When Spezia Calcio became the latest American-owner Italian club, there was a lot of intrigue as to how the squad would evolve during the summer transfer window. After avoiding relegation from Serie A last year in their first season back in the top flight after earning promotion during the Covid-affected 2019/20 season, sixteen players were brought in on permanent deals by new manager Thiago Motta. This represented a huge squad overhaul mainly made up of players under the age of 23, but one player stood out for a unique reason: Emil Holm.
Spezia are owned by Robert Platek, but the northwest Italian club isn’t Platek’s first foray into football club ownership. The American financier also owns Danish Superliga side SønderjyskE and Holm became the first player from the Scandinavian side to make the switch to Italy. The 21-year-old Holm signed a five-year deal, signalling how important the young Swede will be to Spezia’s long-term future and was sent straight back to Denmark on a one-year loan deal alongside midfielder Emil Kornvig who was also signed in the summer from Lyngby BK.
Holm spent his early years playing for Annebergs IF, a small club to the south of his hometown Gothenburg, before joining the city’s principal club IFK Göteborg. Holm made his U21 debut for the club aged 17, but mainly spent the next two years flitting between IFK’s U19 and U21 teams.
In 2019, Holm joined IFK’s first team, sitting on the bench for the first nine games of the Allsvenskan season, before making his debut in June 2019 in a draw against Östersunds FK. As IFK’s challenge to reach Europe started to dwindle, Holm was awarded three starts in their last five games. 2020 was Holm’s breakout season in Sweden, accumulating nearly 1000 league minutes, and recording 7 goal contributions across the league and cup as IFK spent much of the season looking over their shoulder in the lower reaches of the division.
His form convinced SønderjyskE to bring him to Denmark for £250,000, and after taking a few months to acclimatise to his new surroundings, he played every game for his new side as they finished second in the relegation group after the Superliga split, recording another five goals across all competitions. His potential convinced Spezia that he should be the first player worth signing as part of the Platek network, and SønderjyskE tripled their money in less than a year.
Style of Play
The first thing that immediately stands out about Emil Holm is his size. At 6’3”, he is considerably taller than the average full-back and immediately conjures up an image of Brighton’s Dan Burn playing as a left wing-back under Graham Potter. The main difference between Burn and Holm is that the Englishman has been converted into that position to suit a specific system, while Holm has always played out wide throughout his professional career. However, that doesn’t mean Holm couldn’t be converted to play as a central defender in the future.
Holm’s style of play means he suits playing for sides that are likely to maintain high levels of possession, especially in the opposition’s half. Holm is quite passive in possession, and doesn’t tend to contribute to any major patterns of passing, averaging less than 18 accurate passes per 90 so far this season. His first touch at times has occasionally let him down, and he’s had to use his long legs to try and recover the ball quickly.
For a tall, slim player, he has a surprisingly athletic running style, with a large stride and has a decent top speed, although his acceleration is a concern against faster wingers, especially if the side he’s playing for is hit on the counter attack. Holm tends to sit quite high up the pitch, and only occasionally sticks to the touchline in these areas, and so can be caught out of position in transition, especially as his ability to scan his surroundings requires improvement. Holm rarely offers an overlap when a winger is in possession over long distances, but has good positional awareness in the final third and finds space well to either deliver a cross or take a shot.
When playing for Sweden’s under-21s, Holm is a front foot defender, attempting to make interceptions where possible and beat nearby players in the air. However, against stronger teams he tends to stand off and gives opposition players too much space to get away a shot or pick out a cross, and he doesn’t utilise his long legs enough to pick off the ball if his opponent has taken a poor touch, although he has won more than 4 ground duels per 90 in his last two seasons. In the air, Holm’s aerial duel success rate sits just above 50%, a slightly disappointing figure given his stature. This is likely because he prefers marking zonally in crossing scenarios, allowing an attacker space and the opportunity to position themselves beneath the flight of the ball before he can get set and win the header.
Holm’s attacking output is impressive, contributing nine goals and eight assists in his club career so far, as well as two goals and four assists for Sweden’s U21 in five qualifying games. Holm possesses a good leap and attacks dangerous areas in the box from corners. On several occasions he’s beaten the opposition keeper in the air to win a header with a near-post run and score into the empty net.
Holm’s long levers also allow him to strike the ball powerfully with little backlift, and this has become a key part of his crossing ability, although it does sometimes mean his deliveries reach his teammates at awkward heights as he prioritises accuracy over weight of pass. He was also responsible for a free-kick that was struck so sweetly that it flew straight out of SønderjyskE’s stadium and went viral.
SønderjyskE are potential relegation candidates this season, and although the reason for Holm’s loan move back to Denmark from Spezia was to guarantee game time, it’s questionable how much he can improve in a side playing so poorly. His form for Sweden shows there is a player who could regularly play for a team in a top 5 league in the future, but there are fundamental aspects of his game that need levelling up before he’s ready to take the leap. He benefits from having Poya Asbaghi as his coach at international level, given that he brought his through the ranks as a youngster at IFK Göteborg. If Spezia remain in Serie A next season, another year on loan – potentially to a strong Serie B side to begin acclimatising to Italian football – could help Holm although knowing exactly what his level is right now is difficult given how much his current side are underperforming.