VfB Stuttgart striker Sasa Kalajdzic is the tallest player in the Bundesliga at 6'5", warranting comparisons with beanpole strikers of times past such as Peter Crouch, who the Austrian sees as something of a role model.
Speaking to bundesliga.com, the 23-year-old discusses his first campaign in the Bundesliga, being "a big man with good feet" like Crouch, and his return from a season-ending cruciate ligament injury in Stuttgart's promotion year...
bundesliga.com: How would you asses the season so far for both Stuttgart and yourself?
Sasa Kalajdzic: "All in all I'm happy with myself and with the way it's going for the team. Not many people would have predicted that we'd have eight points from five games. I'm personally very happy. Apart from one chance that I should have scored, and almost did, against Hertha, I've performed to my maximum. I haven't given a bad impression of myself, but there is definitely a lot of room for improvement in certain areas. My initial assessment is definitely positive, though."
bundesliga.com: You scored three goals in the first three games, which was a personal highlight for you. What kind of striker are you?
Kalajdzic: "I'm not really a classic target man, not really someone who hangs around in the box. I try to incorporate that into my game, to improve that area of my game, but because I played in midfield a lot when I was younger I try to be more creative. To be strong, I try to be a modern striker, despite my height. I think I do that well with my ability and the way I play. I like the way we play as well. At the moment I'm very happy. I'm not a classic No.9, maybe something between a nine and a 10, something like that maybe. A nine and a half!"
bundesliga.com: Seven of your 13 goals have been headers, is heading an important part of your game?
Kalajdzic: "Yes, it's our general aim to play some football, not rely on high balls. We've made a lot of crosses and I see some potential there for me to improve. I get a lot of headers. I think in Austria I scored the most headers in one season, although I missed half of my chances! It's definitely something I can take advantage of because of my height."
bundesliga.com: You are exactly two metres tall (6'5"), what do you make of the phrase 'big striker'? Are there any other nicknames for you?
Kalajdzic: "I have heard a lot of phrases and expressions! I've heard a comparison with [Zlatan] Ibrahimovic, Peter Crouch, anything from 'tall and lanky' to 'tall' and an 'Ibrahimovic-Machine'! I've heard a lot of things. When I used to play holding midfield there was a player called Nemanja Matic at Manchester United who was a bit of an idol, he's also Serbian and I have Serbian roots. I tried to compare myself to him. There are a lot of names: 'tall striker', 'lanky striker', 'big striker', everything! I don't mind, I'm just happy if people are having fun. If I can bring a smile to their faces then that's the most important thing. I can't really get involved because I'm just Sasa. I just want to play. I've heard 'the next Mario Gomez'. I don't really want to get involved, though, because I can't compare myself to these players. What have I achieved so far for you to be able to make these comparisons? On the other hand, it's nice to be mentioned in the same breath as these names. There's not really much I can do about it, though."
bundesliga.com: What about 'Your Highness'?
Kalajdzic: "I haven't heard that one yet, but it's not bad!"
bundesliga.com: As well as your heading ability, you also have technical ability - does that come from the fact that you used to play in a different position?
Kalajdzic: "Definitely. You see a lot more of the ball in midfield, you're more involved in the play than a striker. Strikers spend the whole time with their back to the opposition. You're involved in different situations as a midfielder where I played when I was younger. I was also in a football school, which worked in cooperation with Austria Vienna. I played with a lot of talented players, a lot who now play in the Austrian Bundesliga or in the Bundesliga 2. We had some really good technical training there which helped me a lot. I wasn't always this tall, I had a growth spurt around the age of 16, 17, 18. I then had the technical ability, it was then about getting used to my height and improving my coordination. I looked really stupid! I've seen videos on my phone which would make you laugh! At the end of the day, though, it's cool that, at two metres tall, people say that I can use my feet as well as just my head. Peter Crouch had a top career and a lot of people compare me with him and laugh at me, but he played 40 times for England, played all over - they're things that a lot of people don't achieve and never will. For that reason, he's an example, definitely."
bundesliga.com: Do you know who the tallest player in the Bundesliga is at the moment?
Kalajdzic: "Me. I've already read that."
Watch: Kalajdzic was nominated for September's Player of the Month!
bundesliga.com: Do you know who the tallest player ever to play in the Bundesliga was?
Kalajdzic: "I'm not 100 percent sure. Did Jan Koller play in the Bundesliga? Is it him?"
bundesliga.com: You're not quite at 100 percent yet which is to be expected after your long injury lay-off. What can you still improve in your game?
Kalajdzic: "Everything, but I mainly want to improve physically. I have noticed, especially after the long break that, compared to how it was in Austria, the opposition players are at a different level. I've had some good games here, but there were games, like the one against Hertha, where I struggled up front against these two guys at the back. That's new for me, and I have to adapt as quickly as possible. That's my aim above all, physically, but also my game, I want to develop that. I don't want to miss chances like I did against Hertha, I want to get the most out of my ability. I want to be a bit quicker, I want to improve in every area possible, and I want to get as many minutes on the pitch under my belt as I can. I didn't think that after the injury that I would start four games out of five. I'm the type of person who doesn't underestimate myself, but I'm not so optimistic - I'm realistic. I didn't expect to play as often, so I'm satisfied. I can always play better, though, but you're always going to get games which aren't as good. That's all part of improving."
bundesliga.com Does playing on the counter suit Stuttgart better than playing against a team sitting deep because you're not a traditional target man?
Kalajdzic: "I don't know, it suits me when we play attacking football and if we have a lot of the ball. I can also play on the counter-attack, I played like that for a previous team. We had games where we were a bit more dominant and games where we played on the counter-attack. I can adapt well, and I'm not too dependent on what system we play. I'm just happy if I'm fit and playing, that's the most important thing. The rest takes care of itself."
bundesliga.com: Your serious knee injury set you back almost a year - how did that affect you as a youngster?
Kalajdzic: "It definitely affected me. I wouldn't wish it on anyone. It wasn't easy. You get lots of comments from lots of different perspectives. Some doctors say it's nothing, others say it's serious. You have to be sure in your own head that you can get through it. I had some super people around me during rehab and at VfB who always supported me and made me feel good. That was important. It definitely affected me. I learned to listen to my body and take care of my body. I used my free time to prepare myself as well as possible. I got a slightly better understanding of this. I'm at a different level now as well, I'm now in the Bundesliga in Germany. It wasn't like nursery before, but now it definitely isn't! I try to take care of my body as well as possible now, to try a lot of things out to develop myself and prepare my body as best as possible. You need patience as well, a lot. I have to compliment all the physios and the coach, who kept my mood up. My family and friends as well, without them I wouldn't be sitting here, having managed to play in the Bundesliga. I have said it often enough already, but 'thank you very much for everything!'"
bundesliga.com: The 'Wild Youngster' wave was born in Stuttgart around 18 years ago - can you compare the current generation with this wave?
Kalajdzic: "There were some big players then. You maybe didn't expect them to take off in the way that they did. They were young players, were given a chance and showed what they can do. I'm not the type of person who likes to compare myself with older things or generally with others. I like to look at myself and the team. What I see is a lot of potential and a lot of young players, but that's paired with a mix of older players like Gonzalo Castro and Daniel Didavi, who bring a level of calm and experience. That's good for young players, but I'm not the youngest in the team if you look at the ages of our team. There are a lot of players who are under 20 playing in the Bundesliga, and I'm now 23. I would rather not compare myself to them, it's difficult. I just look to give my best and see what happens."
bundesliga.com: The fans are certainly being reminded of the 2006/07 Bundesliga winners right now...
Kalajdzic: "It's a good sign, if the fans enjoy watching us. That's the most important thing. Nothing makes sense with this sport if there are no spectators. It's entertainment. People have a good feeling when they watch us, and that's what can make us proud and happy."
Watch: Stuttgart's big win at Mainz!
bundesliga.com: Was it always your dream to play in the Bundesliga?
Kalajdzic: "Definitely. I think if you ask any player they'd say it was a dream. It was a dream, now it's the reality. I have to pinch myself sometimes. It's hard to believe it, when you're talking to your friends about games against Schalke or Bayern - you just think, 'wow!' Now it's normal. I worked so hard to get here, did everything. It's incredible, I don't think it's really sunk in for me. I'm just in the middle of it, and am enjoying it. I think you can look back at it later and realise that you can be proud of yourself for what you've achieved."
bundesliga.com: What are your impressions of the Bundesliga so far?
Kalajdzic: "I have noticed that we've settled really well into the league. The league is really measured on quality. Others know better than me, but I like it a lot. It's a mix of robust football and technical football, you've got everything. I love it, it's a lot of fun and I want to keep having fun. I'm really looking forward to fans being allowed back in after [the coronavirus pandemic]. I've never played in front of fans here, in a full stadium. I can't wait for that, to hear the goal music and the fans going mad. Maybe your name is on the video wall. That's what's motivating me to give everything. I think it's great. I'm proud, I'm happy to be playing here and in the Bundesliga. I always used to watch the highlights on DSF as it was then, always at 10:15 I think, before Doppelpass. I've heard your voice often enough! It's great to look back and realise that I'm now playing here myself."
bundesliga.com: How would you describe yourself as a person?
Kalajdzic: "I'm not the calmest, but also not the loudest. Somewhere in between. I'm someone who has fun with a lot of things. I always try to find the positives, I try to come across well to other people and I think I have managed to do that well. I want to pull my weight, to be well thought of in Stuttgart, by the team and the people. That's my aim. I find it hard to talk about my personality. It's better to ask other people because I hate talking about myself. I'm just a normal guy, who plays football and really enjoys it and, because of my height, doesn't do too badly! I'll leave the rest for others to say."