Josip Iličić was born in Prijedor, present-day Bosnia and Herzegovina and moved to Kranj, present-day Slovenia when he was only one year old, together with his mother Ana and brother Igor, after his father was killed. Iličić was once asked in an interview if he would be interested in playing for Croatia national football team, due to his Croatian ancestry, but he replied that he would have never accepted the offer due to the fact he had lived in Slovenia his whole life. Later, he made a similar comment regarding Bosnia and Herzegovina, the country where he was born. In 2020 he suffered from depression due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In early 2022, Iličić suffered again from mental health problems and was absent from the Atalanta squad. Iličić became the first player in the history of the competition to score four goals in an away tie of a Champions League knockout stage match, and the oldest player at the time to score four goals in a single match in the competition at the age of 32 years and 41 days, surpassing Zlatan Ibrahimović. Iličić also received UEFA’s Player of the Week award after the Champions League round of 16 matches. Later in 2020, Iličić was nominated for the UEFA 50 Men’s Team of the Year. After spending five years with the club, his contract with Atalanta was terminated by mutual consent on 31 August 2022. Overall, Iličić made 173 appearances for Atalanta and scored 60 goals. A predominantly left-footed player, Iličić is capable of playing as a second striker, as a wide midfielder or winger on either flank, or even in a central role as an attacking midfielder in a 4–2–3–1 or 4–3–1–2 system. His former Palermo coach, Bortolo Mutti, believed that the 4–3–3 system was the perfect formation for his characteristics, as it allowed him to be deployed on the right flank, a position from which he could cut inside and strike on goal with his stronger left foot. He has also been deployed as a central midfielder on occasion, although this is not his preferred position. During his time at Atalanta, he has often been used in a free advanced role in a fluid 3–4–3 formation under manager Gian Piero Gasperini. A powerful and accurate striker of the ball with either foot, in particular from distance, he is highly regarded for his touch on the ball, technique, dribbling skills, and creativity, as well as his physical strength, leadership, strong personality, and instinctive play on the pitch; he is also known for his use of feints, in particular the back-heel move, and is an accurate set piece and penalty taker. While he is known for his composure, ability to find space, and eye for goal, he is also an excellent playmaker and assist provider, courtesy of his vision, crossing, and precise passing ability, in particular with the outside of his boot, which enables him to contribute to his team’s offensive plays effectively by creating goalscoring chances for himself or his teammates. Moreover, he is a hard-working player, who possesses quick feet, poise, and elegance in possession, despite his tall stature, athletic build, and lack of significant pace or acceleration. Despite his talent and ability, he has been accused by certain pundits of being inconsistent at times, and has also drawn criticism over his difficult character, defensive positioning, and tactical awareness, in particular in his youth, although he was able to improve on the mental aspect of his game as he matured and his career progressed, which saw him reach his prime and maintain a consistent level of performance into his early 30s. His playing style and speed of thought has earned him the nickname Il Professore (“The Professor”) in the Italian media.