Kevin Kuranyi lauded Sasa Kalajdzic as he backed the Stuttgart star to join one of Europe’s biggest clubs amid growing interest.
Kalajdzic has enjoyed a fairy-tale debut season in the Bundesliga, scoring 14 goals and supplying four assists following Stuttgart’s return to Germany’s top flight. Only Robert Lewandowski (36), Erling Haaland (25), Andre Silva (25), Wout Weghorst (20) and Andrej Kramaric (17) have found the back of the net more often in 2020-21.
The 23-year-old Austria international forward, who has been linked with the likes of Juventus, Tottenham, Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig, scored in seven successive games this season – a club record shared with Fredi Bobic (1995-96).
Kalajdzic has managed 14 goals in 30 Bundesliga appearances – the same amount as Kuranyi in his first 30 league games for the club, though his minutes-to-goal ratio (134) is superior to the retired striker’s (152). His form has helped Stuttgart to reach the top 10 in the table with just three games remaining.
Only five players in Stuttgart’s Bundesliga history have scored more goals in their first 30 games than Kuranyi and Kalajdzic: Vedad Ibisevic (18), Hermann Ohlicher (17), Dieter Holler, Tim Walter and Jurgen Klinsmann (15).
Asked about Kalajdzic, Stuttgart great Kuranyi told Stats Perform News: “I think they are playing a really good season, while Sasa is playing really, really well.
“I think two weeks ago, he scored a headed goal similar [to] my time and I was remembering, wow, this guy can be really a top player in the Bundesliga or maybe in a big club in Europe.
“I know him because I met him a lot of times in rehabilitation because when he arrived at Stuttgart, he was a bit injured. He’s a great personality, he’s a good guy with a good mentality and also a nice person.
“I wish for him really a big career and I hope he keeps doing well.”
Pellegrino Matarazzo’s Stuttgart boast another prized asset in Silas Wamangituka, who was taking the Bundesliga by storm before suffering a season-ending injury in March.
Electrifying 21-year-old forward Wamangituka tallied 11 goals and four assists prior to the knee injury, having played a key role in Stuttgart’s promotion from 2. Bundesliga last term.
“I am really impressed because he’s a fast player. He is good in one-on-one, makes a lot of goals,” added ex-Germany international Kuranyi.
“[He] was a big risk at the start, but now the player shows his quality. Of course, it’s very bad that he picked up the injury, but if he comes back, he will show it again and will keep going at Stuttgart.”
Former Dortmund and Arsenal chief scout Sven Mislintat – working alongside Thomas Hitzlsperger – has been instrumental in overseeing Stuttgart’s rise back to the Bundesliga after he was appointed sporting director two years ago.
With a reputation of unearthing footballing gems, Kalajdzic and Wamangituka have both arrived during Mislintat’s time at the three-time Bundesliga champions, who were relegated in 2018-19 but bounced straight back.
“I think [he has been] very important,” said Kuranyi. “Of course, he worked in big clubs like Dortmund and Arsenal, he understands a lot about football.
“He was scouting in all these clubs and he finds a lot of top players, young players. And now as a sporting director, he can use all his talent, what they learn in the in the past to make his own team and he’s [doing] really, really good. I think for Stuttgart it was a good decision to take a top guy like him.”
While there is speculation over Kalajdzic, captain Gonzalo Castro is set to leave Stuttgart after not being offered a new deal at Mercedes-Benz Arena.
“For me it was [a] surprise because he’s the captain of the team at the moment,” Kuranyi said. “He’s an experienced player, who can keep this young team together and who can show them the right way to play good football.
“It was difficult to see this decision. For the player and for everyone, it’s good to keep strong and experienced players in the team.”
Kuranyi emerged from Stuttgart’s youth team in 2001 after relocating from Brazil and the ex-Germany international went on to win the 2002 UEFA Intertoto Cup.
Twice Stuttgart’s top goalscorer, Kuranyi almost helped the club to Bundesliga glory in 2002-03, Felix Magath’s men finishing second to Bayern Munich as they qualified for the Champions League.
“For me it was something special because when I came from Brazil, I started in Stuttgart and the young team,” said the 39-year-old Kuranyi, who scored 57 goals in total before moving to Schalke in 2005.
“I learned a lot in this club and when I became professional, they had a bad time, but it was good for us young players. They gave us the chance to play in the first team, to be a good professional player at 19.
“We used this situation to make one of the best young teams in the league. Of course, we qualified for the Champions League. We were playing [a] really, really top season in the Champions League with so many young players and for them and also for the city, Stuttgart was something special. Also, for me as a player.”
Stuttgart enjoyed a memorable 2003-04 Champions League campaign, Kuranyi scoring as the Reds beat Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United in their debut group-stage appearance as they reached the knockout rounds.
Kuranyi, whose side eventually succumbed to Chelsea in the round of 16, added: “I think the best moment [of my time with the club] was when we were playing the Champions League and we beat Manchester United with the big players: [Ruud] Van Nistelrooy, Cristiano Ronaldo, [Paul] Scholes, [Rio] Ferdinand and [Ryan] Giggs.
“For us young players with Phillip Lahm, [Alexander] Hleb, myself and other top players, it was a really, really a special moment to show all around the world that Stuttgart can beat a big club like Manchester United.”