When the summer transfer window opened it was clear that Wolves needed a new striker to compete with Raúl Jiménez and Fábio Silva, both of whom struggled in the 2021/22 season. When Silva was subsequently loaned out to Anderlecht, the need became even more urgent. So, when it was reported with just days left of the window, that Wolves had agreed a fee of around €18 million (£15.4m) with VfB Stuttgart for the signing of Saša Kalajdžić, there was a collective sigh of relief throughout Wolverhampton. But who is the Austrian forward, and can he bring some much-needed goals to the Molineux?
Who is Saša Kalajdžić?
Saša Kalajdžić is a 25-year-old Austrian international who began his career with Austrian clubs SR Donaufeld Wien and Admira Wacker Mödling, before joining Stuttgart in 2019. He is of Bosnian Serb descent, having been born in Austria to parents who were refugees of the Bosnian War. Having played a notable role in keeping Die Schwaben in the Bundesliga last season, he has previously been linked with moves to the likes of Bayern Munich and Manchester United earlier in the summer. His 6 ft 7 in height and slender build has drawn comparisons to former England striker Peter Crouch. He is much more than simply a target in the box however, as Stuttgart journalist Simeon Kramer told TW’s Dave Azzopardi: “In Austria he used to play in attacking midfield… he has a good first touch, and he knows how to play with the players around him”.
What is Saša Kalajdžić’s style of play?
The Austrian brings with him strong goalscoring pedigree, boasting an impressive record of 22 goals in 51 Bundesliga appearances. His height and physicality in the box make him a good fit alongside wingers like Pedro Neto and Adama Traore, who regularly look to drive to the by-line and cross the ball into dangerous areas. Naturally, Kalajdžić’s stature will also provide a major boost to Wolves’ threat from set pieces. Last season the team recorded the second least shots from set pieces in the league according to The Analyst, indicating a lack of a consistent option from corners and free kicks. As the tallest outfield player in the Premier League, the Austria international will immediately provide a significant upgrade in this capacity – whether by winning headers himself, or by occupying defenders and allowing other players like Max Kilman and Nathan Collins to get open opportunities. According to FBref, Kalajdžić last season won 6 aerial duels a game with a success rate of 59% a game – both among the most impressive marks in the Bundesliga.
However, the Austrian’s skillset is far from limited to winning headers. Over the last two seasons he has proven to be one of Europe’s most adept strikers at holding up the ball and creating chances for his teammates His frame not only makes him a danger in the box, but also allows him to shield the ball effectively from defenders. As Simeon Kramer put it: “It’s very difficult for a defender to get the ball from him… He’s nearly unstoppable”.
How will he fit with the team?
Goal-scoring wingers like Neto and Gonçalo Guedes could thrive with Kalajdžić acting as a focal point and bringing them into play. In 21/22 he recorded an expected assists stat of 0.26 per game, along with 1.47 key passes – once again among the highest marks for Bundesliga strikers. His abilities in hold-up play make him similar in this aspect to Jiménez, meaning Kalajdžić should fit comfortably in with a team which knows how to work around a player with his playstyle. He is more than willing to get involved in build-up play, as Simeon Kramer explained: “He will come back to midfield often to get the ball and launch an attack himself”.
The one notable concern to mention when it comes to the Austrian is fitness. The forward played just 15 times in the Bundesliga last season, although he impressed whenever he was on the pitch. However, the season prior he featured in 33 out of a possible 34 league outings, so Wolves fans have reason to hope that with a full pre-season of recovery, Kalajdžić is back to full fitness and ready to put last season’s struggles behind him.