Elfsborg striker Denni Avdic is enjoying a breakthrough season in the Allsvenskan and with the Swedish national teams.
By Chipp Reid
For three years, Dennis Avdic wore the mantle of “super sub.”
The Elfsborg striker was the player head coach Magnus Haglund turned to when he absolutely, positively needed a goal. The forward’s speed and dribbling ability set him apart from his teammates, giving Eflsborg an added dimension off the bench late in matches.
Still, the 21-year-old Avdic only scored seven goals in 73 matches before the 2010 season. He entered 37 of those matches as a substitute and going into this season, he all but resigned himself to once playing the role of sub.
“I get mad when I sit on the bench, but I also know it’s up to the coach,” he said. “I think in the preseason I just expected to have the same role. I went about the preseason the way I always do, I just worked hard.”
Elfsborg played an ambitious preseason schedule, and Avdic quickly shined, scoring six goals in 10 matches. However, James Keene, his main competition for the lone striker position in Haglund’s playing scheme, was even hotter, scoring 10 times. Avdic once more started the season on the bench but when Keene injured his knee, ruling him out for the first half of the season, in stepped Avdic and he hasn’t looked back.
“It’s a lot easier to get into the flow of the game when you start,” Avdic said. “When I was a sub and would come into the game with only 20 minutes left it was very hard, but it was also good experience to have that pressure, to have to play well. It’s a big difference from being a starter and a sub. Now, I think it would be hard for me to be on the bench.”
Avdic probably doesn’t have to worry about that. After entering four games as a sub and scoring twice, he started the next 10 games, notching 10 goals for a league-leading 12 tallies in the first half of the season. The success has been a pleasant surprise for Elfsborg.
“I really can’t put my finger on why he’s playing so well,” said Elfsborg goalkeeper Ante Covic. “He never really met his potential until this year. I think once he became a starter he gained a lot of confidence and now he’s playing with even more confidence. He’s got that little bit of a swagger.”
Avdic's success even surprised himself.
“I don’t know what I am doing different. I don’t think it’s anything I am doing, I think it’s a matter of confidence,” Avdic said. “I’m a little bit older and I am more mature outside the pitch and on the pitch. That’s a big reason, and so is the coach. He trusts me much more than before. He let me play through my mistakes. That’s a big reason I feel for my success.”
In addition to Elfsborg, Avdic has been a mainstay for the Swedish Under-21 national team, where he scored three goals in three matches this year to help lead Sweden to the 2011 UEFA Under-21 European Championships. Avdic has 20 caps and six goals in total for the U-21 side and said he believes his play for his club finally matches that for his country.
“I always play well for the national team and score goals, but this year I am doing the same for Elfsborg,” he said. “I don’t think there is a big difference between the Under-21s and the Allsvenskan. It’s hard to compare the two. I am just happy that I am doing well.”
Avdic grew up in Jonkoping, the son of Bosnia immigrants. As a child, he played both football and basketball. The 6-foot-2-inch forward said if he wasn’t playing football, he would like a shot at playing basketball.
“Kobe Bryant is my favorite player and I love the NBA,” he said.
Covic for one is happy his teammate is on the pitch rather than the court.
“We’re certainly better with him,” the goalkeeper said. “He’s playing with a hunger this season that makes him dangerous.”
Covic said he thinks Avdic entered the season looking for more than simply a spot on the roster.
“Last year he played as though he didn’t think the position was his,” the goalkeeper said. “It was almost as if he thought his spot was on the bench but this year he played as though the position was his from the beginning.”
As he continues to mature and success comes his direction, Avdic knows he is likely to garner attention from teams in bigger leagues. Unlike many players who follow the rumors connected with their careers, Avdic said he told his agent “not to tell me anything about other teams, not before there is a real offer on the table.”
The striker said he doesn’t want to lose his focus on Elfsborg. “Everything would go bad,” he said, although Avdic admits his ambition is to play for a bigger club on a much larger stage.
At just 21, Avdic is already in the sights of many larger teams in Europe, with clubs in Italy and Germany reportedly among those competing for his services.
Avdic also saw just how much Elfsborg got for his Under-21 and Elfsborg teammate, Emir Bajrami, who moved to FC Twente in Holland for the second-highest transfer fee in Swedish football history. Most experts rate Avdic just as high as Bajrami although the Elfsborg striker doesn’t quite see things that way.
“I don’t think I’m in the top five players in Sweden,” Avdic said. “There are many good strikers in Sweden. One day I hope I will be one of the best.”
Until then, Avdic said he would keep his focus on one thing―winning another title with Elfsborg, which is currently 10 points behind league-leaders Helsingborg.
“I think it might be tough to catch Helsingborg,” he said, “but if we trust in ourselves, anything can happen. It’s not over till it’s over and this is how we have to play.”