One to watch – Andrej Kramarić (Croatia)

kramaric.pngOverview of Player:

English fans probably remember him mostly from his uneventful Leicester days. Signed in the Nigel Pearson era from Rijeka in January 2015, he was perhaps unfortunate that Leicester’s form improved so drastically after he arrived, denying him a regular spot in the team. The next season, when Leciester managed to win the Premier League title under Claudio Ranieri, Kramarić hardly managed to get a look-in, playing a grand total of 22 Premier League minutes. He was then shipped out to Hoffenheim on loan in January 2016.

As Kramarić himself put it, “The other lads took their chances and I had to take the hard road. Again.” He also responded less well to former Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri’s “introverted”, defence-first approach than that of other managers. After Leicester managed to make a profit on the talented forward when the Hannover deal became permanent, he began to show his potential. In 2016-17 he won the player of the year award from Hoffenheim fans; at the end of the most recent season, he made Kicker magazine’s Bundesliga team of the season. On 27th April, it was reported that he had scored 10 goals in his last twelve games, which was only one less than Leicester managed as a whole over that period. This relentless run of form helped propel Hoffenheim into Champions League qualification.

Overview of Nation:

Croatia have a host of star names and, on paper, probably have one of the best XI’s in the World Cup. 13 players out of their 23-man squad play for clubs which have already qualified for next season’s Champions League group stage. However, despite eventually qualifying comfortable, their qualification campaign didn’t go to plan; this was all explained in detail in Dictate the Game’s Rough Guide to the Croatian National Team.

Performance of player in qualification:

Kramarić having a successful tournament would be no surprise to Croatia fans. The vast majority seem to prefer him over Juventus striker Mario Mandžukić and AC Milan striker Nikola Kalinić. Kramarić’s runs in behind the opposition defence suit the playing style Zlatko Dalić is trying to implement perfectly; he gives Luka Modrić an option to pick out from deep and makes space for the full-backs to roam forward. He will be remembered forever for scoring that crucial brace against Ukraine, in a game Croatia had to win to secure their play-off spot for World Cup qualification.

However, Kramarić’s cumulative impact during qualification was marginal at best. Out of favour under Dalić’s predecessor Ante Čačić, he only started three matches before that Ukraine match: two as a second striker and one as a #10. He scored no goals and made just one assist during that time. His lack of minutes was caused by a combination of Čačić playing less attackers, and Mandžukić, Kalinić, and Marko Pjaca all being preferred. The football was also significantly more defensive, with only seven goals being scored in eight matches, if you exclude the outlier of Croatia winning 6-0 at Kosovo. Midfield and attacking players were moved all over the pitch game-by-game without much of a plan.

Why he’s one to watch:

What’s not to like about Kramarić? He’s played in English football, runs a lot, is happy to play in almost any attacking position and, most importantly, has those beady eyes suggesting he’ll score goals.

In all seriousness, despite Kramarić being widely known to many football fans who read transfer speculation even before his transfer to Leicester, his success has come as a surprise. Unlike most young Croatian players, he consistently refused to sign terms with Zdravko Mamić, which undoubtedly stalled his progress with Dinamo Zagreb. Despite scoring 452 goals with them at youth level after joining them at the tender age of six, and making a promising start in the first team, Kramarić was dropped at the first sign of poor form and then repeatedly loaned out. Later, he publicly complained about Zagreb and Mamić’s treatment, leading to his transfer-listing and subsequent sale to Rijeka. It’s a miracle that he’s come so far, considering how much control Mamić continues to have over the Croatia national team and that he only left the HNL League aged 23.

Although this defiance plays a part in endearing him to Croatia fans, it would count for very little if it wasn’t complemented by ability on the pitch. Kramarić’s biggest asset is how well he holds his own physically, despite being just 177cm tall and weighing 73kg. He’s an excellent threat out wide, consistently beating his opponent to the ball, and rarely losing it, along with having the flexibility to perform a variety of functions. In an advanced role, he has a penchant for finishing chances and delivering through balls. In a more withdrawn role, he’s also one of Croatia’s best crossers. Everything considered, he’s a safe bet to be Croatia’s biggest counter-attacking threat.

Video of player/compilation:

FM Screenshot:

Kramaric FM

When considering Kramarić’s Football Manager attributes, it’s worth remembering that they were determined at the start of last season. He improved enormously over the course of the 2017/18 season, in terms of his exploits at club and international level, which will surely be reflected in his attributes for the next edition. Most surprisingly, Kramarić is apparently ‘uncomfortable’ at RAM and ‘competent’ at CAM.

This breakdown, from Whoscored, should give a snapshot of how positionally flexible he is in real life:

kramaric

Otherwise, Kramarić’s FM profile correctly depicts him as an ambidextrous, hard-working creative player who should be one of Croatia’s main sources of flair in the World Cup.

This isn’t the only ‘One to Watch’, we are releasing a one to watch article for every nation in the World Cup. An hour before each team kick off their first World Cup Group Stage game, we will release that nations one to watch. These can be viewed here – One to Watch for all Nations in World Cup 2018

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