-out attribute, with her agility and close control making her extremely difficult to stop when she gets going.

    It’s something she has shown time and time again over the last few years – and in a variety of different positions.

    The Swede can play as a full-back or a winger on either side, but also as a playmaking No.10. It’s the latter role that Gunnarsdottir believes she will be “perfect” for in the future.

    “Her attacking qualities are so unique and her physical ability is so unique, I think when she is a little bit older, that's going to be the position that will suit her the best and where she can contribute the most for the team,” she says.

    That she has played in several different roles has not only added versatility to her game but helped her refine and improve various skills, too, particularly in the defensive areas from her time at full-back.

  • Elisabet Gunnarsdottir Evelina Duljan 2022

    Room for improvement

    Of course, as such a young player, Duljan is going to get better and better in all aspects as the years go by.

    One that Gunnarsdottir would love to see her improve in while at Juventus relates to her mentality. “She puts really high demands on herself,” she explains, which means she can beat herself up about “minor things”.

    “She has always had periods through the years that I worked with her where she gets over it, and then it goes really, really well for her. When she is in a good period and she's playing at her best, then I used to say to her, 'When you play like this, then there is nobody better than you on the whole pitch'.

    “With the quality she has and the speed that she has, and the physical ability that she has, when she is in a flow where she doesn't let these things stop her, nobody can stop her.

    “You go to a big club like Juventus, you know that a player like Evelina will have the option of meeting a psychologist, a doctor, different coaches, more people that can care for her and give her time.

    “When I visited Juventus together with Evelina, I got the impression that Joe [Montemurro, head coach] and his whole team would be a good fit for her.”

  • Evelina Duljan Sweden Women 2022

    The next… Trailblazer?

    It’s difficult to pick out a player that Duljan resembles given her unique skill set - and even more so because she plays in various positions.

    When she explodes off the wing and runs at players, cutting inside to shoot, there’s a touch of Arsenal’s Beth Mead about her. That, though, is only one element of her game.

    Duljan’s idol as a young girl was Alex Morgan, the U.S. women’s national team striker. When she bursts through on goal, you can see that she has watched a lot of such an established out-and-out goal-scorer as the composure in her finishing is wonderful. That said, she’s a very different player to Morgan.

    To watch Duljan dance past challenges with her speed and strength and technique, is to realise there is probably not someone to compare her to. Now, she wants to realise her potential and become an example that she didn’t see many of growing up - not just in a footballing sense.

    The teenager, also eligible to play for Nigeria, has spoken openly about the lack of role models with foreign backgrounds in Swedish women’s football and her desire to change that.

    “I decided that if there aren't that many, at least I want to be one of them,” she told Fotbollskanalen. It’s something that motivates her.

  • Evelina Duljan Juventus Women 2022-23

    What comes next?

    Duljan is only in her first season at Juventus, but to see her already featuring in so many games is a real plus for her development.

    Over the course of the season and leading into 2023-24, one would expect those opportunities to grow and her to continue to improve with exposure to such a high level, in the Women’s Champions League and a very competitive Serie A.

    If she can get that regular top-level football and continue to improve where she needs to over the next few years, then reaching the senior national team should come naturally – especially with a changing of the guard to come and Duljan being one of the most talented players in Sweden’s next generation.