While Roma's transfer rumor mill continues to orbit around the respective futures of Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka—who is reportedly pleading with the Gunners to push the deal through—and Wolverhampton keeper Rui Patricio, the press seems to have all but abandoned Roma's rumored hunt for a new striker.
Edin Dzeko, Roma's third all-time leading scorer, remains tied to the club for another season, but links moving him to Milan, Juventus, and even Fenerbahce persist as we head into the official start of summer. In his place, common wisdom held that Roma would finally land Torino striker Andrea Belotti after several years of chasing the 27-year-old's signature.
However, as is so often the case with transfer rumors, fire doesn't always follow the smoke, no matter how high it may billow. With the connections between Belotti and Roma falling to the back burner, the Corriere dello Sport has thrown a new name into the mix: Stuttgart forward Sasa Kalajdzic.
Kalajdzic, a 23-year-old striker, is currently busy alongside Marcel Sabitzer (another featured player in Roma's rumor mill) and the rest of the Austrian National Team at Euro 2020. Fresh off a breakout campaign in which he scored 17 goals and chipped in five assists in all competitions for Stuttgart, the massive Austrian is one of the hottest names on the summer transfer market.
Standing a robust 6’6” in the air, Kalajdzic is drawing eyes everywhere from Milan to Everton to West Ham to Tottenham and Roma. For a profile/scouting report on Kalajdzic, we'll turn to the Bundesliga itself—who have arguably the best league-run football site I've ever seen.
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.
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. The left-footer’s report card also includes one goal in six U21 internationals, one in six Bundesliga 2 outings and 11 in 33 Austrian Bundesliga appearances for Admira Wacker.
As far as player comparisons are concerned, the Bundesliga scribes compared him to none other than 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.
While the Crouch comparisons are interesting, that's really neither here nor there. How does he stack up against Roma's current statuesque striker, Edin Dzeko? Based on their 2020-2021 stats, quite well.
Kalajdzic played approximately 300 more league minutes than Dzeko this season and, whether you look at gross totals or per 90-minute figures, he performed better than Dzeko almost across the board: Goals scored, on-target %, conversion rate, fewer shots off target, passes attempted, and lay-offs; you name it, and Kalajdzic bests Dzeko. The only area in which Dzeko exceeds his younger counterpart is chances created... by four-tenths of a point per 90 minutes (or three total chances created).
Like most strikers his size, he won't win many foot races but if his debut season in the Bundesliga was any indication, this kid could be the real deal: a massive presence in the box, a one-man wrecking crew in the air, and a more than serviceable creator from the striker position.
According to the CdS, Stuttgart value Kalajdzic at €25 million, so he won't come cheap and when you consider the competition, he'll likely cost closer to €30 million but he could prove to be a younger, slightly cheaper version of Wout Weghorst, another name connected to Roma this summer.
As always, stay tuned!