Coach Pierre-André Schürmann is tipping Neuchâtel Xamax FC's 19-year-old striker Mario Gavranovic "to be a great one day" with the side earmarked for relegation pre-season sitting second in the Swiss table after 12 Super League games.
Having flirted with relegation in their first two seasons since winning promotion back to the top division, the general consensus was that Xamax would not survive another Super League campaign, especially with experienced players like midfielders Johnny Szlykowicz and Tariq Chihab as well as Argentinian striker Julio Rossi leaving in the summer to be replaced by unknown youngsters.
New coach Schürmann, however, seems to have turned these footballing base metals into something like gold. Having spent the last eight years working for the Swiss Football Association, the 49-year-old – who enjoyed some success with FC Will 1900 and FC Lausanne-Sport in the past and has coached Switzerland's Under-17, U19 and U21 sides – has forged a team of real quality.
St. Gallen sell-out
With 29 goals scored and just 14 conceded, only runaway leaders BSC Young Boys can better Xamax's record, and fans in the predominantly French-speaking city are enjoying the return of good times at a club that won back-to-back Swiss titles in 1987 and 1988. The Stade de la Maladière was a 12,000 sell-out on 3 October for the first time since it reopened in 2007 as Xamax downed FC St. Gallen 4-2.
The club's only summer signing with any pedigree, 30-year-old former FC Aarau defender Frédéric Page has impressed, but Croatian-born forward Gavranovic – signed from Yverdon-Sport FC – has been the star man. Seven goals in eleven league games – including a number of real crackers – have seen the teenager's stock rise vertiginously, though all he would say is that he has "learned a lot and improved my game".
'Not a dreamer'
Schürmann believes that his promising striker could yet turn out to be a very special player indeed. "He is not a dreamer," he said. "He listens to his coach, works very hard and is modest. He could become a great one day. He has a lot of talent and knows what he is doing." For the moment, the same can be said of his club.
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