Anel Ahmedhodžić has always been a highly regarded young player. He joined Malmö FF – the club that represents his city, and the most successful side in the country – aged five. By his mid-teens, he was already an established youth international for Sweden and the subject of significant interest from clubs in Italy, England, and elsewhere.
That interest materialised as a milestone move in 2016, when he left home behind to join Nottingham Forest. It was a deal that caught the eye, not least for the €500,000 fee invested in him and the then-16-year-old’s bullish citation of a ‘clear pathway’ into the Forest first-team as the reason behind his life-changing decision.
His first 18 months there did little to disprove that determined claim: he was involved in the senior set-up from the start, playing in pre-season and appearing on the subs’ bench throughout the 2016/17 campaign. Circumstances would quickly change, though – as they always do at Forest.
After three coaching changes and a narrow escape from relegation, Ahmedhodžić slipped into under-23 football the following season and was not seen with the seniors again until January 2019, when he sat on the bench in a cup game at Stamford Bridge.
The unsurprising lack of progress predicated a move back to Malmö that same month. In the two years since, his career has not only kick-started but accelerated into an exciting ascent. A successful six-month loan to Hobro IK in Denmark built him up for 2020. He established himself as an ever-present starter for his boyhood club in yet another title-winning season, and duly won the Allsvenskan’s Defender of the Year award. International recognition followed too, as the 21-year-old switched allegiance to Bosnia-Herzegovina – the land of his forefathers – in yet another bitter blow to Swedish football from the Balkans. All in all, it was a remarkable breakthrough year.
Anel Ahmedhodžić's style of play
Centre-backs are now held to irrational standards. They must possess elite athleticism, dominate every duel, pass like Thiago Alcântara, and never make a mistake. None can meet such hysterical expectations, but some do come close – Anel Ahmedhodžić does so in the Allsvenskan.
His athletic profile is very dynamic; he combines imposing size with impressive mobility. His 6′4″ frame stands out as it lopes around the pitch, almost always as the right-sided centre-back in a four-man defence. Despite his long legs, he adjusts his feet and posture well, save for a few clumsy steps when play travels across his body. Moreover, he hits his long strides quickly and is a fast runner at top speed; the Bosnian covers big spaces efficiently and can match most opponents. Whilst he needs to add muscle to his wiry physique to be stronger in contact, Ahmedhodžić is clearly a high-level athlete relative to his size and position.
Crucially, the 21-year-old knows how to utilise his athletic advantages. He consistently makes the most of his size in defensive situations – levering himself between ball and attackers, sealing off opponents, or overwhelming strikers in aerial duels – and rarely cedes fouls in the process, exemplifying the intelligence and tidiness which underpins much of his defensive work. Ahmedhodžić anticipates situations capably, demonstrating competent decision-making and positional understanding in the way he reacts to what he reads.
He knows when to step up to pressure a touch, drop off to cover depth, or delay attacks rather than dive in and expose his defence. His trademark sliding tackles are indicative of the way he coordinates intelligence and athleticism: his timing and technique is often perfect, his long legs wrap around the ball, and he regularly comes away cleanly with possession. His length is especially useful in duels, as he can stretch his long legs out to stab the ball away and save him in some awkward situations.
His defensive focus is predominantly forward, as he assesses play and seeks to break up sequences ahead of him. A consequence of that is a weakness on his blindside – he lacks awareness of what is happening around and behind him, then subsequently fails to react to threats quickly enough. Whilst an issue, there is a simple solution: scanning. He does not scan enough when play is in front of him, and doing so more often in those situations would improve him as a defender. Similar deficiencies crop up when he defends set-pieces as well, where he struggles to track his man. So much so, Malmö transitioned him into a zonal assignment midway through the 2020 season and it is difficult to envisage him ever being an especially good man-marker at set-pieces.
Anel Ahmedhodžić against IFK Norrköping – a strong example of a centre-back progressing possession with passing. Excellent technique, good vision and tempo, punching the ball into valuable areas/situations between lines. First go on @MetricaSports' annotation tool too. pic.twitter.com/7nWinWOrrF— Llew (@ffwtbollew) January 15, 2021
In possession, Ahmedhodžić excels. His comfort and composure on the ball is immediately obvious. He receives and releases possession with good touch and fluency, which enables the him to play at a brisk tempo. He adds high-level progression with his passing too, a skill predicated on a great, clean and crisp technique. He has the awareness to quickly spot and punch passes through lines with ease.
Another neat feature of his on-ball game is his ability to draw opponents on, then cut passes back across his body to find a free man, breaking the first line of pressure in the process. For someone as good on the ball, he should be better at creating angles to receive it – he is slow to swing out wide, despite having the mobility to do so.
Forecasting Anel Ahmedhodžić's future
Ahmedhodžić possesses a rare profile: he is a centre-back with size, speed, solid defensive nous, quality in possession, and he has plenty more years before he peaks.
Scandinavian prospects usually move to a mid-level league before reaching the elite-level competition, but the Bosnian is good enough to skip that step entirely. After a move did not materialise this January, clubs in each of the top-five leagues should be clearing their pathways and putting together bumper proposals to pick him up this summer, knowing he is an exceptional defensive talent with a hugely valuable skillset for little more than €10 million.
Clubs should be battling to buy him – for the likes of Atalanta and Borussia Mönchengladbach, LOSC Lille and Brighton, Sevilla and Southampton, this is a golden opportunity to sign a defender of genuine Champions League potential. Even clubs at the level of Liverpool and Bayern München would do well to get in on him early because when Ahmedhodžić breaks out, he will break the bank.
Anel Ahmedhodžić is an impressive young defender that possesses a dynamic athletic profile and a valuable on-ball skillset. He’s a good front-foot defender, cutting danger out at source, and is adept at covering space behind him. In possession, he breaks lines regularly with his passing.
One of Anel Ahmedhodžić’s biggest areas to improve is his awareness of runners moving behind him. He needs to scan more often to be more attentive to danger developing on his blindside. He also struggles to be impactful at set-pieces in both boxes.