Despite being halfway to 7'0" tall, VfB Stuttgart and Austria striker Sasa Kalajdzic is far from your average target man...
Club: VfB Stuttgart
Country: Austria (15 caps/ 4 goals)
At 6'6", Kalajdzic is the Bundesliga's tallest player. He put away 16 goals in his debut Bundesliga season, among them eight headers. The Vienna native with Serbian roots opened his account from the bench on Matchday 1, and went on to score in three successive matches before helping himself to his first of two top-flight braces on Matchday 12. His second fell during a record-equalling run of nine goals in seven consecutive Bundesliga games. Club legend Fredi Bobic was the last Stuttgart player to enjoy such a purple patch, back in 1995/96.
Watch: All Sasa Kalajdzic's Bundesliga goals in 2020/21
Kalajdzic was rewarded with a maiden senior international cap for Austria's UEFA Nations League Group B encounter with Romania in October 2020. He struck twice on only his second start, in a 2020 FIFA World Cup qualifier with Scotland, and followed that up with another effort against the Faroe Islands. He went on to feature in all four of his country's UEFA Euro 2020 matches and scored in extra-time of Austria's 2-1 defeat to eventual winners Italy in the round of 16.
Kalajdzic missed the majority of the 2021/22 Hinrunde with a shoulder problem, but scored six times in 14 appearances during the second half of the season to finish as Stuttgart's top scorer for the second straight year. All but two of the March 2022 Player of the Month nominee's goals resulted in points for Stuttgart - including a 2-2 draw at Bayern Munich on the penultimate weekend - as Stuttgart beat the drop on goal difference.
Watch: Kalajdzic hit the winner as VfB came from 2-0 down to beat Gladbach
Plays a bit like: Peter Crouch
"I've heard a comparison with [Zlatan] Ibrahimovic, Peter Crouch, anything from 'tall and lanky' to 'tall' and an 'Ibrahimovic-Machine!'" Kalajdzic told bundesliga.com during the 2020/21 season.
"When I used to play holding midfield in my youth, 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 can't really get involved because I'm just Sasa."
Everyone appreciates a bit of humility, but Kalajdzic is doing himself a great disservice. A natural target man who does not rely exclusively on his aerial prowess, the Austrian boasts a lethal left peg, plays his part in the build-up, has good feet, and can strike the ball with real finesse.
Comparisons with the criminally underrated Crouch - the former England international, who once stood head and shoulders above the rest at the likes of Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool - are not that wide of the mark.
Did you know?
After stepping off the bench to score a brace and get Stuttgart a draw 2-2 with Union Berlin in December 2020, Kalajdzic cut a distracted figure in his post-match interview. Clutching his phone, as if involved in a bitter WhatsApp exchange with an ex, he was asked what the problem was. "I forgot to put myself in my fantasy league team," he replied. "I'm such an idiot!"
Kalajdzic started 13 of VfB's remaining 17 league matches, amassing some 253 Fantasy Bundesliga points for the campaign. Among the game's strikers, only Robert Lewandowski, Andre Silva, Thomas Müller, Wout Weghorst, Erling Haaland and Andrej Kramaric produced more. All cost over 19M - Kalajdzic's season-ending value was a bargain-basement 8.6M.
What they're saying
"He's a very good footballer. He links up well with his teammates, and communicates very effectively. He's invaluable." - Stuttgart head coach Pellegrino Matarazzo
"It feels like he reaches four or five metres in the air. He rises above the opposition like they're not even there, and manages to make a clean connection with the ball." - Borussia Dortmund coach Edin Terzic
"He's come on leaps and bounds in the past few months or so. He's on fire in front of goal." - former Austria head coach Franco Foda
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