The Bundesliga boasts some of the World Cup’s best-ever scorers in Russia. Thomas Müller, with 10, has the most tournament goals of any active player; James Rodriguez took home the Golden Boot four years ago, plundering six for Colombia. Even Robert Lewandowski – featuring at his first Finals – got Poland there thanks to a European record 16 strikes…
But while those three failed to get off the mark in their opening games, RB Leipzig striker Yussuf Poulsen quietly, unfussily, opened his account for Denmark. The Danes – who also boast Bundesliga stars Thomas Delaney, Jannik Vestergaard and Frederik Rönnow in their ranks – edged Peru 1-0, in a game which perfectly encapsulated the player Poulsen is.
A hulking 6’3” striker, Poulsen conceded a penalty on the stroke of half-time which Christian Cueva, having earned, flashed over. There was no malice in the challenge. Poulsen simply couldn’t get his trailing leg out of the way with the Sao Paulo midfielder wreaking havoc in the Danish box. Fifteen minutes later, Poulsen went from near-zero to undoubted hero, picking up on Christian Eriksen’s pass to steer home and guide his country to all three points.
There was nothing conventional about the finish. Most elite forwards would have taken the chance first time, early enough to catch the ‘keeper out of position, and attempted to find the far side of the goal. Not Poulsen. He took two touches, and scored into the near bottom corner with Peru stopper Pedro Gallese almost on his toe.
Quintessential Yurary. Clumsy yet powerful, not the most aesthetically pleasing but effective. Wait, who? That’s right: Poulsen is not sporting “Poulsen” on the back of his shirt in Russia…
Why does Yussuf Poulsen have “Yurary” on his Denmark jersey?
Those most used to seeing Poulsen strut his stuff alongside Timo Werner in the Leipzig attack may have thought there was nothing unusual about the name on his white, dark blue, or sometimes grey, shirt. Seven letters; a common Danish name. And his surname, most importantly. Nothing to see here.
However, it is Leipzig who are the outlier in this regard. In 29 games for Denmark, Poulsen has always sported “Yurary” on his back. It was the same with Lyngby before the now-24-year-old left his homeland for Germany in 2013 with Leipzig midway through their march to the Bundesliga. It was even the case with first club BK Skjold in his teens. Poulsen had asked for the same at the Red Bull Arena.
“When I came to Leipzig, I asked if I could have ‘Yurary’ on the jersey,” he explained to SportBild. “But when I signed, they’d already printed the ‘Poulsen’ jerseys!”
Poulsen’s father Yurary was a Tanzanian shipper who met his mother in Copenhagen after years working in the import/export industry between the two countries. Never a professional football player, Yurary senior was still a big fan of the sport and ignited his son’s passion for the game at an early age. He lost his battle with cancer when Yussuf – or Yurary junior – was six, and it had a big impact.
“I came to football through my father,” Poulsen told dierotenbullen.com. “He played regularly but not as a pro. That was a bad time for me and my family. We had to learn to live without him. Today I associate every game with him.”
The Emile Heskey to Timo Werner’s Michael Owen
Yurary would be proud of the player his son has become. In an age in which a lone striker has become the norm, Poulsen fulfils a role which harks back to a different time. The maker of the pair of forwards in a 4-4-2, not a taker.
In Leipzig’s two Bundesliga seasons to date, Werner has scored 34 league goals in 63 games – comfortably one inside every two fixtures he appears in. Poulsen’s tally over the same period? Nine goals in 59 games. Put another way, it takes him six-and-a-half games to find the target, on average.
But these crude figures miss what Poulsen is about. Now occupying space in the final third for club and country, Poulsen was a defender until the age of 14, when teammate Kenneth Zohore – now of Cardiff – left Skjold for FC Copenhagen’s youth academy. Poulsen has not only retained his bite, he’s also put it to incredibly effective use since first plugging that gap left at his first club.
Poulsen won a challenge every four minutes he played for Leipzig last season. Every. Four. Minutes. Eggs fail to boil in that time. In 30 games, just 18 of them starts, Poulsen teed up 29 shots on the opposition goal for his teammates after winning the ball back. His 7.3 miles per game covered were a league-high. There is inspiration to match the perspiration.