Only Real Madrid CF's Cristiano Ronaldo could claim to have comprehensively outscored HNK Rijeka's Andrej Kramarić in 2014/15, with big things expected of the striker next year.
2014 in short
Allowed to leave GNK Dinamo Zagreb for Adriatic side Rijeka in 2013, Kramarić scored eight times in a single Croatian Cup game that October and the goals flowed steadily during the spring of 2014 – eight in 14 First League matches and two more in the cup, though he failed to register as Rijeka beat Dinamo in the two-legged final. After turning 23 in June, Kramarić began a startling autumn offensive, netting 21 times in 17 Croatian top-flight games, five in the UEFA Europa League group stage and two in his first four internationals. He was duly named the Croatian league's player of the year in December.
Unbelievably prolific in the Dinamo Zagreb youth ranks and a fixture for Croatia at under-age levels, Kramarić looked to have signalled his arrival in senior football when he notched 20 goals in 45 matches while on loan to capital outfit NK Lokomotiva Zagreb in 2011/12 and 2012/13. Yet, still struggling to get a regular starting place at his parent club, he was allowed to leave for Rijeka in August 2013 as Dinamo unwittingly let a prize asset go.
Croatia coach Niko Kovač was quick on the uptake after Kramarić hit ten goals in his first seven 2014/15 league games, giving him his debut in a 4 September friendly against Cyprus. He produced an assist in a 2-0 win and earned praised in the national press. The newcomer promptly plundered a goal apiece in his first two competitive internationals – the EURO Qualifiers against Malta and Azerbaijan. "You could see he was a real goalscorer," said Kovač, who proceeded to compare Kramarić to national hero Davor Šuker.
Given the standard of the national-team opponents he had scored against, Kramarić was not instantly acclaimed across Europe, but a hat-trick in a 3-1 UEFA Europa League success over Feyenoord had scouts from the big leagues booking tickets to the Dalmatian coast. "I took the match ball and got it signed by all my team-mates," he told UEFA.com. "I also took my jersey and will keep it with the shirt from my Croatia debut. I got so many text messages from people congratulating me, it would have taken a whole day to reply."
The manhunt begins
Kramarić showcased his mastery of stealth and timing with five goals in a 6-0 league win against Lokomotiva in November, by which time headlines were linking him with moves to Bayer 04 Leverkusen, Tottenham Hotspur FC and even Chelsea FC. "I am in fantastic form, scoring in almost every game, but there will be bad times – periods when I won't score so many," he said. Given the flood that had preceded it, his failure to register in his last three league outings of 2014 resembled a drought.
With Rijeka out of the UEFA Europa League, Kramarić is being touted as one of the most in-demand players of the upcoming transfer window. The stuff of dreams for a forward, yet no great surprise to Kramarić. "This is not a dream scenario because I always believed in myself," he said. "I always thought I could reach the form I am in at the moment. I am really delighted, but this is not the pinnacle for me – I want to do more. I am working hard and believe I can be even better."
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