Club: VfL Wolfsburg
Position(s): AM, CM, RW
Preferred Foot: Left
Strengths: dribbling, agility, vision, chance creation, flair, passing, technique
Development Areas: goal output, shot volume, weak-foot ability & usage
Whilst Rennes have brought in two of the most exciting young players in Ligue 1 in Enzo Le Fee (23) and Ludovic Blas (25), they have also lost several members of their young core such as Jeremy Doku (21), who joined Manchester City for €65 million, Lesley Ugochukwu (19), who joined Chelsea for €27 million, and Lovro Majer (25), who joined Wolfsburg for €30 million plus €5 million in add-ons. One year removed from a breakthrough season in Ligue 1, Majer has everything it takes to be one of the best signings of the Bundesliga window under the tutelage of his compatriot, Wolfsburg manager Niko Kovač.
Born in the capital city of Zagreb, Majer played for various Croatian clubs, including Dinamo Zagreb, before enjoying a breakout 2017/18 season for Lokomotiva Zagreb that would see him score a brace in a 4-1 win at Dinamo Zagreb, Lokomotiva’s first-ever win against Dinamo in 28 attempts. After being awarded the Best Young Footballer award by the Croatian Football Federation and being named in the 2017/18 Team of the Season, Majer returned to Dinamo Zagreb, making 100 appearances and winning three league titles before heading to Rennes in August 2021 for €12 million plus add-ons.
Majer enjoyed a stellar debut campaign in Ligue 1 that would see him score six goals and nine assists and be included in the Ligue 1 team of the season. While his form dropped off in 2022/23, he nevertheless scored two goals and six assists in 32 Ligue 1 appearances and played in all of Croatia’s seven fixtures, coming off the bench in all but one, as the Vatreni finished third in the 2022 World Cup. A silky passer and an intelligent footballer with good decision-making, Majer was Rennes’ primary creator, consistently shifting the ball onto his left with a drop of the shoulder, and with 1.97 key passes per 90, he ranks in the top 8% of players in his position.
The 25-year-old averages 6.97 progressive passes (top 15%) but the best indicator of his playing style are his passes into the penalty area: 1.80 (top 5%), whilst he also has 0.53 crosses into the penalty area. The Croatian floats around the edge of the box in the right half-space, creating chances for the striker in the box, and he also loves to play clipped passes into the box, consistently achieving the perfect weight of pass to enable teammates to receive the ball without having to break their stride pattern and frequency or the direction of their run.
He is an agile dribbler who boasts plenty of flair with sufficient flicks and tricks to fool opponents and work his way past the pressure, although he needs to improve in terms of goal-scoring if he is to take the next step in his development at Wolfsburg and emerge as one of the top midfielders in Germany as well as beat out the likes of Mateo Kovačić, Luka Modrić and Marcelo Brozović for a starting spot in Croatia’s national team. Majer only scored 3 goals this season in 42 games (all comps) with an xG of only 3.3 and currently takes 1.93 shots per 90, ranking in the top 10%.
Another area for development is his weak-foot usage. When using his right foot, he doesn’t seem terrible with it and doesn’t seem amazing with it, but the problem is that he just doesn’t use it enough. The fact Majer is so heavily reliant on his left foot can make him a bit predictable at times making him easier to mark.
Plenty of clubs were linked with Majer from Liverpool to Newcastle to Arsenal to Tottenham, with Bayer Leverkusen reportedly tabling a bid for him, but it was Wolfsburg who completed the deal for €30m +€5m add-ons, the second-most expensive transfer in their history following the arrival of Julian Draxler from Schalke in 2015. But how does he fit in?
Wolfsburg’s system last season was a 4-3-3 system with overlapping full-backs (Ridle Baku and Mickey Van De Ven), a deep-lying playmaker 6 (Max Arnold), two box-to-box 8s (Felix Nmecha & Mattias Svanberg) given the role of progressing the ball quickly to aid Wolfsburg’s-counter attacking style. The interior midfielders alternate who makes runs into the box, whilst the two wingers (Jakub Kamiński and Patrick Wimmer) invert and play very narrow as inside forwards meaning that when around the box, the 8s are in close proximity to their passing options, so, they need to be effective in tight spaces.
It has been a busy transfer window for Wolfsburg, who lost Omar Marmoush on a free transfer to Eintracht Frankfurt and sold Van de Ven to Tottenham Hotspur for £43 million. They have reinforced the fullback positions will the signings of Rogério from Sassuolo and Joakim Mæhle from Atalanta, added to their center back contingent with Moritz Jenz and Cédric Zesiger from Lorient and Young Boys, and bolstered their attack with the signings of Tiago Tomás and Václav Černý from Twente, although the majority of the budget has been spent on Majer, who’ll be looking to fill the void of Nmecha following his sale to Borussia Dortmund and slot into midfield alongside Mattias Svanberg.
Majer started in their opening match against Heidenheim alongside Svanberg and Yannick Gerhardt with Jonas Wind bagging a brace to secure a 2-0 win. Having played 66 minutes in his debut, Majer lasted 85 minutes in the following match as Wolfsburg loanee Luca Waldschmidt gave Cologne the lead, only for Wind to grab another brace to secure a victory at the RheinEnergieStadion, and he’ll be looking to pick up a second straight away victory on Saturday at Hoffenheim.
By: Ben Mattinson / @Ben_Mattinson_
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Mike Egerton – PA Images