Why Juventus, AC Milan & Inter are fighting it out for Croatian goal machine Kramaric

PROFILE: The Rijeka star, who has netted 21 goals in 15 Prva HNL games so far this season, is one of the most in-form and in-demand attackers in Europe

By Mark Doyle

Just over a year ago, Andrej Kramaric was deemed surplus to requirements at Dinamo Zagreb. On Thursday evening, Juventus sporting director Fabio Paratici will travel to Rijeka to watch the 23-year-old against Standard Liege in the hope of stealing a march on Serie A rivals AC Milan and Inter in the race to sign one of Europe’s most in-form forwards.

Kramaric, who has hit 27 goals in 25 games in all competitions this season, has enjoyed a meteoric rise over the past 12 months but that is perhaps unsurprising. Firstly, he has long been touted as Croatia’s next great goalscorer. Secondly, this is a player desperate to make up for lost time.

As he told Goal: “My career has had many ups and downs. I have taken the hard road to success, so I have learned to keep my feet firmly on the ground and work hard.”

Indeed, few players know better than Kramaric not to take anything for granted. As a teenager, he broke record after record with the Dinamo Zagreb youth teams, while at the same time excelling at under-age level for Croatia.

When he made his debut for the Dinamo senior squad in 2009 at the age of 18, he was touted as the natural heir to Eduardo, who had departed two years previously for Premier League outfit Arsenal.

However, it was at this juncture that Kramaric’s career inexplicably stalled. There are those who believe his career suffered as a consequence of his refusal to be represented by the agency owned by Dinamo’s current executive president Zdravko Mamic.

Those claims have never been substantiated but things certainly came to a head last year when Kramaric returned to Dinamo after a successful loan spell at Lokomotiva. The forward expected to finally be given a real chance to prove himself at the Stadion Maksimir but, after being left on the bench for a game against Slaven Belupo last August by Dinamo coach Zoran Mamic, Zdravko’s brother, Kramaric decided enough was enough.

He demanded a transfer and was sold to Rijeka for a reported €1.25 million. Kramaric flourished in his first season at the Kantrida, racking up 16 goals in 24 league appearances.

His form during the 2013-14 campaign was enough to pique the interest of clubs outside Croatia but he has gone to another level this term. Indeed, given he will be a free agent next summer, it is hardly surprising that some of the continent’s top clubs are now on Kramaric’s trail.

Juventus lead the chase for a striker that made his Croatia debut against Cyprus in August before netting a goal apiece in his first two competitive appearances for his country the following month, against Malta and Azerbaijan. However, the Bianconeri know that AC Milan are watching Kramaric closely, while Inter are also in the hunt and already possess another young Croatian jewel in Mateo Kovacic.

*Goals scored for the Croatia national team

It is worth noting, though, that Atalanta director general Pierpaolo Marino recently claimed that Chelsea are on the verge of wrapping up a deal for the Croat. “Rijeka’s Kramaric is a player we followed for a long time, but I believe that now he’s signing with Chelsea,” he told SportItalia.

That Kramaric is generating such giddy transfer talk is unsurprising. This, after all, is a player who has been compared with Davor Suker. However, in truth, Kramaric is a very different player to Croatia’s iconic No.9. He is more mobile and more versatile, capable of playing anywhere across the forward line, and while he favours his right foot, he has a strong left.

Kramaric, for his part, is determined to remain focused, primarily because he knows only too well that things do not always work out as you expect. However, he makes no secret of the fact that he would like to play at a higher level.

“I am used to hearing stories about clubs being interested in me but there is no point discussing that until a concrete offer arrives,” he told Goal. “I just enjoy playing but I would love to play in one of the top leagues.”

If Kramaric continues his remarkable goalscoring form, he will get his chance. The likes of Juventus won’t make the same mistake that Dinamo did.

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